Posture is arguably the most important physical factor in playing any instrument. It is the first thing our teachers teach us and unfortunately often something we forget to check as the years of lessons roll by. Our posture is the foundation for our technique and our best defense against fatigue and injuries. Whatever instrument you play, if you understand correct posture with your instrument, and you check it each time you practice, you may discover a new sense of freedom and comfort.
I have reviewed the advice on posture from three standard harp method books: Complete Method for the Harp, by Henriette Renié, pp. 7, and 41; Universal Method for the Harp, by Bochsa-Oberthuer, pp. 21-22 (out of print); and Method for the Harp by Lawrence and Salzedo. pp. 2-3. Check your posture with the help of these experts.
Renié: The player should sit very erect in an natural position, not too close to the harp (the harp will fall forward) or too far from the harp (the harp will be too heavy on the shoulder).
Bochsa: The posture should be “easy, graceful and upright.”
L&S: The player should be erect, not too tense or too relaxed, sitting neither on the edge of the bench (which looks awkward)or far back on the bench (which prevents free pedal movement). The head should not lean to the left or rest on the harp.
Height for Sitting:
Renié: An adult should have the second octave C at eye level, when sitting very straight.
Bochsa: In proportion to the height of the player and the size of the harp, the correct height will allow the player to hold the harp in the right position and play with “ease and surety.”
L&S: To check your height, place your hands on the strings in the middle register. You should be able to maintain correct position comfortably, keeping your shoulders down.
Supporting the Harp:
Renié: The harp should rest on your shoulder and lightly on the inner side of your right knee. The harp should be straight, not slanted or turned toward you, so you have a better view of all the strings. It should rest on your shoulder, not your arm.
Bochsa: The harp should rest on your shoulder and lightly on the inner side of your right knee. Support the harp with your shoulder not your arm, to prevent fatigue.
L&S: The harp should rest on the shoulder and both knees. It should be on your shoulder, as close to your neck as possible.
Feet and Pedals:
Renié: Do not raise your knees when pushing the pedals, although if you have short legs, you may find it helpful to raise your heel off the floor.
Bochsa: PUsh pedals only with the ball of your foot; never raise your whole leg.
L&S: Your feet should be flat on the floor when not on the pedals.
Position of Music Stand:
Renié: The music stand should be placed “well in front” to prevent the side-to-side head motion which is “noxious and ungraceful.”
Bochsa and L&S: These texts make no mention of the music stand. I took a lesson from Salzedo’s music stand that I used when I studied at the Camden School in Maine. His stand had a very small (pentagonal!) base which allowed you to bring the stand very close to the harp directly in front of you. You could see the strings and the music without turning your head.
I realize the above advice comes from and is directed to pedal harpists, not lever harpists. However, I believe that most of the fundamental principles still apply, with the necessary modifications for the different sizes of harps. An upright and relaxed posture, with shoulders down and head straight, arms comfortable and feet flat will always be a good place to start.
Make correct harp posture a habit starting today!