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some technique questions

  • Unknown
    Unknown User

    I am an intermediate harpist with about three students right now.

    Two of them are adults and one is an eight year old.  I am fairly

    new to teaching harp, though I have been teaching piano lessons for

    almost eight years.  One of my adult students played for several

    years, but has not had lessons for the past ten years.  She is very

    interested in using the correct technique, and has been asking some

    questions I just don't know the answers to.  I know how I would play

    them, but I do not know if it is necessarily correct.


    The first question she had was how to position first and fourth

    fingers for octaves.  When I play, my fourth finger is slightly

    curved, but tends to lean more toward the straight side.  (I have

    very small hands, and this is hard to avoid)  Should I make sure her

    fourth finger stays curved?  Or can it stay straighter, like she

    currently plays?


    The second question she had was about glissandos.  When going up, do

    you play the next written note on the page with the finger that is

    going up, or do you switch on that note and use the finger coming

    down?  I hope that makes sense.


    The last question I have is about staccato notes.  I know I learned

    how to play them going up, but I cannot seem to remember how to play

    them coming down.  Also, I can't remember how to stop the last note

    of a group of staccato notes.


    Any help would be greatly appreciated!  Thanks!

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    replies to "some technique questions"
    • Unknown
      Unknown User

      Jeanna, I'm really intrigued with your situation.  I don't want to answer your questions with another question, but while I'm reading this it amazes me that you haven't sought this advice from your own teacher; so, where's your teacher in all of this?


      Some of us have some very specific yet opposing opinions about what the correct technique is.  I would like to fullheartedly recommend a book, "On Playing the Harp" by Yolanda Kondonassis.  I had heard that the Salzedo "Method for the Harp" had everything one needed to know but I'm very relieved to read through my new copy of Yolanda's book because it covers so much more, and the pictures of the hands in several roles are very good.  Strength and conditioning are very slowly developed in Salzedo method.


      I know a Suzuki trained harpist that transitioned into Salzedo method with ease and that person has become a promising young artist.  I use Suzuki book one with all of my beginners so they can focus on their hands without the distraction of a music stand.  This book should only be taught with Suzuki certification, however.


      Here's a quote from page 7 from "On Teaching the Harp", chapter 5 (hand and finger position): "Building the strength to curve your fingers (second, third and fourth ones)when you play is one of the best investments you can make in your technique."  She provides reasoning for this statement, then on the following page clearly states that the "thumb must be high and straight", etc.


      Is it very possible that your student's thumb has a curve to it leaving her with no choice but to play with a straightened fourth finger?  Is her thumb double jointed?


      I acknowledge the curiosity about the glissandi and staccati but I can't comment on these without hearing the passages in context.  Suffice to say that building one's strength is the prerequisite to producing "supple, even and controlled" glissandi and staccati.  I don't want that to sound like a cop-out, but why go there without the fundamentals? (However, you should sit down and listen to a good recording of the Caplet "Divertissement a l'Espagnole": I think you'll have even more questions after that if you've never heard it before.  I grew up with Zabaleta's recording.)


      By the way, I don't have picture perfect hands.  I should have played the viola or cello.  My left hand is perfect for a large fingerboard.  I just thought moving the harp around would be a lot more fun! :o)

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    • Elizabeth
      Elizabeth Volpé Bligh

      As a symphony harpist with many students, I have seen a lot of hand

      positions. The main thing is whether a straight or curved finger works well for

      your student. Every hand is a different size and shape, and it will only cause

      frustration if one tries to pound a square peg into a round hole. I learned the

      Salzedo method, but I have made some adaptations to compensate for a

      rather short 4th finger and long 3rd finger, You can imagine the buzzing this

      would cause if my 4th finger were completely curved. So it only curves on one

      joint! Also, in big stretches, I have to flatten my 3rd finger if I want to place that

      4th finger. The height of the thumb can make it easier for the 4th finger, as

      well. Try lowering it a bit and see if that helps. It does not have to be too high;

      in fact, it should not be so high that it shows pulling across the palm. It should

      just sit comfortably where it is placed naturally, with no stretching. I hope this

      helps! As for glissandi, you play the next note with the thumb coming down. (I

      hope I understood your question.) Also, watch their elbows! If they are

      drooping too far, the best hand position in the world won't work.

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