Joint pains stopping me from playing

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    Your harp teacher should not over-rule your doctor. So if you can provide a doctor’s note that s/he does not feel harp playing will cause or increase joint damage then your harp teacher should not try to stop teaching you.

    On a practical note, have you tried playing a harp strung with lever gut? Either a lever harp, or an Erard Grecian? If this feels better to you then it is possible to restring even a modern concert grand more lightly. It will sound different, but may be worth it to increase practice time.

    Philippa mcauliffe

    My mum is a physician and suggests you ask your rheumatologist what you should be doing at the moment. Of course you should tell your teacher though as she will then understand that your time at the harp will have to be reduced at the moment and you may need to change to a lower tension harp for a while.


    I’m a chronic pain sufferer who tried ignoring the pain for far too many years and now has permanent problems. Hard though it may be for we musicians to understand, health must always come first and the sooner you tell your tutor about the problems you are having the sooner you can begin to address them. My own tutor goes to enormous lengths to arrange my seating and playing in ways that will protect my back and other joints and I’m very grateful to her for that. if your teacher is less than understanding then you should start looking for a new one. Take your mum along with you to your next lesson if you feel she will help to put your case across or if you’re worried that your tutor may think you are just making up excuses not to play. Even if the worst came to the worst and you were temporarily unable to attend college your health is with you for the rest of your life and should be your number one priority.

    There are also a few other things you might want to consider that could help. You don’t say what part of the world you are from so I don’t know how much cost will factor in your choices of treatment, however, if you can afford it you might want to try looking around for a physiotherapist or other practitioner who specialises in treating musicians; your doctor may be able to recommend someone. The movements you need to make and positions you need to hold are very specific to the instrument you play and an expert should be able to help you to deal with these in ways that do not worsen your condition.

    I would also recommend a couple of useful little books on the subject which are aimed at harpers – the first of these is “Harping With a Handicap” by Laurie Riley ( and the second (available only, I believe, on Kindle) “An Alexander Technique Approach to Harp Technique” by Ethan Kind (

    Most importantly, I can’t stress enough that you should not ignore your condition. If you take the right approach now you can have many happy and pain-free playing years ahead of you but if you try to ignore it it will come back to haunt you. Wishing you the best possible luck. Please do come back and let us know how things are going for you.



    Pain is your bodies way of telling you to back off before you break something or after you’ve already broke it. Heal up and work back into it. A week off wont ruin you. A month probably wont either. Eat well. Take some vitamins a few times a week. Drink plenty of fluids. Some pain you can work through, most pain means let the poor fingers heal up first.

    Absolutely talk with your doctor and your teacher about it.

    If your teacher fusses at you for resting your painful joints just remember that you wouldn’t keep using a pedal if you heard a grinding noise and groan from the harp each time you did. You’d get it fixed first. You are the most important part of the instrument and I’m betting your teacher knows that.

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