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].


So I couldn’t sleep last night, got up at 12am, and proceeded to do a bit of very, very quiet work. I think it was the “very, very quiet” part that changed things, and somehow I managed to do a [4 3] and play 3 … tentatively and quietly only, but it’s more than I could do before. I’m a bit in shock. I’ve been unable to do this for two and a half years, and now with one good chunk of exercises I’ve made small but existing progress. I’m not even sure what it is I’m doing differently.

I’m really taken aback by this, but in a pleasant way. I still can’t manage it with a fourth between 4 and 3, but adjacent strings is a breeze now, and the third is at least manageable as long as my hand’s not too far down the harp. I’ve changed the conditioning exercises that Candace assigned to exclude [C||F|A|C] because I can only manage that one by bracketing the unorthodox way, and I don’t want to develop the habit of doing that until/unless I know that I have no other choice.

Of course, it feels like that’s the only way I can do it, but I swore up and down that it was the only way I could manage [C|E|G||C] as well, and that edifice has begun to show cracks.

So I’ll stick with the [C|E|G||C] flavor for now, and just gently see if I can’t move myself in the direction of [C||F|A|C] with patience and lazy, quiet 12am exercise sessions.

It really did help to do it at night, when I felt that I had to be quiet and loose.

First lesson

And she’s very sweet and experienced, so I like her a great deal. She’s also willing to do biweekly lessons, which helps a great deal. She did say that she prefers weekly ones for kids, but that she recognizes that adults have jobs and things, so that biweekly lessons are really the only way to manage it with us. With me, since I have to lose every other weekend by going down to see my mom or bringing her up to my apartment, weekly lessons would be a giant waste of money and a worse waste of time.

Her harp is however about twice the size of my little Daphne, and I despair of ever actually showing her what I can do since transitioning between the two will always leave me fumbling and flat-footed. The thing is a monster.

She gave me a few exercises to do, some of which are okay in my left hand and absolutely unmanageable in my right without breaking strings or tendons. I am realizing that I cannot put 3 and 4 on strings in my right hand (further than on adjacent strings), and play 3. It can’t be done; the only solution is to bracket in different ways since [4 3] won’t happen for me. Using one of the pseudo-Salzedo conditioning exercises she assigned me in the Kondonassis book, I’m going to have to bracket over the next note to be played by placing the thumb one note ahead of when I should, so that I can still be anchored on the harp with it and not have to place [4 3] and play 3. I can’t express how demoralizing and actually painful it is to attempt to do that.*

However, she did talk about some students she had — and herself as well — who had to modify things to fit their hands, whose fourth finger tendons were very short, whose hands were very small, or who had extremely long third fingers (as I do), and who had to just change things up, so I feel justified in doing so even if it means that Salzedo’s brackets are out the window.

She also talked to me about the number of harpists who have had nerve damage and surgery on their hands, a membership which I hope never to join. If not bracketing [4 3] and playing 3 will keep me out of that club, so much the better.

I remember watching a tiny bit of “Gattaca” that was playing when I was over someone’s house/apartment/something, and seeing a scene that was supposed to illustrate how deeply into the society the idea of genetic optimization had soaked, featuring a twelve-fingered pianist.

You know what? You ask any musician what they want, and it’s not more fingers. Just give me a g/d independent tendon on my fourth finger, and I’ll give you a kidney.

* Did that, and it worked. From now on, I break all [4 3] brackets with the greatest cheerfulness.

Four fingers in the left hand, set closely

Four-fingered stuff in my left hand is fine, as long as it’s all widely spaced. The minute everything closes up though, as in scales, my ring finger doesn’t like things much and feels as if it’s popping out of joint a bit.

I’ve been noodling with ways to do this and make it feel less iffy, and I’m happy that I can almost do a decent if extremely slow four-fingered scale.

Still pleased about the progress on this, but I need to keep going with it. It’s fun to be at this level where I’m learning basic things, and still able to apply them to whole pieces.

Close work in the left hand and my ring finger

I have no troubles using my ring finger on my left hand when my hand is wide open, when I’m working a spread-out chord. When I’m trying to do something like a four-finger ascending scale though … meh. I don’t know why, but when I change my hand position to do that, it suddenly feels like the last joint on my ring finger is trying to click out of position.

In order to deal with this, I’ve started just placing all four fingers and then looking for a position where I can play the ring finger without it feeling off. I think I’ve got one, but it does mean really “wrapping” around the string with that finger. Not hooking over it, but it certainly isn’t a matter of lying the side of the finger against the string and flicking it, which is when it feels loose and as if it’s trying to click out of place. I’ve really got to make an effort to grab it and pull the string to one side, back toward the palm. The problem this creates is that I can’t “wrap” the thumb like I should when doing an ascending scale, making the thumb stiff when I play it.

To be honest, both my thumbs sound best when they sort of push the strings stiffly, almost like a hitchiker’s thumb, held straight with a flat pad. I’m not sure what this means for my future play, and I’m too cantankerous, asocial, and cheap to get a teacher and ask them. I’m happy to work it out, and it’s actually more fun in the end to work things out myself. Doing otherwise feels like asking for help on a crossword puzzle.

Anyway, this is one more thing I need to work on. There’s scales, the Friou exercises, chords, rolls, and now this. As well as my blue-sky ambition of a good four-fingered trill. We’ll see where it all goes.

How to do a four-fingered turnaround

(And not collapse the distal knuckle of your middle finger.)

Three things:

  1. Your left hand knuckles will need to be slightly more horizontal and your right hand knuckles slightly more vertical.  Not much, but a titch.
  2. Keep the long bones of your hand aligned with the long bones of your arm.  This will allow the tendons to function without impediment.  Breaking that line is fatal (on both harp and piano).  Given #1, this is why you need to keep your elbows up.
  3. When you reach out with the ring finger, keep it curved or else the middle finger knuckle will lose every ounce of firmness and collapse.  Those two fingers share a tendon; they either curve together or they collapse together.  To keep the middle finger curved and firm at the knuckle, the ring finger must be curved as well.

All of these things work together.  A year after getting my harp, I can do four-fingered turnarounds (although not quickly) without pain or difficulty.  These three points made it possible, and they took me a year of stubborn analysis to work out.


Okay, so I’m doing octave turnarounds in both hands. I’m amazed. I’m really starting to feel both like a real harpist, and also starting to get a little intimidated by the magnitude of what I’m doing. The first level of fog has cleared, and I’m seeing maybe a few hundred yards ahead now instead of a couple feet. Oy. Wow.