How To Play
THE INDEX FINGER (LEFT HAND).
This is very much the same process as the right hand index finger. Go through the same set of procedures, remembering that there will be a difference in the alignment of the forearm. Once you have covered the basics to a single octave, you should practice using your left hand right up into the treble register as it is often required to play all the way up there.
The notation for these exercises is in the bass part of Ex. 1, 2 and 3. Again, remember that evenness is the key to practice. Do not hurry through any of these steps, and be certain to apply your neural patterning. LEFT AND RIGHT HAND TOGETHER.
- Play index-thumb with the left hand followed straight on with index- thumb on the same notes in the treble with the right hand, (ascending order).
- Play notes in descending order ( thumb-index of right hand followed directly by thumb index of the left hand).
- Very slowly, play the Bach riff exercise first with the right hand then straight on with the left hand and then with both hands simultaneously, but at an octave from each other, naturally. Watch the notation to get used to the recognition of notes in the bass clef.
- Do the same thing with the jumping a string exercise, again with the hands playing at an octave.
- Apply your neural patterning.
THE THIRD FINGER AND THE TRICHORD. (RIGHT HAND).
A trichord is any sequence of three consecutive notes having either a tone or a semitone between them. It is not a real musical term but is adapted from the actual term tetrachord, which refers to any sequence of four consecutive notes with either tones or semitones separating them. Because so much of the fingering of scales relies on three and four note sequences, it seems convenient to have terms to cover both.
- Placing the thumb on the middle C, let the index and the third finger fall down at a slanting angle onto the B and A strings respectively. The fingers should be slanted rather than bent at the middle joint, and should form an arrow headed angle with the line of the cusp, with the third finger being placed closest to the point of crossover, the thumb extended upwards. Keep the hand in a more open position by keeping the extension between the thumb and the fingers at as great an angle as is practicable, without stretching or creating false tension.
- Pluck the A with the third finger, ensuring that you follow through with the finger, followed by the index finger and then the thumb. The index finger and the thumb stay in place to support the playing of the A, while the index finger remains preplaced on the B to support the playing of the C. Before you play the thumb note, it is necessary to return the index finger and the third finger to their pre-placed positions on their strings, to offer foundation for the playing of the thumb. See Exercise 4.
- Play this three finger pattern all the way up the treble, with the third finger stepping up a note higher with each repeat, see Exercise 5. On each occasion, before the thumb plays the final note in the sequence, preplace the third finger to the string above that which it has just played, so that each three note unit is linked to the previous one. This process of linking is vital to your technique.
- Play the same passage in descent. See Exercise 6. However, this time the preplacement is reversed, with the thumb and index finger retuning to their strings before the third finger sounds.
- Play the descending pattern of three note units all the way down the instrument, using the preplacement of the thumb to link one unit to the next. See Exercise 7.
- Play the three notes ascending and descending in continuous order. The most important thing to observe here is preplacement. Ensure that when the thumb is playing, that the index finger and third finger are solidly preplaced on their strings, that when the index finger is playing it is supported by the preplaced third finger when you are playing downwards , and by the thumb when you are playing upwards, and that when the third finger is playing, it is supported by the preplaced index finger and thumb. You should feel the fingers which are moving as a two finger unit work as one, coming down firmly to their preplaced position on the strings above or below the third finger in ascent and the thumb in descent.
- Next we will do an exercise based on the Bach riff we have already met in a previous exercise. This time we will use the second and third fingers to play the descending notes against the thumb’s repeated note, see Exercise 8.
- Place all of the fingers down before you play a note, and try to lift only that finger which is plucking a string, returning the other two to their preplaced position on the strings. Do this very slowly to begin with. If you are having trouble with the index finger scooping or hooking and thus sounding boney, try extending the positions of your thumb and third fingers slightly, so producing a little more room for the index finger. If you find that the strings are buzzing when you are playing, it is because your replacement is not crisp and certain enough. You need to be able to stop the vibrations of the string with a quick and firm touch before you actually have to sound that string again. If buzzing is a feature of the sound you are making, try the above exercise with repeated notes, getting used to the idea of stopping the vibration then plucking the string.
- Play these exercises as loudly as you can.
- Play these exercises as softly as you can.
- Apply neural patterning.
- Begin by placing the index and the thumb on the C and E strings.
- Play each string in repeated succession keeping one finger preplaced as the other plays its string.
- Play both simultaneously, feeling that pinch action between the thumb and the index, and taking advantage of it to generate strength and tone.
- Normally such an exercise would have all the notes linked, but at the moment we are only interested in taking that two finger position and transposing it up a string, so that you are now playing the D and the F strings.
- Again, play these back and forward and as the third.
- Move to the next string, and so on up the treble range of your harp. Remember to keep a constant eye on the height of your elbow and the alignment of the forearm and wrist, and ensure that these remain constant as you move up and down the instrument.
Do the same in descent. See Ex. 3 This exercise is notated to two octaves but you should attempt this exercise by degrees, moving up and back in the range of an octave before attempting to encompass the entire notated two octaves. Eventually you want to be able to do this exercise up and down the entire reachable range of your instrument.
- Remember at every stage to apply neural patterning. Be careful at all times that the forearm position is maintained, that you are following all the way through with all of the finger movements, and that you are remembering to breathe evenly, with that evenness extending to your tempo and your tone.
THE THIRD FINGER AND TRICHORD. (LEFT HAND).
This is the same set of exercises as the right hand. The same elements of preplacement and linking are essential to observe with the left hand as well. You will find the notation for the left hand exercises in the bass part of the right hand examples. Remember to apply your neural patterning. The more fingers you are using, the more important it is to help the brain out. Also, remember to use different dynamics, that is, loud and soft, as this helps to establish tone, variety and expression in your playing.
TRICHORDS FOR THE LEFT AND RIGHT HANDS TOGETHER.
- egin with your simple A.B.C. trichord ascending and then descending, see Exercises 4 and 6.
- Continue on with ever extending walks up and down the whole range of the harp, see exercises 5 and 7. Watch out for buzzing, using a crisp attack to avoid it.
- Keep the volume and the tone of both hands balanced.
- Watch particularly that you keep the thumb of the left hand and the third finger of the right hand, placed closely to the cusp of the strings. Get into the habit of keeping your hands playing up and down the cusp, and not roving either too high with the right hand, or too low with the left hand.
- Be mindful at all times that you are following through with the fingers to the palm of the hand and that as you move up and down the harp your forearm, elbow and shoulder are all involved correctly, and not inhibiting overall movement, and that you are preplacing and linking at all times.
- Play the above exercises as loudly as you can.
- Play the above exercises as softly as you can.
- Apply neural patterning.
TETRACHORDS FOR THE RIGHT HAND.
By now both you and your brain should be getting used to this routine, and this next section follows very predictably the direction already established for the first three fingers.
- When all four fingers are placed on their strings, you will see that they form an arrow-head angle fanning down from the angle of the crossover.
- Ensure that the palm is parallel to the strings, that the thumb is cocked and the three fingers dropping at a slight slant onto their strings.
- Keep the palm of the hand open by extending upwards with the thumb and downwards with the fourth finger, so avoiding constriction of the hand muscles and the finger shapes.
- Keep the wrist strong and in alignment.
- Make sure the fingers do the work, moving with a brisk attack, both with placement and plucking, and traveling right through to the palm of the hand after having plucked.
- Make solid contact with the instrument; press into the strings, lean into the notes and feel that you are lifting them out of the instrument.
- Make sure the hand position and its movements look elegant.
- Watch out for strain on the top of the forearm.
- Keep the hands in a close relationship to the cusp, particularly now that the fourth finger becomes the finger closest to the cusp in the right hand, while the thumb maintains its position in the left hand. These two fingers are important because they constitute the foundation point for the rest of the fingers, somewhat in the same way that a muscle insertion secures the muscle at one end. If they are poorly placed, they compromise the workings of all the other fingers.
- As you travel up and down the instrument, pay special attention to the position of the elbows. They should be in a position to draw the hands up the length of the fingerboard and push the hands back down the fingerboard.
Exercise 9 is the tetrachord in ascent and descent. Begin with all fingers preplaced, then, one by one play up the C D and E, returning those fingers to their preplaced position before sounding the F with the thumb, then play down, doing the same thing with the turn-around of the thumb, then play up the scale again.
Do the same exercise with repeated notes, providing the opportunity to work with controlling the vibration of the string before playing it, preventing buzzing.
Exercise 10. is the tetrachords moving by degrees up and down the register of the harp. Remember, the importance of this exercise is to link each group of notes, by ensuring that the fourth finger has moved up to, and been preplaced on, the string next up from the one it has just played, prior to the thumb sounding the last note in the sequence. Thus it is there to provide an anchor for the thumb note, and to be ready as the first note in the next sequence. As soon as the thumb sounds its string, the remaining fingers should pounce onto their preplaced positions, along with the return of the thumb to its position.
Exercise 11. is the Bach riff with an added two notes, to give the fourth finger a special workout, as it plays two consecutive strings. Once a finger has sounded its string, it returns to roost on it while the other fingers do their work. This exercise is also beneficial for preventing a lazy thumb, so be careful to close the thumb position down like a lavatory lid everytime it plays. If you find that the fingers are bunching in on one another, try slightly extending the thumb upwards and the fourth finger downwards and straightening the fingers, particularly if you are playing on a narrow necked instrument with a wider-angled cross-over.
TETRACHORDS FOR THE LEFT HAND.
Following straight on from the logic of the right hand the left hand covers the same exercises with their part being notated in the bass line of exercises 9, 10 and 11. In the case of the left hand, you must link with the fourth finger or the thumb as you move from one tetrachord to the next; the fourth when in descent and the thumb when in ascent.
Watch the position of your elbow and make certain it doesn’t drag the arm down. Keep the thumb placed as close as you can to the cusp so that the pentatonic row is always a near neighbour. You will see that there are times when the thumb can be slipped in quite high on its string; on the B-C and E-F string spaces.
TETRACHORDS FOR BOTH HANDS.
Now that you have come to this stage it is vital to remember posture, When you are doing the following exercises, be careful that the head is held up and that the shoulders are not slumping forward. Lift the head to staighten the spine and keep in mind all those points about arm position, following through with the finger tips, keeping the palm open and staying close to the cusp.
Very slowly and with great attention to overall evenness of tone and tempo, go through Exercises 9, 10 and 11 using both hands. Remember to keep breathing, even though you may be concentrating. Do not inject unnecessary tension into the movements. You need to consciously avoid the propensity to tighten up, all the way from the shoulders to the finger tips.
Exercise 12 is a two handed alternating scale exercise that moves right up and down the range of your harp. It is ideal for getting the arms used to moving the entire range of the instrument, as well as training the hands to follow the line of the cusp and getting you used to the notion of the left and right hands playing the same phrase in alternating turns, up and down the full range of the harp.
If you have a smaller harp, play as many of the notes as are covered in your range. Remember to maintain a close placement to the cusp and to support the movement with the entire arm unit, leading up with the elbow and downwards with the knuckles. You are aiming for a seamless passage with perfectly balanced attack, tone, volume and tempo.
One of the most important things to develop is an absolute inaudibility of difference in the change from one hand to the other in either the tone or the tempo. To achieve this, remember to press into the tetrachord when the fingers first descend on the strings and use the strength of the whole elbow –forearm unit.
Try the same thing in fours, which is pretty normal, and then in threes, which requires a concentrated effort to establish the correct pulse of triplets as opposed to sets of four. You will find that it helps to accent the first beat of each group of three. This exercise is a great warm-up when you first sit down at the harp.
THE TURNUNDER AND TURNOVER.
Having developed the ability to play four note phrases, we now need to link them together to form longer phrases and scales. The turn under and turnover is a vital part of your technique, and needs to be as unconscious and as effortless as possible. It is the stitch that holds the music together at the seams. We will do these turnarounds with both trichords and tetrachords, dealing with the left and right hands simultaneously, as it is the same move for both hands. This does not mean that you should not begin by practicing each separately.
Begin with the third , index and thumb placed on the C D and E. As you strike the C string, let the third finger begin a journey with its point headed down and under the other fingers, and towards the F, where it should be firmly prepositioned by the time the thumb comes to sound the E. As soon as the E is plucked, the hand moves upwards, pivoting on the foundation of the third finger, so that the index finger and thumb fall onto the G and the A, providing the foundation for the third finger to go ahead and play the F. If you are having problems with constriction, open your position by extending the thumb particularly, so that there is plenty of room for the third finger to move under.
In descent, it is the thumb which leads down and over. Once you have played the thumb on the A it begins its journey down and over the other fingers so that it is in position back down on the E just before the third finger plays the F, then having played, the index and third finger pounce back onto the D and C strings, ready to play. See Exercise 13. Do not place the thumb of the right hand too close to the cusp or you will bunch up. Remember, that thumb is normally the finger furtherest from the cusp. If you keep your hand position open you will avoid traffic jams at the point of turn unders and turn overs.
Be careful not to swivel or manipulate the wrist during turnovers and turnunders the entire forearm should be involved with and governing the movement up or down, not the wrist, which should remain strong and static.
With your turnarounds at the end of passages of four notes the only difference is the greater distance that the fourth finger or thumb must travel under or over to land on its new string. All that this requires is practice. See Exercise 14. Once the finger responsible for the turn under or turnover has sounded its string, the other three must pounce onto their respective strings ready to play. Do not bother linking more that two sets of tetrachords at the moment, because the fingering for extended scale passages changes in the second octave.
Try to play so that the the point of turnover or turn under is as inaudible as possible, by making the sets of notes you are linking balanced in terms of their tone and dynamic. It should be one seamless stream of notes.
Particularly with this, as with all the foregoing exercises, remember to apply your neural patterning. THE SCALE OF C MAJOR. We are now actually already capable of playing this scale, as it is merely the two linked sets of tetrachords extending up or down from the C string. At the moment we are able to play it to one octave only. To play to two octaves we must include a trichord, that is a three note pattern, followed by another tetrachord, so that our thumb ends up neatly on the top C to complete the scale. This means that in ascent, you play one set of four notes, turning under with the fourth finger to the G, followed by another set of four notes, at the end of which you turn under with the third finger to the D so that you play a three note set on the D E and F followed by a turn under with the fourth finger moving to the G so that you are in a position to play out the four top notes of the scale.
In descent, the thumb turns over to come down on the G after the first four notes have been played, then you play down a three note set with the thumb, index and third, turning over with the thumb moving down to the C, followed by four notes and another turnover with the thumb moving down to the F, followed by the final four notes of the scale, terminating with the fourth finger on the low C. See Exercise 15.
Make sure that the index, third and fourth fingers are operating as a unit in their moves from one position to the next.
For the one and only time, the left hand is the same as the right hand in terms of fingering. See Exercise 15. the bass part..
For every major scale, there is a relative minor scale, that is, a scale which utilizes exactly the same row of notes, but, since it commences on the string a minor third below the original starting note (tonic), it sounds as a minor scale. The relative minor for C major is A minor, see Ex. 16. There are three types of minor scales which we shall experience as we progress, the pure minor, the harmonic minor and the melodic minor. This type we have just meet with is the most simple and unaltered of the forms, and so is sometimes called the simple minor and also the natural minor.
The fingering of the relative minor key is identical with the major key with which it is related; the hand simply drops into the fingering pattern at a different starting point. It is important to become thoroughly familiar with your relative minor scales and their fingerings, as they constitute the basis of the fingering patterns for the more complex and rich melodic and harmonic scales.
As with all of the scale passages you are about to experience, the examples are given to two octaves. This does not mean that you should be tempted to play that far initially. It is crucial that you do not race through any of this material. Play securely in the range of the octave before you consider moving to longer passages.
If you wish, you may practice double handed scales, but this may be a little premature for some at the moment.
We have already reiterated those points of technique which must be given attention at every stage of your development so far. Now that you are playing actual scales to two octaves, those points become crucial, because it is at this stage that you can consolidate either bad or good technique. The points which you should be looking to with this and all subsequent scale practice are;
- The palm more or less parallel to the strings.
- The thumb cocked and reaching upwards, to open the hand position.
- The fingers slanting and reaching down to the strings so that, with the thumb, they form an arrowhead angle fanning down from the cusp and open the hand out, along with the thumb.
- The wrist, forearm and elbow should be comfortably lifted.
- The fingers should strike with the fleshy pad and follow through with every note, to the palm of the hand. Avoid hooking, particularly with the inner fingers.
- The top joint of the fingers should not cave in, they must be strong and convex.
- Preplacement should always be used to stabilize and support the note being played.
- The entire arm unit, right up to the shoulder, should be raised and included in the movement of the hand up and down the instrument.
- You should have a clear and crisp articulation of the note with a minimum of buzzing. This means a firm attack and effective stopping of vibrating strings.
- An evenness of tone and dynamic, practiced by playing your exercises as loudly as you can and as softly as you can, as well as at normal volume.
Scales constitute the entire foundation to being able to play an instrument. They are actually the templates for motor response, or if you like, the road maps for the brain, when it is confronted with a piece of music to play. The more consolidated your scale patterns are in the neural patterns in your brain, the more automatic and natural and instantaneous your brain’s response to the playing of the music. This is a particularly valuable ability when we get into the more complex bi-lateral scale. With music, and particularly with technique, you don’t want to have to think about it when you are doing it.
It is important not to over-practice, by which I mean repeating the one exercise or movement too frequently in a certain period of time. You need to pace yourself and try to avoid sitting at the harp for longer than fifty minutes at a time. Alternate work for the right hand alone with work for the left hand alone and vary the types of exercises you are doing, so that slightly different muscles are being used.