Still okay on the third finger.

And I’m still surprised about it. I’ve realized that my palm arches a bit when I play like this, the same way that it does when I’m playing the piano. My childhood piano teacher was one of those people who taught her students that when we played, we should be able to “fit a lemon into the hollow of your palm.”

I have no doubt that there are legions of piano teachers nowdays who would screech and act like you shot them if they heard that, only because there are legions of everyone who would screech over everything online. But for me, that means of holding my hand worked and was always comfortable. The piano has never once felt unpleasant to me, granted I never played any super-scary rep.

So it just struck me as interesting that after finally figuring out how to get 3 and 4 to play ball (with 3 pitching), it resulted in a nice, arched palm. Prior to that I had been holding my palm rather flat and thinking of my fingers as hinging like 2x4s at the top knuckle from the tendons along the outside of my hand.

I’m still so pleased about this. I don’t have the speed I’d like to have or that I’ll need eventually, but I’m making progress. My lever harp arrived on November 2, 2014, and here we are in January of 2018, and I’m seeing noteworthy progress.

I still have work to do with the left hand, even being left-handed. That hand feels to me as if I’m trying to play piano standing up — clumsy, kinked, and uncomfortable. It makes such a huge difference to have to reach across my body and that of the harp in order to play.

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It’s still there.

I’m still able to place 4-3 and play 3. After two days, I can still do it. I can’t wait to show my teacher and start in on some exercises and etudes, and work on relaxation.

I’m not going to think about it.

About my own arrangements and compositions, I mean. Not quite yet, or at least not in any huge depth. I need etudes and exercises.

I had to delay a lesson by a week last night unfortunately — or fortunately, since it happened because my teacher’s sister had gone into labor, and my teacher is her birth coach. 🙂 So hopefully the world has been presented with a happy, healthy new baby who is still wondering why everything got bright and cold all of a sudden, and she will be showing me pictures of the little thing next week.

However, I did stop by her house last night, and before she had to beg off to help her sister, she had another student there and I was able to watch this girl play. (A very talented kid with lovely tone.) I could see how her hands were moving, and it just prompted something in my mind, the way she was holding her fingers.

So I sat at my harp after I drove back home and … something in my head happened. It’s not perfect, and it’s still hobbling my thumb somewhat, but I seem to be able to place 4-3 and play 3 , at least in my right hand. My mind seems to be focusing on the interior of my palm more than the tendons running along the back of my hand, and somehow that mental shift appears to be making a difference. When I play like this, I can feel more of the meat in the inside of my hand, along the knuckles, bulking up and working as opposed to feeling the tendons along the outside of my hand sliding around. I don’t know how that’s possible, but it’s helping a lot.

I’m still leaning on 4 a lot while I play, but nothing compared to what I was doing before when it felt like even attempting to play 3 would result in ripping the string clean out of the soundboard with 4.

And it’s been three years. I got my first harp, my 34 string Ravenna, on November 2, 2014. And here I am January 2018, and I finally managed to place 4-3 and play 3 with some sense of comfort, reliably and repeatably.

I feel illegitimate, yet oddly victorious.

I’ve just worked out how to play a really challenging part of a piece of music specifically meant to work out my fourth finger — when “working out my fourth finger” translates to “feel it popping out of joint while unable to play the piece, and wake up at 3am with my middle finger throbbing like an electrified kielbasa” — without using my fourth finger at all. I greatly value thumb slides and my ability to play 1-2-3 with no triplet rhythm whatsoever, along with my inhumanly long middle finger that allows me to make over-an-octave reaches between that and my thumb.

I know I’ll never be a real harpist this way, but if a real harpist is someone who wakes up in the middle of the night with throbbing hands, then I’ll be that cheating slob who jerry-rigs her away around things.

I mean, I know every musician hates their fourth finger, but I really do have a strong suspicion that between this, the inherent weakness of the thing on the piano, and my utter misery while using the Eb key on my flute, I do have something about that tendon that’s just not going to go away or be manageable in the typical fashion. (And yes, this makes me angry.)

Continuing my left hand work

Yes, it’s still hard, but it’s improving — slowly. Painfully slowly, and I’m trying to focus on making sure that the word “painful” remains a metaphor. I’m still settling on a good left hand position, and it will probably be a continuing process.

I’ve realized that my pinky position has a huge impact as well on how well my fourth finger can manage things, which should come as no surprise. It’s extremely hard to make my pinky not do things it shouldn’t, though. It’s much easier in my right hand, probably because of the hand position; I don’t have to reach across myself or the instrument to use my right hand, so it can stay more relaxed.

At any rate, relaxation is extremely important in both hands, but particularly my left. I should probably be sure to do more of my Inaudible Insomniac Practice Sessions at 2am focusing on the left hand exercises. Sitting at the harp while one is somewhat bleary and trying to be very quiet in the dead of night is a surprisingly good way to force relaxation.

In other news, I’ve semi-finished up a piece with a nice Alberti bass pattern, which has put one nice tool in my toolchest, and have begun a waltz with a typical bass/chord/chord thing in the left hand, which is a giant pain in the gluteal area on the harp. It’s much, much harder to manage precise, confident jumps in position on the harp than on the piano, at least for me thus far, and it’s also hard to repeat a chord in the bass without buzzing.

So anyway, things are progressing, and I’m enjoying myself. I think I’m like one of those dogs that needs to have a rawhide toy to gnaw on or else I’ll end up chewing the table legs to splinters and otherwise destroying the house.

Agh.

Not the best of months, but I harp on when I have the time. Still working on finishing up the first piece that my teacher gave me; I really want to just get the thing nailed down and done. And am working on another exercise, this time for the left hand.

I’m discovering that the left hand is really ugly when descending. Ascending is nothing, and I can get my fingers to cooperate just fine. When I go downward, my hand is really unhappy, especially my fourth finger, the knuckles of which feel like the pop out of joint when I do so. It feels like when you step up a staircase and feel your knee about to give way on you; there’s just no negotiating with it.

I’m also not sure how much negotiating I want to do. It seems that a lot of harpists — most of them actually, my teacher included — have had multiple surgeries on their hands. I’m not at all sure I want to make my hands do things that seem guaranteed to result in nerve damage and RSI. I’m still so used to playing a very body-friendly instrument (piano) for a long time, and the notion of an instrument that is played heedlessly of how much damage it does to the body is alien to me. Some damage is due to the instrument being played incorrectly/unergonomically (viola), strenuously using a body part that’s not built for that kind of abuse (brass), and being pushed so far technically that the body part in question is forced beyond what it should be doing (voice, harp).

I mean, should anyone be doing with their fourth fingers what my hand is complaining about being expected to do, if everyone who tries has to get their hands cut up and sewn back together multiple times? I really think I’d rather just … not use my hand that way.

I also confess to wondering how much of this injury is created by the fact that most harp technique pedagogues are men, with their characteristically long fourth fingers, and most harpists are women — who are injuring themselves by attempting to apply these techniques to hands with predictably different relative finger lengths. And I don’t mean smaller hands; I have hands about the size of a typical man’s hand. I mean shorter fourth fingers and longer index fingers. Most men are the other way around — short index fingers and longer fourth fingers. And that difference influences harp technique radically. I really wonder how much of this damage is being created by getting taught to play the harp in ways that assume our hands are not our hands.

More weirdness

I honestly think I’m going to have to swear off of [4 3] and playing 3 permanently. It’s just not working, at least not now and possibly not ever. It’s the only time I’ve had to make a movement with my hand at an instrument and had such a powerful conviction that this will simply not be possible.

As a result, I’ve gone back to my old thumb-first bracketing. It will be slower than 180bpm sixteenth notes, but so be it. It seems that my choices are either:

  1. Play the broken brackets, which will make me slower,
  2. Force myself to play the correct brackets, which will make me wake up at 2am with throbbing hands no matter how much I “relax,” or
  3. Allow myself to break the brackets below about middle F and whenever the gap between 4 and 3 is larger than a third, which is just too damned confusing.

From now on, brackets are broken when I’m expected to place [4 3] and play 3, period. Uninjured hands and consistency matters more than following rules that change depending on where my hand is and which will hurt me, I think. I guess we’ll see how it goes.

For now, I place [3 2] at the same time when possible and [4 1] at the same time when possible, especially [1] — and balance/position my hand around [3 2].