Fourth finger giving you problems? Five quick tips…

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Technique practiceOften a harpist’s fourth finger is a matter for concern. Or rather, it isn’t a matter for concern until all of a sudden we need to use it.

It’s easy to get by using only three fingers a lot of the time. Even intermediate repertoire doesn’t call for much fourth finger work, and in my experience, students tend to avoid using it.

It isn’t that we don’t train the fourth finger. It’s simply that we often don’t really take the time to develop it, or even simply use it as much as the others.

How can you tell if your fourth finger is up to snuff? If the crossunders in your multi-octave scales and arpeggios are smooth and without bumps, they probably are fine. But if those crossunders slow you down and make you stumble, and all of us stumble at times, then these quick tips could help those reluctant fingers. 

1. Play your scales and arpeggios slowly and softly, making sure that your fourth finger is relaxed, curved and correct. Think of this as training your finger with kindness. Your finger is weak: forcing the issue won’t help. You must strengthen it gently and gradually.

2. Practice your crossunders separately. A few dozen extra repetitions of that portion of the scale, practiced carefully, slowly and softly, will help to coordinate your fourth finger with the shift of your hand.

3. Practice octaves. Play octaves up and down the harp, gently and with your best technique, being sure to listen for an equal balance and tone between your thumb and your fourth finger. As you play, feel your hand centered between those two fingers, not too far back toward your thumb or too far forward toward 4. Together thumb and fourth finger create a balance point for your hand, and your chords will sound more even when your hand is centered between them.

4. Follow the fingering in your music. If a fourth finger is indicated, consider it a reminder to use your fourth finger.

5. Listen. Make sure your fourth finger is equal in volume, tone and color to the other fingers. Again, slow scales and arpeggios are a great way to practice this. Truly, simply the act of paying attention to you fourth finger will help it significantly.

Let’s hear it for four!

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