Playing and singing

Posted In: How To Play

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    evolene_t on #211768

    Hello all,

    One of the thing that attracted me the most with the harp is the ability to play the harp and sing at the same time.
    It’s much harder to do that with the recorder 😉

    However, it turns out that it’s way harder than I thought to be able to dissociate what the hands do and what the voice does. Especially considering the fact that the hands are themselves dissociated. It goes like this :
    – Left hand
    – Right hand
    – Voice

    Do you have any tips for playing and singing at the same time?
    Do you usually sing and play the same melody (with, for example, the left hand in accompagnement, the right hand playing the melody and the voice singing on top) or do you play the harp in accompagnement only?

    I find that one of the problems with singing at the harp is the fact that I am sitting down. When I sang in chorals, we would always stand up : sitting down compresses the diaphragm and does not allow for proper voice projection.
    I’ve checked with my teacher and my posture at the harp is correct, so that’s not the problem. Anyone have the same issue?

    I’ll be happy to read any ressources you may have on the topic!
    Thank you for your inputs 🙂

    hearpe on #211778

    I’m no great harpist, but logic would seem to suggest you keep an arrangement very simple- playing the chord or part of a chord only – concentrating on the longer notes and chords and perhaps forsaking more intricate passages while you get accustomed to dividing your attention and singing. Perhaps even just humming in tune would help you combine both singing and harping. Sometimes minimal is more effective in performance than stumbling through an elaborate piece you just don’t have down.

    I just had a small revelation I’ gong to build some improvement upon I hope. When I was young I broke the two outer fingers on my left hand As a consequence I cant bend the ring finger fully beyond the very bottom of my palm and the left pinky is permanently crooked. The left hand bass lines have been a problem both physically and mentally then. The hand feels almost paralyzed on harp, although many more years of guitar have somehow been compensated- the fingers are otherwise a permanent liability (Rode my last race!)

    anyway- a couple of nights ago for some reason I simply started playing stuff with my left hand- mostly just two note chord runs into little melodies. I then realized I was actually just playing what could also be the bass lines and open chords if I also played the right hand. I started adding some three note plucks and open chords and then just improvising very very simple right hand arpeggios and melody notes. It’s almost NOTHING and I’m not sure my description does it justice, but what I in fact felt like I was doing was working BACKWARSD! – without sheet music, just improvisation, and somehow a lot of left hand cobwebs I’ve had for a couple of years now of more harp playing were just blown out the door. A lot of my own mental block is only awaiting more practice now.
    So perhaps you could think of it that way- take your weakest component- whether it be the vocal, left or right hand- and reduce it to the most bare forms of simplicity. That approach actually works on almost any endeavor.

    carl-swanson on #211786

    Evolve- Singing and playing is tricky, because you are using two different parts of the brain to do it. Even talking, and then playing something is tricky because of that shift from one part of the brain to the other. There’s a wonderful play called Souvenir, which is about Florence Foster Jenkins(the play inspired the movie). In the play, the whole story is told by her accompanist, Cosme McMahon. Throughout the play he has to talk directly to the audience setting up the scene. Then he turns to the piano and plays through the scene. it’s very tricky to do and takes practice.

    I think that most of your problem is just one of getting used to doing both things at the same time, and that will take time to adjust to.

    hearpe on #211852

    Let the playing guide the singing- vocalists often use an instrument to establish the root tone at the start of each measure- pluck the root note and sing the vocal part Then add more harp from that.
    As far as the posture, some Yoga would probably help in the long term, but it’s mostly something you have to work at. There’s a big difference between projection for a stage or live audience and a recording with a microphone. The most common mistake in vocal is over reaching- trying to get too much volume or too high on the scale. Stay within your breath, no matter what the volume- there are some great vocal/harp performances on youtube, but you have to search for them and put them in a favorites list folder.

    duckspeaks on #211862

    If you sing belcanto it is very hard. As your hands move your rib cage moves in a way sometimes not aligned to the phrasing of the voice. Even Osian Ellis sounds very uncomfortable in his recordings in his “Songs with Harp” album. If you sing in a lighter style it should be more manageable. If you make your own harp arrangements, you have more leeway.

    Elettaria on #213825

    I grew up playing the piano and singing, and was able to do both together, including with another singer which adds even more to focus on. More recently I’ve taken up the harp, and am finding it harder to sing with than I expected. Levers are completely throwing me if I’m singing, it’s a whole extra physical thing to keep track of. So I agree about keeping it simple while you get the hang of it. That could include minimising lever changes and only singing in languages you’re really comfortable in, or indeed just your native tongue. You’ll relax more once you get past the “arggh three lines I’m meant to be doing WHAT?” stage.

    evolene_t on #213990

    Thank you all for your advice.

    I’m relieved at the testimonies about playing and singing ; it truly does sollicitate two different areas of the brain, and is apparently the first function that people with Alzheimer’s tend to loose, according to an expert.
    Keeping it simple is definitely the way to go, but the harps allows for beautiful things with simple arpeggios.

    I will also start playing standing up, putting my harp on a stand, which will help for the voice projection.

    Hearpe, your advice to stay within your breath is crucial, I believe… but I’m an alto, with a deeper voice than most women have – or indeed most song propose – but not deep enough to be in the male range. It’s great for choral since few people have my voice, but singing more standard soprano strains my voice… especially when I’m sitting at the harp AND fiddling with my hands!
    Singing with a mike, so that I don’t have to force on my voice, would definitely solve the problem. As is, I simply sing quietly and never mind about being heard. After all, I’m not doing this to sing in public 🙂

    boundetermined on #215680

    I’ve been thinking the same thing, though I haven’t tried it yet. I wonder… if it would be kind of a segue to try humming while playing the harp, and then try singing after that is comfortable. Kind of a middle ground that doesn’t take as much brain work as singing lyrics.

    jessharpgirl on #215766

    I play and sing with the piano as well and have been doing that much longer; it is much easier than with the harp! I would suggest practicing only the harp accompaniment, keeping it to simple arpeggios/chords (at least at first). Practice only the accompaniment until your hands are totally comfortable with where they need to go on the harp so you can concentrate more on your voice/singing when you need to. Try not to get too discouraged about this process because it is very time-consuming and can be difficult and frustrating! Allow yourself the patience, time, and whatever else you may need to accomplish this. I do think that if you can stand and sing you will definitely get better breath support, but it may be more difficult to balance the harp properly; try several different positions to find what works best and practice in the position you decide on as much as possible, because, when you actually do perform, you will most likely be nervous, which will throw your whole body off at first; maybe start performing while sitting just to get used to singing/playing at the same time and bring down the nervousness/anxiety about being able to do both at the same time before adding in the standing; sitting you are more stable and it will be easier to balance the harp at first. I hope this helps and encourages you! Stay strong and courageous!

    hearpe on #215768

    Thirty years ago I discovered the harp music of Mary O’Hare, long before I could play anything. I think she is still a great example of both simplicity and style combined into a great listening experience.

    Here is that album I got at the library and had on cassette a number of years:

    catherine-rogers on #215791

    Definitely check out Erin Hill, who sings and accompanies herself on classical and popular music. She is amazing.

    evolene_t on #216214

    Erin Hill is indeed impressive.
    That version of O Mio Babbino Caro on her website shows real work!

    But I still have no idea how she manages to project her voice that way while still sitting down… Sure, the microphone helps, but she must have learned a technique that I do not master!

    Unfortunately the links to Mary O’Hara don’t work, but I’ve looked her up ; it’s more of what I’m looking to do, and the harp version seem simple in a great way. Thank you so much for that reference!

    • This reply was modified 3 years, 3 months ago by evolene_t.
    jsmoir on #221128

    As a basso with a doctorate in Voice, may I jump in? You say you are an ‘alto.’ Lucky you – true altos are even rarer than good basses!

    I, too, took up the harp… in my dotage, because I had always wanted to sing Celtic songs and play the harp. While I am very new (only a year, plus) on the harp, I’ve been singing for over forty years, professionally (and bel canto). There are (at least) two widely varying ‘schools’ of voice production (with their detractors and devotees- but I’m sure harpists don’t have those problems, right? lol), and one seems far more suited to the harp; that is – a position with a relatively stable rib cage & high sternum, and having the rib cage expanding outwards, under the arms, rather than ‘breathing down and out with the belly.’ (The latter, actually is impossible, because the viscera (your guts) are the only things that move with the belly breathers!) This approach takes time, both for the high sternum (resting the harp on the pectoralis muscle, rather than your collarbone is an added benefit, in this approach) as well as learning to breath ‘out,’ and not down (what I jokingly call ‘bathroom pressure’).

    Secondly, the manner of attack (Glottal onset, rather than ‘blowing air’ through the cords) is of utmost importance, and is tied to the widely differing vocal ‘schools.’ Of course, I’m sorry to say this, but, after four decades in choirs, I can honestly say that a choral teacher often is the least qualified individual to teach singing, with only a bachelor’s and about six semester’s of singing instruction total, rather than those who study voice specifically) …but all of this, is probably more germane for an article – or a master class – at the next AHS conference! (2020?)

    I would say,though, that learning each element (RH, LH, then hands together; Voice apart, singing melody on ‘oo’ and only later adding vowels, then words, and then, the whole ‘ensemble’) with each component learned separately, and only then (finally) putting them together, a phrase at a time, is the best approach.

    It’s how my college students learn an aria, or an Art song, as they learn how to use their voices. ‘Centimeterarbeit,’ my teacher used to call it.

    Hope that helps.

    Saul Davis Zlatkovski on #223985

    There are two challenges: one is having a posture that works both for singing and playing, the other is that you have to be your own accompanist. I watched a video of a very accomplished harpist/singer, and her harp playing was competing with her singing for attention.

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