Grow Old with Me: Aging-Related Changes

Posted In: How To Play

  • Participant
    renaissancemanohio on #195018

    When I was deciding whether or not to purchase a new pedal harp, my partner Gene recommended that I move forward now “before you are too old to play it.” A recent post by an esteemed colleague reported on the purchase of a smaller harp that would be easier to carry as he gets older. So, I started to wonder: What are the changes harpists experience as we age? How do these changes affect our playing? What accommodations do we make for these changes? What do we do to stave off the impact of aging on our playing? How does our relationship to the harp change with time?

    So I’m putting out the call. What have been your experiences and thoughts on this topic? What have you observed in your teachers and mentors? How is it different for you?

    John, Columbus, Ohio

    Biagio on #195021

    There are physical changes that all of us can expect sooner or later; when they become noticeable of course will differ in timing and degree.  Most frequently cited among friends (and for myself) are a decrease in flexibility, ability to concentrate for extended periods, joint problems particularly in the hands, arms and lower back, and eyesight.  Assuming there is nothing abnormal going on we can find ways to cope with all of these: attention to diet, moderate exercise (Tai Chi is particularly good), shorter practice sessions, reading glasses if that helps, etc.

    Other things may be less physically related.  We may find that it no longer makes financial sense to live in a  house with all the upkeep that entails and that may mean downsizing our harps as well.  Perhaps long drives are less and less appealing so we may cut back on gigs, circles, and retreats. We may decide that playing and maintaining a pedal harp is more than we wish to spend time and money on, ergo transition to a lever harp (assuming we are not professional performers).

    For myself personally: I got into harping first as a craftsman – now ten+ years later am not interested in making any more harps and have more than I want or need so am selling some of them.  I started lessons on pedal harp and soon after decided to downsize, so transitioned quickly to lever and wire.  One or possibly two heart attacks have slowed me down; some of the fire has gone out of my life and with it ambition.  My lower back aches so I keep my practice session to about 20 minutes at a time with stretching between sessions.  Wrt concentration, 20 minutes is about as long as I can concentrate anyway LOL!

    The plus side to all of this: I have something that brings me joy and takes the place of things I can no longer or no longer want to do.



    Andelin on #195074

    What about skin changes?  I’m finding my fingers are squeaking on the strings a lot more now than they used to.  I’m not sure if it is “aging” (ok, I’m not what most would consider “old;” it’s been a good while since I was a teenager, but I don’t want to give away my age), environmental factors such as low humidity, hand washing or soaps/products, etc. or if it’s because I’ve played more in the past year and a half than I did in the previous five(  or perhaps more).  Callouses Are there, but not overly pronounced.

    It happens on all strings, new and old, so I don’t think it’s affected by the age of strings.



    to the original question, I’d say it is different for everyone.  Some will develop conditions such as arthritis, while others may have problems with their back instead. Perhaps you saw the thread that mentioned yoga/Pilates.  Exercises are certainly good for all of us, but I expect the effects of not doing them will be more pronounced the older we get.


    I hope this was helpful, but perhaps someone with more life/harp experience can give a more specific answer.  🙂

    Sylvia on #195078

    I think bleach can cause squeaking.  I put some in my dish water, but I wear gloves when I wash the dishes.

    Sonya Wiley on #195086

    Try goats milk soap for washing hands; that solved my squeaky harp fingers!  sonya

    Daelightful on #195139

    I don’t know if I hit the topic header too soon, but this is a motivated senior. I started taking lessons on harp in my 50s, but it was interrupted for several years, then resumed in my late 60s (one year ago). My biggest issues: size! I am very short 4’9″ and can’t schlep around a big heavy harp by myself. I play other instruments but harp requires learning new techniques, two staffs & better eyesight (I am overdue for eye exam), and Two Ps, patience and perseverance. I think aging is a state of mind – it doesn’t have to hold you back. If determined, you can learn at any age. BTW, I had carpal tunnel surgery on both wrists to keep playing all instruments. It helped! Stay away from too much red meat, white sugar, white flour if you have osteoarthritis.

    patricia-jaeger on #195149

    I am also a motivated senior. I moved to a 43-string harp from a 47-string one because it is much less heavy: only 56 pounds. Also I haven’t used cane or beet sugar in my baking or beverages for several years, just a little granulated stevia (a natural leaf). I have made meat loaf from ground turkey instead of ground beef, adding sage, chopped onion, a bit of raw oatmeal and a bit of milk and avoid most red meat.The only arthritis I notice is in the middle finger of each hand, just a slight amount, that does not seem to worsen over the last 5 years, and does not bother my instrument playing (violin or harp). X-rays show my knees have lost some cartilage that the thigh-calf bones had when younger.I have learned to pace myself to avoid heavy lifting or other exertion. I am quite optimistic and thankful for all things, for friends, and miracles of all kinds.Every age we live through has its own joys. Look for them as the body changes, and leave the rest behind.

    faye-fishman–2 on #195222

    I tried the goat’s milk soap. it’s great. I think it helped. Thanks.

    I started playing in my 40s. (been playing about 12 years)

    Love yoga and Pilates to keep me flexible. And when I fell off a horse and broke my hip and wrist 2 yrs ago the wrist surgeon said playing the harp would be great. so even in the cast I played. I think it really was the best physical therapy. couldn’t sit long but I played and it was so nice to be able to do something fun while recuperating.

    My best purchase was a carbon fiber Heartland harp Delight. No pressure on your shoulder and weighs only 10 lbs.  Now I”m back to weight training so I’ll be able to carry my Aziliz when I want to take that harp.

    Deborah Henson-Conant has a song “you’re never too old…” I may not play the Met but I am so happy to play at libraries and senior assisted living facilities and be part of the harp world.

    I think the harp will help keep hands flexible and strong. You’re never too old.


    balfour-knight on #195340

    These are great posts, friends!  You are never too old to enjoy playing the harp, and it is indeed its own therapy.  It is the instrument of my soul, and I play it much more than the piano and organ, even though I love these keyboard instruments, too!  The harp is much easier on my aging fingers, without requiring the impact playing the piano needs.  I also find myself enjoying the light action of my clavichord with its very quiet tone, more as I get older.  I used to adore the strong, heavy playing of the piano concertos, Chopin Polonaises, the large Liszt works, to name a few, but that is no longer possible.  So I am very thankful for the harp, especially my Dusty FH36S “Cherie,” to take me into old age, gracefully and beautifully!

    Have a wonderful day, friends,


    Margaret Neate on #195631

    I started learning to play the harp in 2012, at age 79. It’s challenges have given me endless joy and I believe the coordination required has helped to preserve whatever marbles I have left.

    I had studied piano to an advanced level when young and played all my life. I have no doubt that being musically literate and skilled in another instrument has greatly enhanced my progress with the harp.

    Because of osteo-arthritis in my spine I use an office chair with a back rather than a stool. My arthritic hands do not stop my practising, however I never persist with any passage or exercise which causes pain.

    As far as diet goes – really! I don’t know how anyone can suggest that particular foods affect harp-playing! Naturally it’s wise to eat healthily no matter what one does.

    I have a nylon-strung lever harp and would dearly like to expand musically with a pedal harp. However I’m not sure that at my age it is wise to acquire such a very large and heavy instrument. I am told too that all pedal harps have gut strings, and these are harder to pluck than nylon. No one seems to offer pedal harps for hire so I could try it.

    renaissancemanohio on #195649

    Thank you for this beautiful note, Margaret.

    I know there are places in the U.S. that rent pedal harps on a trial basis. Here is a place to start your research:

    You are an inspiration!

    balfour-knight on #195652

    Yes, Margaret, I agree with friend John, “You are an inspiration!”  Your post was very touching, and proves once again what we already know about the “magic” of the harp.

    Concerning food, though, I always play the harp better after eating chocolate, ha, ha!  My choir members bring it to me on a regular basis, and when my lovely wife and I do the music for conferences, the other ladies indulge me with chocolate once they find out I love it.  This makes for a lot of fun in addition to playing the harp! 🙂

    You folks have a great day!



    Jeralee on #195670

    Andelin, I too, have issues with squeaky fingers. super annoying. I think it is from frequent hand washing. I believe it is from the natural oils being stripped from the fingers. This sounds crazy, but recently I have found that if I run my fingers through my hair or rub it on my scalp and pick up some of the natural hair oils, it helps cut down on the squeakiness.

    Elettaria on #195671

    There’s an old quilter’s trick to run the needle through your hair in order to lubricate it a bit, so that makes perfect sense to me.

    I’ve got a disability that effectively makes you get old when you’re relatively <span style=”font-size: 16px; line-height: 1.5;”>young (although we tend to look much younger than we are, oddly), and apart from playing for a couple of years when I was twelve, I’m taking this up in my late thirties. At least I am going into it knowing what the issues are, and with no pretences of performing publicly, so I’m not even going to try lugging the harp about. I’m mostly bedbound these days, which is frustrating and boring beyond belief. Some days the only half-hour I spend out of bed is when I’m at the harp. Getting positioning right is absolutely crucial for me, I’ve faffed around no end with stools and cushions and such, and even took my folding storage stool to the Edinburgh harp festival with us, which is quite a feat when you’re a wheelchair user going by bus. </span>

    As well as being 4’11, I’ve also got shoulder problems, so I have difficulty flipping the bass levers on some harps, especially if they’re stiff. I’m really glad I chose to rent initially, it’s given me the choice of shorter harps. The muscle pain hasn’t been as much of an issue as I expected, and by now I’ve trained myself to stop at the first sign of pain and be sensible with rest breaks anyway. (I learned this the hard way with quilting, and would end up wearing wrist splints for weeks on end after overdoing it only a few times.) The muscle fatigue is meaning that I have difficulty keeping my arms up, though, and I’m not very happy with leaning my forearm on the soundboard, I imagine it could cause problems. Hopefully I’ll be able to figure out a solution with a teacher.

    Lighting is so important! I need to be a bit picky about the size of the music, too, due to the eye problems, but that’s more an issue for when I’m arranging and printing out music myself. I certainly won’t be reading anything handwritten any time soon, and I’ve bought a few pieces in music fonts I can’t actually read.

    balfour-knight on #195690

    Elettaria, our hearts and love go out to you!

    A good teacher is very likely to help you find solutions to some of your fatigue problems.  I was thinking about how when your fingers are placed on the harp strings, your arms seem to just “hang” from the strings (David Watkins talked about this).  Try to relax the arms as much as possible, and keep arms and wrists very supple (H. Renie stressed this).  The right hand wrist and arm can rest on the soundboard, French style, and as I get older, I find that the left hand and wrist tends to want to do the same thing when not playing.  Also, when I practice, I try to get up from the harp every 20 minutes and just walk around for about 5 minutes before returning to the harp.

    Of course, performing  sometimes requires 30 minutes or longer without being able to get up from the harp, particularly pre-service Preludes for weddings and funerals.  I also have really had to pay attention to this fact during concerts, devising times to break up the program with a “history lesson” for the audience, or better yet, letting my sweet wife do these “interludes” in the programs.

    Keep on practicing and playing the harps, friends!  This is our best therapy, I know!

    Best wishes,


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