Help! Severe thumb pain/soreness playing new harp

Posted In: How To Play

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    katewilde on #195705

    I’ve been playing harp for about 3 1/2 years, and just advanced from a Dusty Strings Ravenna 26 to a Lyon & Healy 38 string Prelude (strung mostly with nylon on the upper half). I’ve had it two days and have played for a cumulative two hours each day, I think… This morning I woke up with intense pain up and down my thumb (the finger itself, close-to-the-surface kind of pain- not a deep ache). Stiff as well, and very painful to bend. I was hitting the bass notes pretty hard, and maybe not correctly.

    I did some hot/cold compress in the morning, then splinted it all day and just got some Arnica gel to put on it. It’s feeling much better but I’m afraid to play again too soon. I read somewhere that when beginning with pedal tension, to practice only 10-15 minutes at a time. Is this true??? I’m also experiencing soreness in my biceps.

    My question is: is this normal for a new pedal-tension player?? How long until I can play for a few hours without straining myself or having pain? Dusty Strings harps have medium tension, so is this change of tension enough of a shift to cause this amount of pain?

    I’ve been waiting for this moment for so long, to have more of a bass range available, and I was singing so blissfully and happily along with the tones….. Maybe I lost myself there for a bit….. 🙂

    Sylvia on #195706

    No help here.  Just wondering why you would be playing the bass notes (wires?) with the thumb.  You mean your thumb as in the top of an octave in the bass?

    carl-swanson on #195708

    Kate- The first question that pops into my head is this: Are you studying with a teacher, or have you worked with a teacher in the past, or are you completely self taught?

    katewilde on #195717

    Sylvia, yes using the thumb at the top of an octave. Maybe I just was plucking too dramatically? I dunno.

    Gretchen Cover on #195718

    I looked at a couple of your youtube clips and from what I can see, your left hand position is not correct. In particular, you somehow are playing your thumb downward.  You need to hold your thumb up.  You need to correct your hand position or you could develop serious problems.

    katewilde on #195719

    Carl, I am completely self-taught, save for receiving a tip or two from professional harpists that I’ve met on my travels. Playing a 26 string lap harp is so different than playing the real deal! I’ve been thinking that I really should take a lesson or two to focus on body alignment and such. It’s likely that I’m doing a few things wrong!

    katewilde on #195720

    Thank you Gretchen! I guess I could get away with bad technique on a smaller harp, and won’t be able to anymore on a fuller-size harp. Thanks for the tip… Gonna search for teachers.

    In the meantime- arnica and CBD oil!!!! (And somehow staying away from my big harp that I’ve been waiting for for so long!!!)

    Gretchen Cover on #195721

    Kate, you are going to need far more than a lesson or two. I hope you are up for the commitment.  I think you are wise to not play the new harp until you find a teacher. It is very difficult to break bad habits or incorrect playing.   Meantime, at least keep the harp in tune.  You may also want to watch some youtube videos on harp playing.  Find one that discusses the correct position of the harp.  You can at least play around with that to get a feel for your harp.  There are a lot of excellent harp tutorials.  But, you really need a teacher sitting next to you to correct your hand position and teach you proper technique.  It will pay off in the long run.   PS/  I admire that you can sing and play at the same time.  That is a challenge!

    carl-swanson on #195723

    Gretchen- I completely agree with you. I always tell students that you can get away with murder at the beginning. You can use your fingers any old way, hold whatever hand position feels good, wave your hands and arms around, because the pieces are very easy and slow, and there is plenty of time to recover. But as the pieces get harder, there is less and less room for error, and very quickly, there is no room at all. That’s why it is so important to study with a good teacher right from the beginning. The teacher will demand “correct” finger movement, hand and arm position, etc. “Correct” simply means that it will work for whatever you play, at any level.

    At the risk of seeming egregiously self-promotional: Kate, get my Bochsa Revisited(Carl Fischer Music publications) and take it to a good teacher. That book and the teacher will set you straight and get you on the right path, and in the end, you’ll play the harp much better and get more enjoyment out of it.

    renaissancemanohio on #195724

    Gretchen – I have about the same amount of experience as you do and I concur 100% with the advice given to you. Monitoring everything is difficult for us newbies (my definition of a newbie is < 10 years of experience).

    I have post-it notes in my music room to remind me of all kinds of things: to first center my thoughts, then take a few cleansing breaths, stretch like you wouldn’t believe, not to sit too far back or too far forward on the seat, how to bring the harp back so that we are at the appropriate angle and placement against me, heels on the floor, keep my forearms up and shoulders down, thumbs up, hands at the proper part of the string, hand position and wrist position for proper closing, relax, continue to breathe while playing, play softly at first, do some warm-ups at the harp… All of this is because I have an amazing teacher and mentor who has coached me from the very beginning and guided me through what I call holistic harping.

    Pain is your body’s way of telling you something is not right. In the Salzedo & Lawrence method book, they say that the only pain that is acceptable in a new harpist is your upper arm muscles getting stronger from being held parallel to the floor. I find it amazing what Trista, my coach/teacher/mentor, sees that I do not feel.

    Good luck!  John (Columbus, Ohio)

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