Relaxed and open

1) Keep an open space between the thumb and the side of the hand. (This will force a good hand position anyhow, else I can’t get my fingers where I need them.)

2) Keep the fingers relaxed. Not limp — ready to be used, but supple and relaxed.

These two things taken together seem to give me almost everything. (Simple != easy.) A lot of the rest of it is just keeping my attention on what needs to be caretaken, which is very hard since I haven’t “chunked” the tasks yet.

This masterclass with a woman named Catherine Michel who appears to be a big-time mover and shaker in the harp world, was also a big help to me, just at this one moment, where she specifies keeping the fingers low to ease the pivoting of the hand around the thumb. (The theme-and-variations piece that this girl is playing is also one of the nicest things I’ve heard in a long time.)

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Creative fingering

So I’ve come up against my first instance of annoyance with a written fingering in “Angels We Have Heard On High” that both requires me to hold my hand in a grossly uncomfortable way and run a 100% chance of buzzing multiple times. I cheat my way out of it multiple times with three 4-note-long 2nd finger slides, and I refuse to apologize for it because it’s rock solid and has zero risk of buzzing. 🙂 I’d like to do this the “right way,” but there are limits to my ability to ignore my better judgment, even if I’m not qualified to have any.

I suppose I’ll pick up Betty Paret’s book, something meant for instruction as opposed to something that is not really a teaching tool. That way, when an annoying fingering is presented to me, I should be able to work out why I’m being directed to do it like that. Right now, all I can think of is, “Easier, faster, more flexible, less risky.”

More arpeggios and scales tomorrow morning.

Update: Indeed more arpeggios, no scales though. And I forgot to note that I used an idea from the latest of Josh Layne’s videos on YouTube as well, the first part of his look at the Haendel harp concerto. I had been having trouble going from a 3-2-1 D Major to a 4-2-1 G Major in third inversion because of the back of my 2nd finger buzzing against the still ringing F#. Layne mentioned having some similar trouble and that he had dealt with the problem not by avoiding having his finger bump against that string, but by doing it deliberately and firmly, and effectively muffling the ringing string with the back of his knuckle to neutralize the problem it presented. Sure enough, it works like a charm, and now I can play that G Major with the more secure and comfortable 3-2-1, just like the chord before it — which particularly helps since the 3 is already right next to the D string.

I still do the 4-note slides, though. I’m not stupid. 🙂 The only thing I need to do is remember to keep my thumb up while I do them so my hand is still in good shape to do normal stuff.

I want to be home and noodling.

Oh how I would love to be home right now, noodling away now that the Christmas knitting is mostly done and I have a few pre-made meals sitting in my fridge.

I continue to be surprised at how difficult it is to maintain the hand independence on the harp that is so trivial to me on the piano, to the point where I don’t even think about it there anymore. I have to hear piano newbies talk about how difficult it is before I can even remember that there must have been a time for me when that was challenging. At the keyboard, I just move my hands however they need to be moved.

On the harp though … oh, yes. It’s hard, especially due to the strange half-off timing that the harp and piano have, relative to one another. On the piano, the steps are as follows:

  1. Press to get noise.
  2. Release to stop.

Not so on the harp:

  1. Press to prepare noise.
  2. Release to get.

Basically, on the piano, you don’t reach for a key until you need it. Wait that long on a harp, and it’s too late. That little half-off shift in process is juuuuuust close enough to the piano to make me want to wait until I need a sound before reaching for the string, and juuuuuust enough off from it to completely muck things up.

So, sum total lessons learned so far:

  1. Place fingers purposefully to avoid buzzing.
  2. Flipper hands.
  3. Thumb and forefinger apart!
  4. Place before you need the note.

Still practicing in the mornings

Figured out a fingering for “Vaga Luna,” but I’m still so close to the ground that I’m happy to noodle on arpeggios and scales for now. I can’t add in the left hand yet, although I can do just the right hand nicely. Even with the scales and arpeggios though, every time I think I might be able to up the pace a little it blows up, so I’m just going to happily putter away for now without trying to push things.

Important lessons: don’t reach for the strings and then adjust where your fingers are. Reach for them and get it right the first time. Also, think “flipper” for the unused fingers (and the hands in general) — keep them together and not tucked up or flailing around.

Still a nice way to start the day. 🙂

My fingertips are a titch sore when I’m done, but nothing serious. The proximal side of the middle finger is the most sore, but it doesn’t feel like it’s trying to “toughen up” very much. My index fingers and thumbs feel less sore, but also a bit tougher. Might be the handwork that I do.

I think the only real lesson learned from this morning’s practice session is not to rush ahead when I feel progress. I’m too early in, and I need to let progress be slow and soak in. I need to let the foundation cure before I start building the house on top.

Another morning practice session

More arpeggios and crossing under with the third finger this morning. I still can’t figure out how to manage to use my fourth fingers, as they are shorter than my index fingers and I have to contort my hands to get them onto the strings. Short fourth fingers are the case for most women though, and women are all over the harp, so it can’t be a stopper. Nevertheless, until I feel a bit more secure (and can think about obtaining a teacher who is open to alternating in-person and Skype lessons, and who is a reasonable drive away), I’m going to not worry about the fourth finger quite yet since it’s stumping me at the moment.

While doing the slow scales crossing under/over on three though, I did realize that I have to stop trying to bring my thumb and index finger together when I move them. They need to stay apart as they naturally are, in order to keep my hand from sort of scrunching up and preventing the normal closing into the palm.

No music yet, although a very, very simplified “Vaga Luna” is probably going to be first on the stack. The tarantelle will have to wait. Once I get my feet more under me though, I will have to practice an Alberti bass, both straight and dotted.

Things to keep in mind

Keep my hands relaxed and somewhat droopy in shape, as if I’m sliding a large, heavy medicine ball toward myself or “scooping” the sound toward myself.

Replace my fingers on the strings purposefully to avoid buzzing.

Don’t worry about the (annoyingly short) fourth finger yet.

There has never been a (non-guitarist) musician who has not lamented the existence of fingernails, nor that the fourth finger has no tendon of its own.