You know …

My hands weren’t hurting like this until I started taking lessons and getting exercises assigned to me that were supposed to do … something … I don’t know. Make my hands operate like everyone else’s. Like the hands of all of these professional harpists, most of which have been cut apart and sewn back together multiple times.

When I was arranging and playing things on my own, I had fun, learned things, and my hands didn’t hurt. They started hurting when “conditioning” exercises started being a thing for me.

I’m really angry about this. I wanted to take these lessons and not only learn how to do things in a structured way but just get the hell out of my apartment, where I mostly stay like a hermit, and maybe meet other musicians and socialize even just a tiny bit. And I like my teacher. I look forward to seeing her. She’s a really nice person — chatty, experienced, intelligent. But goddamn it, my hands hurt now. They never hurt when it was just me arranging things and learning to play them myself.

Is there a way for me to get out and meet other (amateur) musicians and socialize with them that doesn’t involve lessons, is what I’m wondering. Can I get the hell out of my own head without damaging my hands? I mean, these professional harpists all have tendonitis, nerve damage, rotator cuff damage, back pain … and yet their way is the right way? I mean, my hands never hurt like this when I was playing piano, and still don’t. Never.

There probably isn’t a way for me to do this, not that doesn’t involve folk music, which I’m forced to admit I don’t like and have no ear for. 😦 Even when I bought my “Irish” flute, I just started blowing opera out of the damned thing, and now I’m doing 12th century plainchant.

I’m a weird little freak alone in her own little world again, just like the past 51 years. I should just admit it’s a permanent state and stop trying to connect with other human beings finally.



This lessons business seems to be working. I’m really feeling more comfortable behind the harp, although part of studying an instrument (or anything really) in depth is that you will feel progressively less and less comfortable as time goes on. Still though, I’ll enjoy the feeling for as long as it lasts. 🙂

Stick to your time signature.

Or at least warn me when you change it.

My teacher assigned me the exercise in the Friou book on page 81, which is notated in 3/4. I could not make heads nor tails of it. It struck me as a random concatenation of notes somewhat like bebop, where it sounds as if someone had a mouthful of 16th notes and sneezed into a trumpet.

Then, I decided to put it in MuseScore and listen to it until it made sense to me.

That’s when I realized that there are four measures in the middle of it that are basically in 4/4.

So I stuck the new time signature over those measures, and now I can make sense of the thing, and look forward to practicing it. Doing that even got rid of some ridiculous cross-measure ties that made no sense to me.

I kept trying to count it as a waltz in my head while playing it, and those four measures just aren’t a waltz.

Problem solved.

Here’s the PDF for those who are curious: Friou Exercise pg81

Well, she seems pleased.

With my progress, I mean. She tells me I’m doing well and am in a good place, and it does feel nice to hear that — and she is loading me up, which also feels nice. She’s really very pleasant and seems to have a good, structured idea of how to move me forward, and a good idea of what will come next. Very reassuring.

Especially after my frustration with not doing the exercises she had given me well enough this past week. Was a busy, somewhat frustrating week at work, and the harp is like an emotional broadcasting device; I suppose all instruments are. Whatever you are feeling, it amplifies and broadcasts it. A good day or a good mood usually means a good session at the harp, and it’s the same for bad days and bad moods.

But nevertheless, she seems pleased.

Nice so far

So things are going nicely with my teacher. I’m pretty pleased — she’s doing exactly what I wanted, which is giving me exercises and short pieces to work on to correct defects and lacks in my technique. She’s great at picking things that will stretch my ability just a bit, so that I’m not struggling too much … but just enough. And each exercise has a definite success point where I know that I’m doing it properly.

I know it won’t stay this way as time goes on; eventually, I will start to get into greyer areas technique-wise. But for now, it’s very nice, and I’m being pleasantly surprised by my ability to learn these strange things that I didn’t think I’d be able to do.

I have had to make some changes to the short piece that she asked me to learn — the beginning of a piece called “Song of the Heart.” There’s one C that I must turn into an A or else my head will melt, and there is another part where I need to bump a C down to a G because it just sounds much better to me. None of these changes are technique-related; each would be easier to play as they are. But … I’m sorry, my ear keeps expecting an A there and hiccuping when there isn’t one, and that G sounds better walking down to the F than the C in the left hand.

I’m one of those, apparently.

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.

Getting a teacher

So I’ve opted to look into getting a proper teacher. Moving from the Ravenna 34 to the Daphne 40 really hit home that I didn’t play “the harp” so much as just my own particular harp. I contacted a very nice woman named Anne Sullivan who sounded me out a bit and then forwarded me to an ex-student of hers named Candace Lark, which is a wonderful name for a musician. I’ll be meeting with her on April 27th at 7pm so that we can sit and talk a bit and see if my goal/learning style and her teaching style mesh well. I’ve realized that my best way of learning is just to watch the other person’s hands; I can listen and read fine, but I really do need to just see it done, partly to convince myself that it can be done and partly to see how.

This is what used to drive me bats when my old viola teacher would bring his violin to lessons with me. Dude, watching you demonstrate something on what amounts to a Barbie Viola doesn’t help me figure out how to do it without turning myself into knots.

This is also part of why I opted for a female teacher. I know that men’s and women’s relative finger lengths are very different, and I’ve already got a boatload of pianist insecurities about the size of my fourth (and fifth) fingers. I need to see someone with similar relative finger lengths actually doing something in order to convince myself that I can do it.