Hand Injury Considerations

Posted In: How To Play

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    wil-weten on #232152

    Hi Howard, as to the size of harps suitable for performance in public places, I can’t say much. Partly it has to do with the model of the harp and partly with suitable amplication.

    The L&H Prelude is very popular with people who love a classical harp sound and who may like to play a pedal harp later and/or because it offers a lot of harp for a relatively nice price. I have no intention to buy a pedal harp, mainly because I can play everything I want to play on my Prelude.
    You said you saw a second hand Prelude being offered. Some older Preludes have 38 strings instead of 40 strings and these old harps miss the low A and the low B. No big problem, but I would really miss these two lowest strings.
    As far as comparing a L&H Prelude to a Salvi Ana. In Europe (where I live, but perhaps not in the US) the Salvi Ana’s are not strung with pedal gut, but with folk gut. I prefer the sound of pedal gut, but this is personal. There are lots of people who prefer the sound of a Salvi Ana.

    There are three main reasons why I bought a Prelude:
    1. I prefer the sound of the strings of the higher register of the Prelude, as these strings sounds warmer and richer in my ears (even with the nylon strings that nowaday are on the higher strings and which can be changed into pedal gut strings after a year or so when the harp has completely stabilized)
    2. The Performance levers of the Prelude work nicer than the Chinese ‘plug-and-play’levers of the Salvi’s. I have heard though that these have recently improved, so maybe, this isn’t relevant any longer.
    3. The L&H Prelude is a lot cheaper than the Salvi Ana (at least in Europe).

    As to cross strings and double strings: these are nice when you like to invent your own arrangements. There are a few books that I know of. When you like to play classical lever harp repertoire, I would buy a… lever harp. 🙂

    Celtic ornamentation is seldom written out. There are several embellishments which one can choose to eh.. embellish celtic songs. There’s a book from the eighties: Allison Kinnaird ‘The Small Harp: a Step by Step Tutor’ which explains several of the embellishments in Scots music. It comes with a cassette… There must be newer methods, but I don’t know them.

    Anyway, to play celtic music, you’d better not choose a harp with pedal gut tension, or it would be rather hard to play the very heavy strings very quickly and still sound nice. If you love celtic music, perhaps one of the Dusty nylon strung harps would be a better fit.

    If you don’t have a car, I think it’s relevant to consider how you plan to transport your harp to the places you like to perform.

    As to the way the harp is tilted: it should be supported by the floor and just rest very lightly to your shoulder. You could also use your knees to stabilize the harp. The strings should be (almost) perfectly vertically while you play.

    Biagio on #232154

    Hi Howard,

    I can answer the first two questions and Wil has addressed the third:

    Celtic style ornamentation: this is often not written out but you could equate some of them to what you do on a piano: trills, runs, and grace notes for instance. That style evolved from the aural tradition and played on a wire strung harp- the player adds ornaments as they wish, somewhat arbitrarily. For a good example listen to Wild Geese here, as played by Chris Caswell:

    Of course that is a wire strung – one can duplicate it and notate it for nylon/gut but of course it will not have the same clear ring. For some examples on nylon strung listen to a selection by Laurie Riley and Michael McBean:

    Yes, tight strings as on a concert tension harp make that difficult as you need a lot of strength and control to get that speed. A medium tension lever harp such as a Dusty Strings, Thormahlen or Rees is fine.

    Laurie has several books out with music scored specifically for the double; but really any music written for the single can be played on the double. Once you have learned to coordinate your eyes for the two rows and learned some of the special techniques your range of expression increases dramatically. I know of one person who started out on the double right away.

    The cross strung is a different animal, with a very different technique; the best known exponent of that harp is Harper Tasche:


    Incidentally, Laurie is brokering a double on her website at a very attractive price – look under Double Strung Harps for Sale. I don’t know how committed you are at this point but if you want to pursue these topics in more depth you might order Laurie’s DVD “Secrets of the Celtic Style”; I believe her “Introduction to the Double Strung Harp” is on Youtube.

    You might also see if there is a bus to Corvalis and arrange to meet with Dave and Sharon Thormahlen. David is the harp maker, Sharon the player and composer:


    You might also write to the Puget Sound Folk Harp Society and ask about harpers in your immediate area (Diane Moss, secretary) -I know there are a bunch (including Sharon and Dave):


    Best wishes,

    • This reply was modified 1 week, 6 days ago by  Biagio.
    • This reply was modified 1 week, 6 days ago by  Biagio.

    Howard Ashley on #232191

    Maybe its time to start a new thread but I’m doing so well with this one. I want to ask another question and share two videos I watched this morning. First, however, I want to talk about a Skype chat I had with Sylvia Wood’s from her home in Kauai, HI. She demonstrated several harps and I showed her my hand and how it works and she mentioned teachers in my area. She even did some matchmaking as she knew of a new beginner with my background (pipe organ) and she thought we might have things to share. An absolutely delightful and informative experience. I should have asked her the questions I have today but I didn’t have them yesterday 🙂

    So earlier today I saw this video on beginning Pedal Harp hand position and technique. You guys probably don’t need to watch the whole thing but I did:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cpGNSvTENoI. I should mention that this hand position is exactly the one that my new left hand adopts naturally. Without my prompting Google autoplay next cued up this video of a beginning Celtic Harp hand position and technique: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xzzn17w2ZRg

    Can you guess my question? Sylvia didn’t think my hand would be any handicap for the foreseeable future. Her assumption is that I would be playing a Celtic style instrument. It certainly is the instrument I will start with. I wondered though if anyone routinely went back and forth between a pedal harp and a folk harp. If yes, do they change their hand position and plucking technique to suit the instrument? In other words, assuming that there is such a thing as a different Celtic and Pedal hand position. How important is it to strictly reserve a Celtic type hand position for that kind of harp?

    charles-nix on #232193

    Don’t be surprised if you get wildly varying opinions to this one. Unlike piano, which is, I think, mostly only from one school (Czerny???) harp technique segregates into several different schools.

    On the “pedal” video, I only saw the right hand used. The left hand is often a lot more flat, both for the intervals reached and the distance away. Also, an octave reach on a pedal harp is much longer in the bass than the treble. She demonstrates Salzedo technique, which is derived from standard French technique. (Ducking and running… @Howard, there is a long-standing “feud” in the US between Salzedo and non-Salzedo harpists. I’m barely an intermediate player, but I see a lot of overlap in techniques between players of the two schools.) Both predominant schools keep the thumbs high; both close from the base finger joint fully into the palm; both have more or less curved fingers. Height of the fingers in both is altered depending on how far the reach is. Curve amount will also vary with the reach of the interval. Salzedo school has the elbows higher, particularly the right, so the wrist does not touch the harp, which is probably good for preventing carpal tunnel damage. Salzedo school emphasizes always “gesturing” or “raising” when coming off the strings; many French harpists do that as well these days–it looks graceful and flowing, if nothing else.

    To me, the lever (Celtic) technique video looks like a poorly-executed version of a French-family technique. The placing looks clumsy, and the fingers lack independence of motion. @biagio will know more about how universal “thumbs up” is on Celtic instruments. I wouldn’t expect a good quality sound from any instrument by closing from the finger middle joint rather than fully into the palm.

    I wouldn’t take _any_ video as textbook perfect example of the proper technique for _you_. Hand and finger and arm position all influence the sound produced, and the technique is only a way to get “your hand” on “your harp” to produce the sound “you want” on command. “My hand” on “my harp” is different. This is different from piano, and very different from organ.

    You need a teacher to work with you to find what works for you, and guide until you at understand what the sound should be like. It is much more involved than just hitting and releasing a string. Also, you probably need to differentiate between a Celtic (lighter tension) harp and a Lever harp, which may use Pedal tension stringing. L&H Prelude is pedal tension. Dusty Strings are intermediate, mostly. Tripletts are on the light end, to give some examples.

    Biagio on #232198

    There are several “named” hand positions in the classical repertoire and they are often adopted to the lever harp; Salzedo, modified Salzedo, Grandjany and variations thereof. None of these or any other should be followed rigidly, they serve as a basis while developing early technique, strength and dexterity.

    As those develop you will find the positions that are best suited to your physique. The main difference (if any) between pedal technique and lever wrt hand position relate to the usually wider spaced higher tension strings on the pedal harp and the fact that it is almost always played with the finger pads Id est, you can’t just flick the finger and get a good tone, as you can with lower tension strings (or wire). Plucking a lighter tension with the same strength as you would on a higher one would sound horrible, and possibly cause physical injury.

    There are other techniques as well. To explore these and much more information I highly recommend watching Catrin Finch’s documentary “History of the Harp” on Youtube.

    Edit: Charles, I generally use a modified Salzedo with thumbs high and fingers somewhat down but “it depends”. For example I often use the thumb alone when plucking down in the treble hand. Another favorite in some cases I’ll leave the thumb free and walk the other fingers, crossing them over or under. I’ve been told that’s “an advanced technique” but it just sorta came about naturally. The one stems from wire harp, the other from South American, I was told later. I also use finger slides probably more than I should LOL.

    As to the raise: a high raise looks dramatic and emphasizes the phrase end but that is the only purpose that it serves IMO. A “good” raise serves to relax the arm and hand and get them away from the air vibrations, it should not distract from the music (personal opinion). Harper Tasche is the “raise master”!

    balfour-knight on #232200

    Hello Howard and all my other harp friends!

    I am a late-comer to this thread, but I only want to add that I play both pedal harp and lever harp professionally. (Like you, I am also a pianist and organist professionally.) I use traditional “pedal harp” technique on both types of harps, no fingernails on strings, etc. My lever harp is a Dusty Strings FH36S with very nice tension just under that of my Camac Atlantide Prestige concert grand pedal harp. I go from one harp to the other effortlessly, and play both of them “all the time,” ha, ha! Many times I warm up on the Dusty for 30 minutes or so, then really have a work-out on the Camac pedal harp. Like Charles said, the string spacing on the Dusty is very slightly narrower than on the Camac, but not enough to throw me off. The left hand has to do more damping on the pedal harp, of course, because there is another whole octave of bass strings, going down to Low C.

    Also, Howard, there are quite a few of us male harpists still around. You are “meeting” a lot of us on this forum!

    Harp friends, you have done such a great job answering Howard’s questions, there is very little I could add here. Thanks everyone!

    Harp Hugs,

    wil-weten on #232230

    Hi Howard, I agree with what Biagio, charles-nix and balfour-knight say above.
    As you would like to perform professionally on the harp, you really do need a knowledgeable harp teacher who can help you develop a great tone which projects nicely through larger spaces without you incurring injuries because of unhealthy harp playing habits. I do believe that by self teaching you could learn to play really nicely for yourself and your friends and family in your own living room, just for fun. But that would be quite a different situation, wouldn’t it? You would not practice for hours a day and you need not be able to produce the fullest and richest sound your instrument is capable of.

    As I like to complicate things: you mentioned you like to be able to play celtic ornaments. So, perhaps we went a bit fast into the directon of instruments very suitable for playing these ornaments.

    1. As you play pipe organ and horn, I guess your musical taste is much broader than celtic music alone. So, I guess you would like to play classical pieces as well, right? Frankly, I think most classical pieces sound better on a harp with middle to heavy string tension. Otherwise, you would need to dampen a lot more than on a harp with a middle to heavy string tension.

    2. Another thing is the kind of sound you get from a harp. There are people who love to get a ‘folk’ sound (yes, I’m grossly simplifying) and other love to play celtic music on a harp with a more or less ‘classical’ tone. You really need to find out what your personal preference would be. If you like to play all kinds of music on a harp with a somewhat classical sound, with still rather sturdy folk gut strings, strong nylon strings or perhaps carbon strings.

    I would be very tempted to try one of the nylon Dusty harps, as they offer a rather sturdy folk tension and a great tone. The Dusty FH36S and the a bit cheaper FH36H,] belong to the top of the market. Remember that but a staved harp or a harp with a round sound box may feel more natural to your arms than a soundbox in the form of a more or less rectangular box) By the way, you would have the choice between ordinary levers and Camac levers. I would definitely go for Camac levers, as they are the easiest for flipping and also when they are engaged, they hardly influence the sound. But that would be interesting only later, as I think you’d best rent first and then decide what kind of harp you really like. If it turns out you really play easier when you play the melody with your left hand, you could later on place a special order for such a harp. That would be much better for the structural integrity of the harp, than when you would have new holes drilled for the levers at the right side of the harp and the older holes where the levers were, filled. This is the case with all lever harps of all manufacturors. Anyway, it would be best if you could manage to play with the levers on the left side, as it would make it much easier to sell the harp later on if you, like a lot of people, would decide that another harp would be better fitting your needs than the harp you buy first.

    If at all possible, do visit a shop where they sell Camacs and try especially the Camac Excalibur. I’ve got one myself (also google Josh Layne, who also owns a Camac Excalibur as well as a pedal harp and several other harps). The Excalibur has carbon strings with a string tension between pedal gut tension and folk tension. It has a rich, clear with a warm tinge and very balanced sound. I think it forms a very nice contrast to my L&H Prelude, with its large, rich, warm and balanced sound

    Finally, you may also like to have a look at a Salvi Ana with folk strings (in gut or nylgut). It looks like in the US the Salvi Ana’s still have the pedal gut string tension that have been abandoned for Europe for more than ten years already, but perhaps, where you live, you might get a choice (which you would have to make beforehand, as otherwise you would need new levers and these are really costly). Beware though that there is a significant difference in the sound of such a harp strung with folk strings or pedal strings.

    charles-nix on #232242

    Howard, as Biagio mentions earlier, do not neglect to visit and play a Thormahlen. They are fine instruments.

    Another possible resource is a well-known harpist / composer in Monitor, OR: Kathryn Cater. Many of her compositions appear aimed to appeal to young students–but most are richly expressive and musically complex, especially relative to the skill level required to play them. Even the easiest books are interesting, fun and rewarding to play, and not insulting to an adult student.

    It is possible that she may teach as well, but I am confident you would be able to locate a teacher either for classical or Celtic (or both) once you connect into the local harp community.

    Biagio on #232248

    String types often come up here; I don’t want to hijack this thread with a long technical discussion but just make three points:

    1) A harp is designed with tension in mind. It is an extremely bad idea to put higher tension strings on a harp designed for lower tension; vice versa it will sound dull.

    2) Much confusion surrounds pedal gut versus lever gut. The ONLY difference between them is that the first are larger diameter than the second for any given note (frequency). Larger diameter means higher tension and THAT IS ALL. As I wrote elsewhere on this forum “farmers do not keep pedal gut cows in one pasture and lever gut cows in another.”

    3) The harp maker has a particular set in mind when the harp is designed, but all whom I know personally (which is most of the major names in the US) will change the standard set if the customer wishes (e.g. gut instead of nylon or vice versa, fluorocarbon instead of either, bronze core versus steel core wound strings and so on).

    For more information easily found on the ‘net, read what Dusty and Thormahlen have to say about this. The point is that you are not locked into a standard model’s string set.


    wil-weten on #232249

    I agree with Biagio, though I must say that their (very nice, in my opinion the best) modern metal levers don’t tolerate much difference between the string diameters. And so, there is a Camac Classic Isolde and a Camac Celtic Isolde lever harp. The only difference, beside the kind and diameter of carbon strings being the measures of the levers and the strings. One could decide to go from celtic to classic carbon tension, but that would mean that several levers needed to be replaced by other levers. And, I think it’s good to know that having new levers put on is relatively pricey.
    The L&H Performance levers are much more forgiving in this respect. I don’t know about other kinds of levers.

    Edit: by the way, I love the sound of pedal gut on larger lever harps, but I can’t be really enthousiast about the sound of folk gut tension on the same harp. Also, even when some smaller lever harps are built to withstand the tension of pedal gut, I think their strings tend to sound rather dull. I think that pedal gut does need a certain lenght in order to sound nice.

    Biagio on #232255

    Howard, I compliment you on how you are going about this research: asking the right questions talking with Sylvia and looking at other sources of information. The next two steps would be 1) interview one or more harp teachers and 2) try several different harp models. I’d bet you are already doing that though!

    At some point you will probably look into music books; may I strongly recommend two other books that I believe every lever harper should acquire? These are “Trouble Shooting Your Lever Harp” by David Kolacny and “A Harper’s Manual” by Laurie Riley. They cover many topics that are not found in the common harp books but the information addresses questions that appear in harp forums again and again.

    WRT to recent posts….We’re moving pretty far away but what the heck:

    It should go without saying that the technician will choose the proper size lever for a given string. Some lever makes have tighter tolerances than others, but that is not something the player needs to think about unless they plan to change things on their own.

    I haven’t researched Camacs for the specific lever sizes since I prefer Truitts, but one could find out by asking a harp maker who uses them (Dusty, Sligo Harps for instance) or writing directly to Camac.

    I agree with Wil on her point about vibrating length. The harp’s unique charm lies to a large degree in the audible overtones and longer strings will (usually) make them more perceptible. Greater length also means higher tension so it’s a balancing act between diameter and length.

    A longer string also makes it easier to play harmonics – so there’s that.

    balfour-knight on #232376

    Ha, ha, Biagio my friend! My sweet wife says to tell you that she is sure there are chocolate-milk cows separate from the regular milk cows and the pedal and lever gut cows!

    Thanks everyone, for all these wonderful postings for Howard and the rest of us. Harp Column is always fun!

    Best wishes to all of you,
    Balfour (and Carol Lynn!)

    Howard Ashley on #232378

    @balfour-knight, at the possible risk (noooo!) of offending those who have offered much insight into the mysteries of beginning harp I have to express some frustration that there does not seem to be anyway to contact another forum member directly through the Harp Column website. At least I am not able to discern how. Is it frowned upon the posting of email addresses in open forum? I have no plans to acquire a concert grand size harp of any kind but the petite size L&H Chicago instrument looks interesting. I am pretty much set on a Dusty Strings Ravenna 34 or Crescendo 34 to start but I would definitely be interested in learning more about how you keep both lever and pedal harp practice and also keep up with your piano and organ … you do keep up with … never mind. See this is why some things should be taken off the air. Just kidding.

    Biagio on #232379

    Hee hee Balfour! Please tell Carol Lynn I have it on good authority that malted milk cows are a special Scottish highland breed; the calves are nurtured on The Macallan Old Cask whiskey.

    Harp hugs to all,

    Biagio on #232380

    Not to butt in Howard but your post reminded me: there are two other forums you might consider joining: the Harplist and the Virtual Harp Circle. Both are Yahoo! groups, the latter was set up originally explicitly for beginning “harperists”. It is easier to reply directly from them than it is here.

    The Ravenna 34 would be an excellent choice and there is a ready market for second hand ones if you should decide later. So too in the Crescendo though I am not sure that the solid wood body justifies the additional cost – both use the same kind of sound board and the same strings. The Crescendo is perhaps prettier and some people believe the cherry box adds a better tonal dimension but I am not among them.

    Ducking out now (grin)

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