Tag Archives: roving thumb

Improvise with a Roving Thumb Pattern

If you like to improvise, arrange and/or compose music, you have probably collected some favorite patterns for your left hand. A quick look at most Celtic harp books will show some very common patterns, such as rolled chords on beat one, three note arpeggios (4 2 1, anyone?), and various combinations of chords and extra notes in an “oom pah” style. One of my favorites is a rocking arpeggio with a changing top note, known as the “roving thumb.” This post will teach you how to improvise with a roving thumb pattern.

To start, find this pattern on your harp by putting 4 2 1 on the notes low C, G, and middle C. Play them from bottom to top, back to middle, and then to top again, but this time moving your thumb to D. Next time, play E with your thumb, and then once more back to D. The music below shows this sequence written out (click image for larger version):

Roving thumb 1

Practice this pattern on just this one chord until it feels natural. When your left hand is playing a busy pattern like this, you can bring in something really simple (whole or half notes) in your right hand, and it will add a lovely contrast. Once this is easy, you can graduate to other chords. You just need to find the root, the fifth, and the octave of any chord, and add the walking notes above the octave.

Next, you can try a faster rhythm with a roving thumb pattern that travels further afield (all the way to F on the C chord):

Roving thumb 2

Again, spend lots of time practicing the pattern, applying it to different chords.

When you’re ready, steal the chord progression from a simple tune you know and turn it into an improvisation.  Try playing 2 measures of each chord using one of these patterns, playing just your left hand until that’s easy.  When you’re ready, adding thirds or sixths as long chimes in right hand can be lovely.

Have fun, and keep improvising!

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This post is adapted from material that I originally published in the ezine, Notes from the Harp.