Posted In: How To Play

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    Kim Vangsgard on #230453

    Hi, I always notice that other people who I have seen play the harp have either tapered fingers or thinner fingers. I have a little larger palm and my fingers aren’t long and more square tipped. I’ve been playing several years, but get frustrated with buzzing. I slow down to check position, etc., but it still tends to happen. Any advice?

    carl-swanson on #230578

    Harpists hands come, as you would expect, in all shapes and sizes. I have large hands and thick fingers. I’ve seen very fine female harpists with hands like stone masons. I’ve seen incredible harpists with short stubby fingers(I won’t mention names), and a few with thin, almost boney fingers.

    We all have to deal with buzzing. It can come from so many things: fingering, placing too early, placing in blocks rather than one finger at a time ahead of the one you are playing, not muffling individual notes with the tip of a finger, etc. Maybe your teacher can help you figure out where the problem is. I usually don’t worry about buzzing until I’m fairly well along in learning a piece and can play it pretty close to tempo. Then I take a look at where buzzes still occur and work on fixing them.

    Kim Vangsgard on #230588

    Hi Carl. Thanks for the reply. I am preparing for two weddings and have played weddings before, but get very stressed prior as I want to play well. I haven’t taken lessons for many years, but watch various instructional videos. I appreciate that you took the time to reply. I like the stone mason comment as I have strong hands too!!

    Saul Davis Zlatkovski on #240392

    Bigger fingers with thicker pads mean better tone quality, usually. Try to place less flesh on the string, just the corner of the tip, and try stretching your hand open when you place, a little air between your fingers. That may help solve any problems. If not, try angling your fingers farther down. Watch the videos by Heidi Lehwalder.

    Gretchen Cover on #240417

    I think part of your buzzing is caused by your not being relaxed when you play. Are your arms, hands and fingers relaxed? Record yourself using your phone. Listen for where you buzz. Listen too, for your phrasing. Then play those places in different ways until you figure out how not to buzz and you play the passages evenly. Sometimes taking away a note or two or simplifying a passage helps. Also, don’t play faster than you can control the notes. Slow can be good:) When I record myself, I often realize I am playing way too fast.

    Philippa mcauliffe on #240425

    Even at 14 Heidi had pretty large hands. If you have never seen her playing Handel and Ravel with a young Bernstein and very young looking Abbado at that age you tube you are in for a treat! If I buzz going fast its usually because I am bending at the second joint from the end of index and middle fingers not keeping them down. She taught me to trill by pointing really down – more successful for me than other methods.

    Gretchen Cover on #240433

    What an incredible video. Thanks for posting it. Talk about playing with confidence!

    Biagio on #240450

    Can’t help with the buzzing as there may be many reasons. But as Carl mentioned harpists hands are quite varied. I have rather small hands very similar to those of my first teacher, Jocelyn Chang. Note the way she places and raises:

    She plays very smoothly and when she places the fingers are firmly on the strings while the next is being played.


    Gretchen Cover on #240567

    The two video are excellent examples of Salzedo technique. Placing, raising and thumbs/elbows up are hallmarks. Also notice how relaxed and secure both harpists play. Thanks for posting the second video, Biago.

    Philippa mcauliffe on #240573

    Here is a third example from small to average amazing hands – its all brilliant but especially the 3 min mark final variation!

    Biagio on #240599

    Gretchen, thank you! Your point wrt being relaxed and confident really goes to the core, I think, of Kim’s question.

    Jocelyn showed me a score that her composer husband (Michael Leese) had presented her – it was enough to scare the daylights out of the most experienced harpists. I watched her practicing and she was tackling it incredibly slowly and yes there were buzzes all over the place. She might work for an hour or more on just one or two phrases.

    Jocelyn was a wonderful teacher, the kind that all students dream about; she cared for her students as much as a parent would. I am still deeply saddened that she passed away – I had only been studying with her for a few months but in that time came to love her not only for her commitment to us but for her courage.

    Her nickname was “Joy”; the new model of the “Douglas harp” from Arsalaan Fey is named Joy in her honor.

    I hope these comments are helpful Kim!



    Gretchen Cover on #240620


    It is heartbreaking that Jocelyn died. Such a loss in many ways. Funny, how a superb teacher can inspire you no matter what your age – or theirs. I’m glad you developed an appreciation for good technique. If you want to continue learning, consider some of the online classes offered by Alice Giles via her website. She also taught some sessions at two of the Virtual Harp Summits. I hang on her every word.

    Biagio on #240646

    Thank you for the tip Gretchen, I will take a look for sure.

    As you and others here know, my interests until recently have been in design more than playing. But now that I’ve been relieved of the band saw, drill press etc. time to get back to actually playing LOL.

    Fortunately I live where there are many great teachers and resources – Puget Sound. Just have to get out of the house and use them!


    Saul Davis Zlatkovski on #243719

    How nice to see and hear Jocelyn play.

    Saul Davis Zlatkovski on #243720

    Buzzing comes from not placing cleanly enough or at the wrong moment, unless your fingers are hitting the strings they aren’t playing. That’s corrected by altering position. It helps to put space between the fingers instead of having them smack dab against each other. Try to have some air in between. Depending how painstakingly you want to practice, if you want to learn the notes first, and the fingerings, then make sure you go back and eliminate the buzzes. Listening to yourself play on a recording is a sure way to embarass yourself into doing the extra work.
    When I studied with Chalifoux, one of the main things she did was to get me to relax while playing. I was too full of anxiety and trying too hard. Her students tended to have a physical perfection in their playing that was enviable. She was very good at seeing what one was physically doing and if it could be corrected. She also had some ideas of her own, like a low thumb position that could close very quickly, and hooked to compensate for the shortened movement, but I didn’t like how that sounded (or looked). She also used, herself, a lot of wrist movement. I think it gave her a crisper articulation that worked well in playing with the Cleveland Orchestra.
    What was most amazing was how, when she taught me Scintillation, she taught me everything about it, especially the moods and how to convey them, right from the first note. We played just the first two bars, until I got them completely and exactly right. Then we proceeded chord by chord. That was a new method of learning for me. It was very much about doing it, and doing it the right way. Miss Lawrence was generally more conceptual and intellecual in her approach, and about powerful and lustrous tone quality, as well as style. I am so glad I got to study with both of them. Two incomparable masters. Except for Lynne Palmer, who was a third.

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