Left hand improvements

I’ve been working on a nice exercise that my teacher gave me for my left hand, and through forced relaxation and going out of my mind looking for just the right hand position, I think I’ve made some progress. I’m trying now to work a sense of lightness and “floating” into my left hand and maintaining the relaxation. I’m also working on moving this new awareness into my right hand as well.

There is a thread on the Harp Column forums (on which I lurk but do not participate) about harping as one ages that’s been intersecting with this in my thoughts. The question that was raised on the board is about how to cope with an aging body as a harpist … and I’m not sure that I agree with where the question comes from.

I’ve heard of so many injuries and hand surgeries that young harpists (20s/30s/40) have had that I’m wondering if the problem isn’t that harping as a middle-aged adult is the problem but rather the accumulation of low-level injuries to one’s hands as a young person.

A young person will learn to play harp and, if something hurts, they may think that they’ll just power through it because they have to, or they may think they’ll be okay — the way that young people all over the world seem to live on the principal of their bodies rather than on the interest. They do things perhaps unwisely because their youth will insulate them from consequences. For very young kids, it may also be that the teacher is simply pushing them into doing something in a way that will damage them later on.

That only lasts so long, though. Eventually the rotator cuff, ganglion cyst, and tendonitis surgeries will start to crop up.

But when you are doing this as an adult, particularly a middle-aged or older adult, you are under no illusions that your body will magically save you. You are much more likely to pay extremely close attention to playing in a healthy way or thinking to oneself, “It hurts if I try to do it this way, so I’m not doing it that way. I need to find another way.”

This is similar to how I’m approaching the use of my left hand. I can’t communicate how much attention I’m paying to doing this in as low-tension a way as possible. (I already know I have a deeply buried ganglion cyst in my right wrist, so I’m hyper-aware of what’s going on with that hand.) I know that using my hand in a certain way makes my fourth finger joint feel like it’s popping out, so I will not do that. A youngster may do it anyway thinking they’ll get used to it, or that doing something uncomfortable makes them “hardcore” or something. At 51, I’m have to confidence to trust my judgment and know, “I need to find another way to approach that.”

So I’m not more likely to have injuries; my greater awareness of the possibility of injury is making me less likely to damage my hands. If I manage this correctly, I hope I’ll never have a harp-related injury.

There just seems to be a feeling — and this is the case in a lot of realms, not just music — that “if young people get hurt doing X, then of course older people who do X will get hurt even more!” In reality, I think there’s a strong chance that young people are getting hurt doing X because they are more heedless of the possibility of injury … and middle-aged to older people who do it may be smart enough to avoid injury in the first place.

After all, that pain-is-weakness-leaving-the-body-boo-rah nonsense is the stuff of kids. Adults know that pain is your body’s way of telling you to find another way to get it done.

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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.