Harp v Piano: the fatal half-step off in time

I am finding that half-step shift in time between the piano and the harp to be brutalizing. This will be a long, slow slog. I have never seen this discussed before anywhere, so I’m not sure how well it’s recognized as a possibly fatal obstacle between pianists and the harp. It makes me wonder how many other pianists have come to the harp with a head full of music theory and an engrained sense of familiarity with the strings — “Yeah, that’s an F minor, okay I need a lever flip here, that’s an inverted seventh” — but finding themselves completely disoriented by that half-shift in time and not grasping what’s going on.

I also wonder how many harp teachers have had pianists as students who were struggling with this, and not understood what was at the root of it. After all, if you have a student who knows the layout of the strings like someone who has been playing for decades, but who can’t even time what’s going on with their fingers, I’m not sure it’s obvious unless the teacher has also fought these timing instincts what’s going on.

It’s got a slight familiarity with the organ in that, on the organ you must “play” the rests as well. As a sustaining instrument, one can’t just strike the key and then wander off as one does on a piano. One strikes the key to get a note, and then holds it until lifting precisely to stop it. There are two actions associated with every note; however, at least on the organ the “play” action is synchronized with the piano. Strike == play.

On the harp, there are also two actions: press, release. However, “press == play” is not the case. Release == play, and this makes the most neglected action on the piano — the release — the most important one on the harp, and it’s a half-shift off in time.

This will be a lot of work.


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