Are you a healthy harpist?
No, this is not about proper nutrition or about getting enough sleep. Those are essential for everyone, not just harpists.
And for a change I’m not referring to good practice habits.
Instead, I want to help you build and maintain the correct physical habits that are necessary to play the harp well, without pain, stiffness and tension, the habits that will maintain your harp health.
Naturally, proper playing technique is one component. Before we can even touch on technique, however, we need to address more basic issues, like correct posture and ways you might be holding or creating tension while you play.
What follows is a checklist of fifteen of the most important requirements for being a “healthy” harpist. Use the list as a reminder, not just before you begin your practice, but often during each practice session. Remember that you are building healthy habits, which will require your time and attention to develop and become automatic.
Keeping your body aligned.
- Sit up straight. Tuck that tummy in and center your weight over your hips, even with the harp pulled back.
- Keep your feet flat on floor or for the pedal harp, keep your heels on the floor. Your feet are your foundation.
- Check your music stand. Is it too far, too close or too much to the side? You shouldn’t have to twist or stretch to see the music or turn a page.
- Are you sitting too high or too low? The ideal height is one that allows the harp to lean against you without weighing you down and one that doesn’t require you to hunch over to play. Adjust the height of your seat slightly whenever you feel shoulder or back fatigue.
- Keep your chin up – literally. Don’t let your head droop; it will cause neck strain.
- Relax your shoulders. When you lift your arms to play, don’t lift your shoulders too. No hunching!
- Relax your facial muscles. Be sure that your mouth and jaw aren’t clenched and that your eyes aren’t squinting.
- No Teacup pinky! Don’t hyper-extend your pinky. It should follow your fourth finger naturally in and out of your hand.
- Don’t hold your breath. Duh.
- Focus on one thing at a time. A relaxed mind concentrates better and learns more thoroughly and easily.
Physical basics for better playing.
- Center your hand behind the strings you are playing. This avoids unnecessary stretching and distortion of your hand and finger position.
- Keep your thumb high. You thumb can then close over your hand and that movement will keep your thumb relaxed and produce a good tone.
- Use full finger motion. When your fingers move as you play, closing into your hand, they will relax. By the way, the bigger the motion, the easier it is to produce a full sound.
- Use your upper arm. These are the strong support muscles which can easily bear the burden of harp playing. They will allow your hands and fingers to be free and flexible.
- Keep a supple wrist. Your wrist should have a relaxed and natural angle while you play, and it should be loose so that you can flex it back as you lift your hands off the strings.
You should be feeling more healthy already!