How to Improve Technique?

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    Hey so I’m a harp major at a music conservatory and I really want to improve my technique and feel more confident and steady while playing.
    Are there any exercises you’d recommend to
    1. Improve accuracy of playing
    2. Allow my fingers to move faster
    3. Have a cleaner sound / no buzzes
    4. Stop the last joint of my third finger from collapsing, especially when playing big chords

    There’s Dizi, Pozzoli, Lariviere, Bochsa… But which of these should I do first and which is most effective?
    Please help – thanks!


    Big fan of Lariviere!!! Made of huge difference in my tone and knuckle strengthening–best wishes!!!!


    Yes, Lariviere is excellent, as well as Salzedo’s Conditioning Exercises and Renie’s Method Book. To build up speed, play a tiny segment of your music at the speed you want. This could be as small as three or four notes, in one hand. Keep repeating that until it feels comfortable, then add one more note to link it to the next segment. Do not continue past that point at that speed. Take the next tiny bit and do the same, etc. Gradually, your body will build up myelin around the circuits and the speed will increase as the connections are made and protected. Another method is to set your metronome at your comfortable speed and gradually increase the speed. If you don’t do it repeatedly every day, though, you will not get results.
    Buzzes are caused by a vibrating string being touched by a nail. If you stop the string from vibrating, it won’t buzz. If you angle your fingers so that the front of the finger contacts the vibrating string, you will prevent the buzz.


    It’s great that you want to improve your technique and that you are aware of exercises and etudes. Those are a wonderful way of improving technique. HOWEVER, they are only a format for improving your technique, and are useless without a teacher who can use them to guide you. Simply playing etudes and/or etudes without the guidance of a teacher is pointless, and could even do more harm than good. That’s because, without a teacher, you could as easily learn bad habits as well as good. The etude or exercise will not teach you good technique. Only your teacher can do that, using etudes or exercises as the medium.


    What Carl said. I love the Salzedo Conditioning exercises, but you have to practice them right.

    Practice doesn’t make perfect. Practice makes permanent. If you practice something wrong you will engrain incorrect technique into your muscle memory.

    You need to play études and exercises, but you need to make sure you are using correct technique when you do so, so that you are practicing correctly.

    Have your teacher guide you, and when you practice on your own video it. That way you can spot check yourself. In fact video your teacher playing the exercises and then use that when you are practicing alone to compare your video of yourself. If there is a difference and you can’t figure out what the cause is then ask your teacher for correction.


    Just an additional thought on this subject. We keep talking about “correct” technique. But what is correct technique? What is the difference between correct and incorrect technique?

    Correct technique is any technique that allows you to play any note at any speed at any dynamic. When you are first learning to play the harp, you are playing things that are slow, easy, and mostly in the middle of the instrument. You can have a lot of wasted or inefficient motion, your fingers can pull any way at all, and in short you can get away with murder, because the pieces are slow, easy, and in an octave or two in the middle of the harp. But your teacher, if he or she is good, will use this time to make you use your fingers, hands, and arms in a way that will work for harder pieces that use more of the instrument. Your teacher should be a drill sergeant who insists that you use a technique at this beginner level that will work for anything that you will ever play. You shouldn’t have to modify or alter your technique as you move into harder repertoire because what you were doing at a lower level doesn’t work now. So if you use exercises or etudes to improve your technique, you will only achieve that goal by working with a teacher who can teach you the correct way to play each etude.


    Thanks everyone for all the wonderful advice!

    Just want to ask, does anyone find the third finer particularly problematic?
    For me it’s my weakest finger and the last joint (the one nearest the fingertip) has the tendency to collapse (and not stay rounded as the other fingers do) sometimes.
    This happens especially when I try to play big chords.

    Is there anything I can do to strengthen my third finger?

    Sherj DeSantis

    Maybe an indirect answer to your question……my last two recital pieces seem to have a lot of octaves in the left hand. I am right handed, and I find that if I am not careful, I put my left hand out of commission, specifically at that last joint near the fingertip of my third finger. It is weak compared to my right hand. When I feel pain, I stop playing. I practice by placing my fingers in place and very gently playing the strings. I suspect like most parts of our bodies, it grows stronger with use, and weakens when you stop practicing pieces that don’t utilize that finger. I haven’t noticed my finger collapsing, but I do feel pain if I’m not careful, and I do stop. It’s not worth losing the ability to play by ignoring signals from our bodies.


    Correct technique is any technique that allows you to play any note at any speed at any dynamic.

    Exactly, although I would add “without injuring yourself”.

    Incorrect technique can greatly increase a person’s chances of repetitive motion injuries like Carpel Tunnel and Tendonitis.


    Under most circumstances, I keep my third finger rounded when I play. However, if a chord’s span is quite wide, then I have to collapse my third finger in order to reach the last note with my fourth finger. It depends on the size and length of your hands and fingers. If your hands are bigger than mine, then this is unnecessary.


    The third finger has much more strength when the little finger moves with it. This is harder in my left hand, since I have a ligament separation between the fingers and they don’t naturally move together like the do for most people (like the trick where you lower the little finger and the third involuntarily lowers itself too). I have to consciously move it. To help, I try to pretend they’re one big finger when I play.

    I also have some issues with reaching certain intervals with the third finger, particularly a fourth (don’t even ask me to play an unbroken fifth!). I’m a but envious of some harpists who seem to have these superhumanly long third fingers. Mine isn’t terribly short, but compared to my fairly long first and second fingers it is. And because of the relative length of my other fingers, sometimes my second finger has to bend quite a bit to fit into a chord while the third is much straighter. It is tricky getting the same tone out of both fingers sometimes, like a 4 note chord with the dominant on the bottom.


    Have you tried playing octaves with the 2nd instead of the 3rd?




    Yea I suspect it’s due to undeveloped muscle – do you have any suggestions on how to strengthen this muscle? This is so that the last joint near the fingertip of my third finger does not collapse. And I am not double jointed (:


    By 2nd finger do you mean the middle finger, and by 3rd do you mean ring finger?

    If that’s so then, no I haven’t actually tried that — will that be useful in strengthening the middle finger?(:

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