Opinions on thumb-under or thumb-over

Posted In: Amateur Harpists

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    Karen Johns on #159597

    This has probably been discussed somewhere on this forum before. I currently play using the thumb-over fingers (thumbs-up) technique. I always thought this was the correct way to play the harp. Granted I am self-taught and I could be wrong. Has anyone tried both methods? What are the pros and cons of both? Are both techniques used in classical harp playing? I know the thumbs-under is used with the wire harp. Are there names for these two techniques or a history behind them?

    Thanks! (I hope I haven’t opened too big of a can of worms here- if so, I apologize in advance) ;-)


    tony-morosco on #159598

    I have heard people refer to this before but to be honest I have never been clear exactly what they mean.

    If “thumbs-over” simply means playing with the thumbs up, then that is what I do. I’m a Salzedo player and that is how both Salzedo and French players do it.

    I have seen wire strung players who play with the thumb more down because it allows for better use of the nail on the thumb, and many South and Central American players play in a similar way for the same reason.

    But for the

    Karen Johns on #159599


    I came across this website in my research and this is what led to my questions:


    Scroll down to the heading of Harp Technique. I think someone goofed when typing this. It says that the Grandjany and Salzedo method has the thumb moving under the fingers, rather than being held high as in the modern technique. This confused me as to which was the better method, as I have heard many references to Salzedo and Grandjany on these forums.


    tony-morosco on #159600

    That is definitely wrong. Both the Salzedo and French method (there is no Grandjany method, Grandjany used and taught the French method and it is not correct to refer to it by his name) keep the thumbs up, and when you play the thumb is brought down on top of the knuckle of the pointer finger.

    I can’t even imagine bringing the thumb below the fingers or how that would even work.

    When placing fingers in advance while other fingers are still on the strings the thumb always passes over the fingers and the fingers pass under the thumb.

    And the thumbs are kept up. I can still hear my teacher saying “Thumbs Up!” in my sleep.

    And that they would contrast the Salzedo technique with “modern” technique is rather odd as the Salzedo is a modern technique, having been around only

    Karen Johns on #159601

    What really surprised me is that this site affiliates itself with Cambridge! Perhaps someone should send them a correction. This had me all confused.


    Karen Johns on #159602

    Correction: this information was taken from the Cambridge Encyclopedia, Vol. 32 (according to this website). Yikes- makes you wonder what other misinformation is floating around out there, doesn’t it?

    jennifer-buehler on #159603
    “Portions of the summary below have been contributed by Wikipedia.”
    Fearghal McCartan on #159604


    I play both Trad Irish/Scottish and Classical Harp and for both styles the thumb should be up. When ‘rotating’ the hand the thumb goes over the fingers and the fingers should always pass under the thumb.

    When playing a note with the thumb,

    Karen Johns on #159605


    This is exactly how I’ve been playing all along, with both my wire-strung and celtic harps. I was rather perplexed by that website. I mean, how in the world would you manage to do cross-overs and cross-unders with your thumb low? However, I have seen a harper on Youtube play this way. She always tucks her thumb into her palm under the first finger. It really surprised me when I noticed this because she plays rather well regardless. Now I can’t help but wonder how well her tone would sound if she played the thumbs-up way….

    barbara-brundage on #159606

    >I think that explains the problem.

    Sure does. I’ve always been glad I’m a harpist–one look at the wikipedia entry for “harp” when wikipedia was first getting going taught me all I needed to know about ever using it as a reference source for anything. 🙂

    Karen Johns on #159607

    When I went to college they wouldn’t accept anything from Wikipedia as a reference. It cracks me up when I read the bottom of this webpage- they assure those who plan on using this as a citation that the information is accurate and unbiased, etc. LOL I guess I should have looked a little closer at where they got their information to begin with. The sad thing is that a person who knows not to get information on Wikipedia (like me) and knows nothing about the harp (unlike me) would use this as a reference. To all appearances it looks to be a college-based source.

    Liam M on #159608

    LOL Karen and then you have the real oddballs like my self who have never managed to sucessfully incorporate the thumb!

    Tacye on #159609

    That passage is missing quite a bit in the middle- see the same thing, expanded here where it makes rather more sense.

    Fearghal McCartan on #159610

    Phew! Relief for you that you don’t have to relearn your playing style! I get the feeling that the harpist on youtube has been self taught without even seeing a harp being played or looking at a tutor method. I have yet to see one that supports the thumb-under style.

    There is nothing wrong with self teaching but working with a tutor method sure does help!

    Enjoy the music and Happy Harping!


    Karen Johns on #159611

    Well, welcome back Liam! I missed you! :-)

    Trust me, keep those thumbs as high as you can. One thing I have been noticing with my wire harp technique is that I have to pluck the string A LOT gentler with the thumb, especially in the upper register. It’s like I don’t know my own strength. No strings breaking from this (whew!) just a harsh overtone if I’m not gentle, which grates on my nerves.


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