Left-handed harpists

Posted In: How To Play

  • Participant
    Sylvia on #185124

    Are there any?

    Member
    Janis Cortese on #185129

    *raises left hand*

    Yep. Although I’ve been a pianist for most of my life, so I’ve developed some facility with my right hand by this point. The only real thing I’ve noticed is that rolling chords in my left hand is about 1000% easier than the right, and that lever-flipping is not challenging (or doesn’t seem to be at this point; I’m a harp newbie).

    Putting the thing on my right shoulder does however feel … awkward. My initial desire is still to pull it onto my left. I can’t even carry a cat or dog on my right side.

    BTW, Harpo Marx was a left-hander, and he also initially pulled the harp onto his left shoulder. The “tilt” of the strings is slightly asymmetrical though, and playing treble with the left hand would be difficult on a conventional pedal harp on the left shoulder. For me, I opted to play it as normal because I’ve already built a lifetime of habits revolving around playing treble with the right hand and bass with the left. Swapping that would have made my brain cramp.

    Other instruments I noodle on include a viola and a pocket trumpet, neither of which I play in the typical right-handed way. The viola especially is so horribly asymmetrical that I either use a mirror viola and bow with my left hand or it doesn’t happen at all. On trumpet, I use both hands on the valves — first two fingers on the left, and index on the right. So I am open to being flexible in terms of which hand does what, and I recognize that for some people, that can be a brick wall — and that all left-handers are not the same.

    Participant
    Sylvia on #185133

    Interesting slant on hands.
    Harpo didn’t read music, according to his bio. I forgot he was a leftie. He played beautifully.
    I just wondered about it because I’m very right-dominant and play a free left hand on my rep music. When I have to play a real left hand, like with opera parts, I have to really work at it.
    I wonder about string players because their left really does the work.

    Member
    Janis Cortese on #185134

    On all string instruments, the note is merely prepared on the finger/fretboard. The dominant hand executes it. The left does the digital work, but the voice and the interpretation is in the bow hand. Intonation is a challenge, but it’s really the low-hanging fruit. It’s the bigger challenge in the early days of learning, but after that the bow hand becomes what governs the entire rest of your life. One master pedagogue said that, “The bow hand is master, the fingers of the left hand are but his servants.” I mean, if it were better to put the dominant hand on the fingerboard, righties would already be doing it and playing on the other shoulder, you know?

    At any rate, I did fall away from the viola to some extent because of this issue. Classical string players can be … well, sort of rigid and nasty about it, and even though my teacher was great, I didn’t feel like playing an instrument that would require close proximity to them. (Folk fiddlers are much more laid-back about it, but that’s not my idiom.) Violists have a little more leeway because that instrument is SO unkind to the body that they figure you can play it with your toes as long as it doesn’t screw up your neck. Besides, violists are also a bit rarer, and most amateur string quartets consist of two violins and a cello looking for a viola. If they are too snippy to you, you can just leave and let them make do — and there’s not a lot of good music written for two violins and cello. O:-)

    Moving merrily along! 😀

    With a harp, I think being a left-hander would actually be an advantage in continuo playing and accompaniment, since the juice of your playing in those situations is in the bass. I sometimes wonder if that’s not why so many Celtic harpers who comped themselves while singing played on the left shoulder — to give the right hand access to the more functionally important part of the harp, the lower strings. I’ve poked around a bit looking at Italian Baroque continuo, and some folks who do that advise that you don’t go any higher ever than whatever instrument your comping; the whole harp becomes one giant left hand at that point.

    Rambling on a Friday afternoon …

    Member
    patricia-jaeger on #185138

    Gregor Piatigorsky, the late, great cello virtuoso, was left handed. Somewhere there is a list of prominent people in history who were also left handed.

    Member
    czenzilee on #185173

    Hi, I’m new here and to the harp. And, I am left handed. It was awkward for the first few days because my right hand felt weaker and I favored the other. The first time I sat with the harp, I automatically put it on the “wrong” shoulder. So, there have been some small thing like that, but it has no been near the problem I was fearing.

    I learned to play the koto (Japanese zither) with a teacher for a little while, and I noticed that being left handed did slow me down quite a lot on that instrument. So, comparatively, there seems to be things that are an advantage in the harp. I’ve found learning broken chords and lever changes to be quite easy, for example. Even on the koto, I could bend notes fairly well from the start because that mostly takes strength in your left hand, but it felt significantly more “right handed” as an instrument to me. (Honestly, sometimes, I kind of wish my teacher would have just let me turn the thing around or reconfigure the bridges to play it comfortably.)

    I am still very much a beginner in harp, but it has been more than manageable so far. Maybe it takes a little more practice, but not so much I feel it is unreasonable or is deterring me. I am sure this will change as the music gets harder, but so far so good.

    Participant
    Sylvia on #185177

    Thanks for the input. I was wondering if any forum members were lefties. Seems like harp and keyboard tend to be right-hand-oriented because the melody is carried (usually) in the right hand.

    Member
    Janis Cortese on #185178

    They are … but speaking as a lefty, they are the least biased against us IMO since the method of producing sound is the same in both hands (pluck string, strike key), and in both cases, the functional load carried by the left hand is immense if you are comping or playing continuo.

    Participant
    Biagio on #185195

    A few thoughts for what they’re worth…..

    We usually find the melody in the treble, since peoples’ ears and brain “assign” the higher notes that way. As a baritone, I would grumble that the sopranos always got the easy (read melody) parts.

    WRT to which hand carries the melody with a harp, I’d suggest that is more a function of makers’ right handedness market bias when they set up their jigs than of the music per se. Since they majority of people are right handed that’s what they do for efficient production. You can however request a harp made for left hand dominant play and most will make it for you. Albeit at a slight surcharge, sometimes, but not always.

    Side note: Traditionally the wire harp was placed against the left shoulder so it was strung on the RH side. I don’t know why, it’s an interesting question. If you play a double or cross strung, of course being ambidextrous is a good thing:-)

    Same with levers. If a shop uses Lovelands they will pre-drill for those, so if you want Truitts they’ll do those, that but you have to pay for the extra set up time.

    The larger shops are, by virtue of their production size, less flexible than smaller ones, but I can’t think of any who will not be happy to make a customer happy.

    With pianos and most pedal harps of course you’re stuck.

    Biagio

    Member
    Janis Cortese on #185209

    Also, being left-handed on a piano/harp can be a good spur for composing. I am often surprised when I stop and think of how many times I write music that requires real expression in the left hand or that ping-pongs the melody back and forth between the hands. I doubt that any competent pianist would find anything I wrote challenging, but a left-handed one would probably find that the pieces are a comfier “fit” for that reason. And I do recall once when a righty played a piece I had written that I had to tell her to ease up on the right hand and put more emphasis in the left since the melody was actually down there, and nothing interesting was going on up top.

    I’ve often noticed that when I visualize myself at the piano — and the harp is becoming much the same — that I only “see” the left side of the thing. This is partly due to the jobs that the hands have to do: the right hand does a lot of close-quarters quick work, and the left does a lot of wide-spacing jumps and things, and you need your eyes more for the jumps and broadly spaced stuff. But I still just don’t “see” my right side, or pay attention to it. I often feel like I live in the left side of my body, and the right side just has a lung, a liver, and some guts in there to keep the left side going. 🙂

    I very much encourage you to compose after you get your feet under you technique-wise. It’s very liberating in general, and especially as a left-hander since you can put the heart of the music where you want it.

    Participant
    Tacye on #185210

    The wire strung harps were strung on the left:
    http://dh.tcd.ie/clontarf/The%20Brian%20Boru%20Harp

    Reaching under the neck of one to play the treble from the opposite side would not be very easy. Though if you look at the images of players some had the knee of the harp more central under the chin – especially I am thinking of Hempson and Carolan who were of course blind. Much of the music played is thought to have been structured differently from the familiar basic melody and chords beneath – a crude description might be structure and twiddles so having the dominant hand lower made dense for the structure. There are recordings of the current state of reconstructing the music and playing: http://www.earlygaelicharp.info/emporium/CDs/harp.htm

    Participant
    Biagio on #185211

    I stand corrected on the stringing side – what was I smoking? Back to the leftie question though; I can’t imagine reaching under the neck on any harp – unless you count a triple strung -grin.

    Interestingly, Paul Dooley and Patrick Ball sometimes play a smaller wire harp with it resting on the ground so the knee is only a bit above their knees. I hate to imagine how their backs feel after an hour of that. Robert ap Huw’s manuscript has been extensively studied – certainly the structures were different from what most of us know today.

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