Height of the Harp

Posted In: Amateur Harpists

  • Participant
    A. Riley on #155553

    I saw a youtube of the Chieftains with the great Derek Bell ( see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WQd51OItvTU&feature=related ) and noticed his playing position. There’s a good long look at about 1:40 on the linked video.

    His harp is medium-sized, and he has it standing on the floor, with the kneeblock at the level of his chest.

    I’ve been taught to set a harp up (with harp feet, etc.) so that the kneeblock is about at ear level.

    Now I’m just a beginner and who am I to question the great Derek Bell — but can you tell me more about that? Where’s your kneeblock?

    A. Riley on #155554

    Let me try that link again.

    Chieftains with Derek Bell

    andee-craig on #155555

    I had a look at the video (great tunes!), and I do think most would find it hard to play comfortably and properly with the harp that low. (I don’t know what a kneeblock is)

    If it was me, I’d have sat in a lower chair or put the harp on a small pedestal or box so that it came up to my shoulder rather than my armpit as it does on Derek.

    Many excellent folk musicians don’t always use proper ways of holding instruments (just look at some fiddlers who hold the fiddle to the middle of the chest rather than under the chin!) and do other things that we would consider wrong.

    If you’re like most of us, we need every advantage we can get so proper posture, fingering, etc is necessary.

    If you’re Derek Bell or a host of others you can get away with it based on sheer talent!

    Tacye on #155556

    I like my knee block higher than that, though not as high as some.

    jennifer-buehler on #155557

    It seems like Maeve Gilchrist plays with her harp fairly low as well.

    kreig-kitts on #155558

    Do you play pedal harp? He does play lower than I’m used to on my lever harp, but the pedal harp is the only one where it is higher than my shoulder. It also has more strings at the very top. I’d say the same notes are lining up at about the same place on both harps.

    tony-morosco on #155559

    As the others said, Derek could get away with it, but most can’t. If it works for someone that is great. I can play fine on a low harp, but it eventually starts to strain my back and I don’t like the feel of it when playing the upper octaves.

    I either prop my lever harp on a stool or lower my bench. For the lever harp I am fine with the kneeblock going just slightly above my shoulder, but not to my ear. Having it higher than the shoulder means having the middle octaves higher and closer to me than it would be on my pedal harp, and that throws me off. Having middle C in the same relative position regardless of what harp I am playing has more of an impact on my playing than the height of the kneeblock.

    samantha-t on #155560

    Thanks for asking this question because I was wondering the same thing.
    Grainne Hambly’s harp is “low” by classical standards too. And I’ve
    noticed the same thing with other Irish players.

    I’d hesitate to
    characterize anything Derek Bell did as incorrect but excusable due to
    his “folk” orientation, as I believe he was an accomplished classical
    harpist as well.

    I was wondering whether the extra number of high
    voiced strings on a pedal harp could make it necessary to have the knee
    block up around your ear (try imagining playing a pedal harp at Bell’s height — he’d have to be sitting on a ladder and he’d never reach the bottom strings). Since there aren’t so many high strings on a
    folk harp, perhaps mid-C ends up in roughly the same place even if you
    have the kneeblock lower. I’ve never played a pedal harp however so
    this notion of mine could be mistaken.

    I myself have become very
    comfortable with the top of my kneeblock a touch above my shoulder than
    in a more classical stance (which I used to use). My harp is a shorter
    34 string model and needs an absurd amount of hiking up if I use a chair of normal
    height. Still, I use a short stool to sit on. I find I need to make sure I’m
    not flexing my left wrist inwards to accommodate the lower height. It
    helps to float your elbows up a bit rather than having them pointing to
    the floor. I would think the main thing is not to be causing any
    tension/contortions that could lead to injury.

    andee-craig on #155561

    Samantha, I didn’t actually know that Derek Bell was also a classical harpist, that’s good to know. However, I didn’t mean to imply that He or any folk musician who did things in an unorthodox way did so out of lack of education of the ‘correct’ way.

    I’m the last person who would classify folk musicians as ignorant as I’m am folk-orientated myself and have the utmost respect for the talent and genius that many of them possess.

    samantha-t on #155562

    Hey Andee, no worries, I know you weren’t implying that. Actually I’m surprised Bell has his harp *that* low. Maybe he learned to play that way from a young age in sessions or something and adapted well to it.

    andee-craig on #155563

    That’s what I was thinking Samantha. :-)

    tony-morosco on #155564

    Derek didn’t learn to play until his late 20’s so it wasn’t something he learned as a child. He was originally, primarily, an oboist. To make extra money while a member of the Belfast Symphony Orchestra he took on responsibilities as stage manager. Part of the job required that he keep the harps in repair. He became intrigued by them and started taking lessons.

    He went from being a principal oboist to being a principal harpist. Pretty impressive , no?

    Derek was a prodigy and unique musician. Most of us have to make do with far more limitations.

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