On average, what percentage of the time do you look at your strings as opposed to your music?
Posted In: Professional Harpists
Maria I’m so glad to see your post. If you could elaborate a little on what you’re experiencing, it might help me figure out what I’m working against.
I’m having a definite problem with the amount of time I look at the strings vs. looking at the music, but I can’t figure out what It is that I’m doing wrong. I do know that if I have to memorize everything I want to play, I’ll be down to a 6 minute repertoire.
For me, it depends on the music. If it’s an opera part, I definitely need the printed music, but I sometimes memorize the most difficult sections…usually they are too fast or they jump all over, so it’s suicide to look back and forth.
My personal rep is all memorized. For solo playing, I think it makes a much prettier picture for the audience to see a beautiful harp and the harpist (maybe not beautiful, but cleaned-up anyway), with no music stand, etc. distracting from the picture.
It’s harder for me to play without looking at the strings, but I think we are all different and have our own way of interpreting the harp. What works for one might not work for someone else.
If you include exercises, scales, and etudes in your practice routine, you will develop muscle memory for patterns and distances(2nd’s, 3rd’s, 4th’s, etc.) which will help you to feel your way around the instrument. If you can’t do that now, then you have not yet developed sufficient muscle memory for these things. The only thing you should have to look at the strings for is jumps. Try to stay connected to the strings as much as you can, i.e., have at least one finger anchored to the strings at any time and try to connect as much as possible. Another thing you can do is to play thirds, fourths, fifths, etc. as an exercise without looking at the strings so you learn to feel those intervals.
Maria, you might want to take a look at Lariviere. It contains a lot of very concentrated work on intervals and distances between fingers.
Also Bochsa 50 Progressive studies in two volumes and the Nadermann Sonatinas.
I just get mad at myself because my progress is so slow, although I know how valuable it is to put in the time on them.
Carl’s advice is excellent. Any time that I have a section of music with lots of jumps, I memorize it so that I can look where I’m going. I occasionally try practising with my eyes closed, and it surprises me how accurately I can still play like that. However, I wouldn’t want to take a chance in live performance. I have my glasses set up to read music and therefore my close-up vision is rather blurry, so I find I am relying more and more on muscle memory.
It’s obvious from what you’ve said that you’ve gone as far as you can on the technique you now have. If you are going to move into more difficult pieces, you will need skills that you don’t have now. So you need to look for a teacher who can teach you those skills. Forget about issues of schools of playing. Just look for a teacher who can move you, in an organized and systematic fashion, into harder pieces.
When I first started I looked at the strings way too much. But having a teacher to sit by you and say “look at the music” every five seconds is a real help to breaking those bad habits.
Carl’s advice is excellent, and basically what I did to improve. Learn how the intervals feel, and learn how the different kinds of chords feel. Once I realized that any particular kind of chord will have pretty much the same spacing no matter what the root is that helped put it all in perspective. A quick glance to find the root suddenly became all that was necessary to play most chords. Intervals helped greatly in learning to play melody lines without having to look (at least without having to look often).