Future harpest who's blind.

  • Participant
    CelticKnot on #187275

    So, I’m new at all this music stuff and practically know nothing. Lol. : I have lots of questions, but today I’m focusing on blind harp players, as I’m completely blind. I can forsee some challenges in learning to play the harp, but I’m sure I’ll figure things out eventually. 🙂 D

    Firstly, I’m looking at getting a Dusty Strings FH 34 in walnut. I really, really liked the sound of their walnut harps–I like a warmer, mellower sound, and the FH 34 fit the bill! I’m sure I’ll go back to Harps ETC (my nearest harp store) and look at other models, but the FH 34 really spoke to me. Note that I could only try out the FH 26 in the FH line, because Harps ETC doesn’t stock the FH 34. I really liked the sound of the FH 26, though, and don’t think that would change on hearing the FH 34.

    Anyhow, I have some questions.
    1. Are there any blind harpests on this forum? If so, any advice? Advice is welcome from sighted harpests, too, as the more discussion, especially of possible snags I might hit, the better.

    2. Is it harpest or harper? Lol!

    3. How do blind players figure out which leaver goes with which string, especially while playing? I know about leaver rings and caps, and I think they’d help somewhat, especially for finding C’s, but I was having major trouble following the string up to the leaver. Once I got to the neck, keeping my finger on the string and not getting confused by all the metal stuff near it was challenging. Also, because of the leaver mechanism–I’m assuming–things get kind of cramped for fingers.

    4. I have some resources for Braille music, as well as books that will help a sighted teacher who knows nothing about Braille music teach me. I also know that Sylvia Woods’s Teach Yourself to Play the Folk Harp was produced in Braille. I’m just worried that Braille music is going to be hard to get my head around. Note that I already know Braille, so that’s not an issue.

    5. Has anyone transported a 34 harp, preferably one around the same size as the DS FH 34 on an intercity bus? Do you think I’d get told I couldn’t bring it on? I forsee less trouble with our train system in northern California, BART, as you can bring bikes on in a specific car. Granted, a harp isn’t the same, but I guess I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it.

    6. How awkward is it going to be to carry the harp on my back? I know that DH makes backpack straps for their cases, but I’m worried about clearance through doorways and people who know better but aren’t looking where their going crashing into me and whatnot. Although I’ll probably get a bit more respect from cars when I’m crossing the street because of how odd I look carrying the harp around lol.

    7. How the heck do I know what hight everything should be for me? I know that you’re supposed to sit up straight with your feet on the floor, but apart from that, I have no clue.

    8. On that note, any recomendations on stools or benches? I looked at the stool from Dusty Strings, but wow, was it expensive! Good features, but expensive! Can anyone recommend anything similar? I especially like the fact that it has a back and the cutout near the front so your legs are more comfortable. I’m looking for something with a back that will support good posture; I’m a sloucher, and I just want that lumbar support. If it gives you any insight, I have trouble standing for long periods. It’s not that I can’t, it’s just that my back gets sore when I do. I know that’s because of my crappy posture–which is why I need something which will make me sit correctly.

    Thanks,
    CelticKnot

    Participant
    wil-weten on #187276

    Hi CelticKnot,

    There are a few blind harpers on the Virtual Harpcircle list at https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/virtualharpcircle/info You may like to join that list, search its archives and ask questions.

    I am certain you will find a lot of handy information there and (virtually) meet many friendly people with different backgrounds who like to share their insights on playing the harp.

    Participant
    Sylvia on #187277

    I worked in the schools with the blind as a braillist. I’m certified in both literary and music braille. Music braille is different. The C note is a braille D, etc., but you get used to it. At first, I found it very confusing. Many adult blind students learn music braille on the Hadley School for the Blind course on the Internet.
    Are you previously sighted, or have you always been blind? It makes a big difference if you already know how things look.
    Here is a discussion forum you might enjoy.
    menvi-discuss@menvi.org
    MENVI is Music Education Network for the Visually Impaired.

    Participant
    CelticKnot on #187279

    Thanks for this list! I’ll be sure to check them out! 🙂

    Participant
    CelticKnot on #187280

    Hello, Sylvia,

    I’ve been blind since birth.

    Thanks for those resources. I’ve read about the Hadley course on their website, but I’m worried that I’m going to need to know music stuff in order to take that course–and at the moment–I don’t. Lol I need to learn a lot. Music basics, Braille music, not to mention all the harp-related stuff like hand position and whatnot. I’m planning to rent, but I have some stuff to do first, like get a job. 😀 This instrument is going to be expensive! 😀 I also want to have a house before I start renting, because I’ll have more space for the harp, and I can put it into a room where our cute-as-hell terrier doesn’t have access. Right now, my husband and I live in an apartment, and I don’t have the separate room for the harp. We’re hoping to have the house sometime next year, but that all depends on whether I get the job.

    I plan to take lessons in person, at least at first, because I think that would be easier for me in terms of learning the basics.

    I’ll definitely check out MENVI, as well.

    Where would be a good place to learn music basics? If it gives you any clue, I know that there’s such a thing as octives, and they go in half-steps. So a C-sharp is also a D-flat, etc. And I know there’s keys, but I have know idea what they are, really. And I know that there’s different types of cords, such as major and minor, but that’s about it. Lol.

    Thanks,
    CelticKnot

    Member
    Janis Cortese on #187282

    Maybe you can use the rubber marker rings in a slightly different way — put one ring on each C lever, two on each F, and three on each A. You’d need to buy a couple packs of rings, but you could probably tell the difference between each lever by touch, and every lever will either be uniquely marked, or at most one lever away from one that is uniquely marked. You’d probably need to work at it a bit to learn how to move your hand up there and tell quickly which lever you had to throw, but with time I don’t doubt you could get good at it.

    Over time, I’ve learned that sighted people really don’t have a good idea of what blind people are capable of, which makes sense. You’re the expert at being blind here, not me. 🙂 If you want to do this, then do it, and I’m positive you will figure out a way to be successful.

    However, I would hesitate to carry a 34-string harp on my back. I have a Ravenna 34, and I would drop over if I ever tried to use the case as a backpack. I’m not small (5’8″) but I’m also fairly thin and not strong. I truly wish that DS would build a case for their harps that has wheels built into the bottom part of the case, so that it could just be pulled up by the far end and rolled over the ground.

    Member
    Janis Cortese on #187284

    Height-wise, I’m 5’8″ and I use the 8″ legs on my Ravenna. For a bench, I just use a piano bench. I’m a pianist, so I’m used to sitting on them, and I bought one from Amazon that has storage in it as well, which is nice.

    Participant
    carl-swanson on #187285

    I know you want to play the harp. But in this case I think that studying the piano first for a year or so would help you understand so much about music theory and how music functions. That’s because you can easily feel the relationship of natural notes to sharp and flat notes on a keyboard. I think that if you came to the harp with some piano background, then your harp studies would make a lot more sense more quickly. By the way, do you have perfect pitch? If you did, I would think that would also help you a lot in learning an instrument.

    Participant
    CelticKnot on #187286

    Hey, Janis, excellent ideas! I never thought of using multiple rings! I think I’ll do that, plus some leaver caps on certain strings.

    Interesting idea–a case with wheels! Have you ever used a harp cart with your Ravenna 34? The harp+case doesn’t seem like it would be too heavy for me (I float between the late 90’s and early 100′ pound mark, and I’m about 5 ft 6), but we’ll see. Since the FH 34 comes with a case, I might be able to try carrying it on my back without purchasing the straps. I wonder if the FH 26 straps would work well enough with the FH 34 case to give me an idea of how well it would work to carry the harp on my back. I wouldn’t want to buy the straps only to find out that they’re not going to be a solution that works well for me. The reason I ask about the FH 26 straps is because my closest harp shop doesn’t carry the FH 34; they do carry the FH 26, though, so maybe I could try out the FH 34 with the FH 26 straps if they have them in store.

    I’ve heard of piano benches. I’m worried about my seating being too big–do piano benches come in smaller sizes?

    Thanks,
    CelticKnot

    Participant
    CelticKnot on #187287

    Hello, Carl,

    I actually do have some piano background. Not much, I’ll admit, but I do know that notes can either be natural, flat, or sharp. You know more about the harp than I do, so you might be right that learning piano might help me understand music concepts better, but I also pick up things well. I like to learn how things work and why things are they way they are. This needing to understand the logic of things has served me well over the years. I think I’ll pursue harp first, though. I also have a friend who’s blind who’s learning piano, and I’m sure she can help me with music concepts when I get stuck. I don’t want to spend a year learning an instrument I don’t have much interest in playing. Thanks for the advice, though.

    Thanks,
    CelticKnot

    Participant
    Biagio on #187288

    Here are a couple of thoughts for you…..

    With respect to levers: there is a technique that double strung harpers use since they cannot, of course, see the right hand side. The “trick” is to place your finger on the string, then quickly slide it up to the lever and flip it up or down. This is easiest with levers having a long handle (cam) such as the newer Lovelands and the Truitts.

    If you are starting music pretty much from the beginning it’s unlikely that you will need to be “flipping levers” (that is playing accidentals) for some time; at least until you’ve developed good technique.

    On that score (pun intended) I respectfully disagree with Carl to some degree unless you already have a piano. A piano keyboard is certainly easier to visualize (white and black keys) and I wish I had started that way. Singing lessons would have gotten me started just as well and are lot more useful (ie to accompany the voice on the harp).

    But if you can’t see the keys anyway how much would a piano really help? Technique is totally different and you would be training your hands to do something they would not do on the harp. It might be better to use your ears just as the blind harpers of Ireland did. There are plenty of good books out there on theory written specifically for harps and I am sure at least some are available in Braille.

    Ask our blind musicians on the Virtual Harp Circle how they went about it (I am the owner and moderator of that forum).

    As a matter of convention, most people say “harpist” when referring to those who play the pedal instrument, “harpers” for the lever or wire strung. Those who have a quirky sense of humor (that would be me) sometimes say “harperist” which usually gets a laugh.

    Chairs: I love my “Adjustright” chair since I play several different sizes of harps, but it is pricey. The advantage is that you can change the height by almost a foot, as well as the angle. Aside from cost, the main disadvantage – it is heavy!

    You will be fine with Dusty’s back pack straps but be aware that they are best for a lighter instrument – that FH34 is probably about as heavy as I’d want to do (though it certainly beats lugging the thing with a shoulder strap).

    Welcome to the magical world of the harp!

    Biagio

    Participant
    CelticKnot on #187289

    Hello, Biagio,

    I just subscribed to the Virtual Harp Circle group. I think I managed to do everything correctly, so we’ll see how that goes lol.

    As for the backpack straps, I am a little nervous about carrying the thing around, but we’ll see how I get along.

    I’m glad to hear that I won’t have to do much leaver-flipping in the beginning.

    In regards to piano, even if I couldn’t see the keys, I would probably memorize how far I’d have to move up/down the keyboard when moving around while playing using time management / a little finger gliding. Obviously, this is just how I imagine I would do things on the piano, having not played it long enough to get a sense of how things progress the further you advance. Of course, on the harp, you probably shouldn’t touch the strings with one hand while playing with the other hand to find your place. I wonder what else would work? I don’t want to put anything on my harp that would leave marks. I’m thinking that finding my place with the left hand might be easier than with the right, as I have leavers on the left-hand side of the neck that might be able to help with this, but not on the right.

    I’m rather proud of myself. I was managing to pick out the beginnings of some celtic tunes while at the harp shop, as well as quite a bit from a Christmas song. Lol now I have Eleanor Plunket stuck in my head. I’ll definitely be asking other blind harpers how they handled learning music, either by ear or with Braille music.

    Lol harperist. 😀

    I think I’ll look around for something similar to the stool released by Dusty Strings, but for a bit cheaper.

    Yeah, I know what you mean about the shoulder strap. I slung the FH 26 onto my shoulder in the shop, and was glad I wouldn’t have to carry it anywhere. It wasn’t crazy heavy (although I’m sure I’d start to feel it after a while) but it definitely felt unwieldy I would be afraid I’d knock into the harp into things while using the shoulder strap. I feel a bit the same about using the backpack straps, but I’m sure I’ll get used to it. I’m sure it’s just the thought of potentially wrecking an expensive instrument that has me a bit on edge about transporting it. Luckily, I won’t have to do that for lessons, if I don’t want. The shop that I’ll be getting my harp from does lessons, and while they won’t have the model I’ll be buying, they have other models from Dusty Strings that I can use for lessons if I don’t want to bring my harp to lessons.

    Thanks,
    CelticKnot

    Member
    Janis Cortese on #187291

    A quick note about the piano — Biagio, a big advantage of the piano for someone with low or nonexistent vision is that one can run one’s hands over the keys without making any sound. The fingers can run over them and feel their way around in a manner that doesn’t exist on the harp.

    Participant
    Biagio on #187295

    Janis, I’m not saying that the piano would not be excellent theory training. But I’m puzzled – if I were to just run over the keys without making a sound won’t I simply be learning the chromatic scale by feel? I’m probably missing something here since I don’t play piano. Or anything else aside from saxophone back in high school. Not much music theory there:-)

    Back to CelticKnot’s issue about knowing where the strings are…..wire strings are incredibly hard to see even in the best of light so many players go almost entirely by feel. They use two concepts called “coupled hands” and “finger anchor”. Not that I’m very good at this yet but I do understand the concept: your two hands are coupled in that they “know” where they are in relation to each other spatially, and one finger of each hand is always anchored on a reference string. Obviously this technique won’t work too well for octave jumps, but then a wire harp is not usually more than four octaves at most…..

    Biagio

    Participant
    CelticKnot on #187296

    Hello, Biagio. I think what Janis is trying to say is that it would be easier to jump octives and find your place on a piano during a piece because of being able to run your hands over the keys and know where you are. For example, if you hit a pare of black keys, you know that C is just to the left of the second black key, if going up the keyboard. This makes sense, but seeing as there are blind harpers out there, I’m sure ways can be found to do this on a harp.

    I just had a thought. Do the bridge pins stick out on the right-hand side of the neck? If so, I can also put rings on them which correspond to the ones on the leavers on the left-hand side. Maybe that would help.

    Thanks,
    CelticKnot

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