Question about gestures at the harp

Posted In: Teaching the Harp

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    Sam Karlinski on #89888

    As you say, she is still beginning. I think you should have more lessons with her, and perhaps accrue some more evidence before you ask her to change – not because I don’t think your observations are reliable, but because it might be more educational for her if you can present a situation that obviously makes good use of raising.

    As Carl indicated, the two methods seem to converge as the level of music and player increases. There are some differences, but they seem to be two different methods of achieving nearly the same result, which is the physiologically optimal way to play.

    French method players inevitably end up raising some because they couldn’t get to the next notes fast enough without doing so. Salzedo method players find the opposite: that they must raise less in order to get to the next notes quickly enough. The result is the nearly the same, just coming from opposite directions. The psychology of the techniques is probably what differs the most.

    Loonatik on #89889

    Well… I am guessing what Eliza meant is raising more for musicality reasons rather than technical (although they are somewhat related).

    What’s the goal of wanting her to practise raising?

    Try playing a simple piece for her, once with the hand stiff and close to the strings. Then repeat with raising (the way you like it) – allow her see and listen to the difference, which is definitely perceivable (unless a beginner) – best effect where strong bass or chords are required.

    Also, try simply playing 2 chords alternately 10 times – play twice & vary the speed: start the first 10 times with 80, then play the next 10 times with 120. The point is to demonstrate how gestures can actually contribute to avoiding stress and tension during playing. Also, how the hand “jumps” from one chord to another would actually be a raise on its own…

    What I learnt is that, in order to “feel” the need to raise or drop or play “towards the column”, or play “out” or sometimes even deliberately staying close to the strings, you can use different passages that best demonstrates the value of hand gestures – that it’s not all “fluffy” as Salzedo puts it.

    E.g. if you play something majestic and grand and chordy on both hands… the raising/dropping actually brings weight onto the strings, which might allow your student to “feel” this extra benefit herself. I did.

    tony-morosco on #89890

    First I have to say that if she is already playing, and doesn’t raise, there is no reason to force her to change. A very large segment of the harp playing population doesn’t raise and plays just fine. There is no need to force someone to change just for the sake of being a technique purist.

    I will say, however, that while I accept that there are questions about the supposed benefits of raising as taught in the Salzedo method, what I hear described is not the raising I was taught.

    My teacher was a student of Salzedo. She raised and she taught me to raise. It is just a habit now. I don’t think about it and it doesn’t interfere in any way with my playing. It is just a part of the flow of movement my hands and arms make when I play.

    There is no tension or contortions when raising. If you are feeling constriction or tension in your wrists when you raise you simply aren’t doing it right. If you don’t want to that’s great, but if it is causing pain or discomfort then either you have some physiological issues that make the Salzedo method incompatible for you, or you are doing it wrong.

    The hands, arms and wrists are relaxed. It is a graceful and moderate motion, not a jerking, flinging, overexaggerated movement. It isn’t necessary, but if you learn it from the start it simply becomes an aspect of how you move around the harp.

    One thing I do know, any sports physical or ergonomics trainer will back this up, is that movements that stretch or reach while maintaining a relaxed state help prevent repetitive motion injury. While it may not have been why Salzedo incorporated raising, I find that it actually relaxes my hands and wrists, and helps prevent injury. I have issues from typing at times because when I type I keep my hands close to the keys, and hardly make any motion other than moving the fingers to hit the keys.

    Working with a chiropractor who is an ergonomics specialist I have managed to overcome this issue when working on a computer by incorporating stretches and additional movements at various times when typing. This, along with proper workstation set up, posture and position have manager to prevent any injury since adopting.

    The think I notice is I don’t have these issues playing the harp, and that raising, along with proper posture, are almost exactly what my chiropractor / ergonomics has me doing trying to emulate when working at a keyboard.

    So I’ll stick to raising. But if someone doesn’t want to I wouldn’t imagine that trying to force a change would end well.

    Abigail Kent on #89891

    I initially grew up with no strict technique, so I just did what worked. Then, I started taking weekly lessons from a harpist who studied with Alice Chalifoux. She was very adamant about raising, and would always ask me to play something (usually, but not always, a chord) with and without raising, to hear the difference. My teachers now are not so keen on raising, though, and I feel my movements being contained a little more. Eventually, I think I will even out to be a compromise of full and no raise – it really does depend on the context of the piece and whatever is needed.

    With regards to techniques like Salzedo versus Grandjany versus Renie etc., I think it is very valuable to have some exposure with at least more than one so that the harpist can choose which technique(s) best accomplishes the desired sound/effect of a certain passage.

    eliza-morrison on #89892

    I think that in my original post I failed to convey that this student is still very much a beginner, despite some previous harp study. So it’s not that she is coming to me with a fully formed technique which just happens to represent a different school of harp playing. What I am seeing is what looks to me like habitual rigidity in the hands, and I’m trying to address that (which is presumably what she wants me to do, having hired me to give her harp lessons). It is a joy to teach adults because they bring to the task everything that they have learned over many years about how they learn! Certainly there is no question of “forcing” anyone to change — that is not my style as a teacher or as a person.

    Sylvia on #89893

    I wonder why she chose you to teach her. Did she see (hear) you play somewhere? Did someone recommend you to her? Are you the shortest commute? (not being sarcastic…I was, I think, chosen that way once, back in the day…they moved out of town not long after that)

    Would be interesting to know.
    I didn’t choose my teacher. He was at the university where I went to school, so I guess he was the shortest commute.

    btw, I don’t teach and don’t want to.

    erin-wood on #89894

    I think if the issue is rigidity, the more important thing to me would be is the student closing the fingers completely after playing? I find that the closing to be the relaxing part and the raise would be sort of an after thought or continuation of that motion.

    Saul Davis Zlatkovski on #89895

    I think that it is interesting that in Salzedo’s Tiny Tales, in the first piece he wrote for beginners, there is NO placing. Rather than allow a student to develop a false sense of security from placing and holding or grabbing onto strings, he has the student become comfortable with the air and with finding strings. What a great idea. I tell students, there is NO security in playing the harp, ever, and the sooner you become comfortable with that, the better off you are.
    Raising comes from the shoulder and especially the muscles under the shoulderblade, so the lower arm and biceps and hand can indeed relax while raising. And relaxation helps the harp to resonate more, and removing the hand and arm from the vicinity of the string just played allows the soundwaves to escape and project more easily, and the continuous movement from playing to raising does indeed help sustain the note played. The sound and tone are definitely influenced by what you do after playing. I wonder what Bochsa had in mind when he wrote “vibrato” by a chord…
    Raising has indeed been adopted internationally by concert harpists, only mostly with the left hand, while the right hand doesn’t quite know what to do except hang around doing nothing, which really says a lot to the audience. Imagine a pianist who only moved their left arm in the air and the right hand never left the keyboard.
    I understand that in early 19th century methods, perhaps it is Cousineau, he instructs the harpist to have the right arm NOT touch the harp. Perhaps Salzedo only rediscovered an existing tradition.
    The Salzedo Method written by Lucile Lawrence comes from his teaching in the decades in which they worked (and lived) together, not later. The use of wrist does differ slightly between students of Miss Lawrence and Miss Chalifoux. Chalifoux emphasized wrist movement when coming off the string. Miss Lawrence used it but not as much, except when trilling, or playing octaves, and such.
    The point of teaching is to help the student improve. Not teaching them something that would be helpful is doing the student a disservice. It is better, in my mind, to completely represent a particular esthetic approach to the harp than to mix and muddle. As one grows, one naturally develops beyond what one is taught.
    Adults can be difficult to teach, as some are impervious to improvement.
    And Carl, next time you are in Philadelphia, I will be happy to spend some time with you showing you how it is all really meant to work. It sounds like you have gotten the wrong impression, is all.

    Saul Davis Zlatkovski on #89896

    Dear Sylvia, it maybe that the person you studied with didn’t understand the method or communicated it poorly, because it should not be awkward or strange. It is natural and clearly conceived. It is relaxed.

    eliza-morrison on #89897

    Update: my student is coming along wonderfully! She is now raising — not with big gestures, but I am satisfied. It looks very natural and relaxed (more so than when she was not raising at all and her hands appeared rigid) and she seems to have become quite comfortable with it. I appreciate all of the thoughtful feedback on this thread. Much of it has been very helpful. Thank you!

    Sylvia on #89898

    Saul, my teacher, bless his heart, was a Salzedo student.
    I still say…the important thing is not what it looks like, but how does it sound? Is the sound clean and beautiful?

    eliza-morrison on #89899

    It certainly is clean and beautiful.

    Gretchen Cover on #89900

    Eliza, that’s good news that your student is making progress on her playing. Thx for the update. I’m sure you are both happier and more relaxed about lessons.

    Now, I wonder if Elisa T.’s student cut her fingernails yet:)

    Saul Davis Zlatkovski on #89901

    Of course, Sylvia. One of the reasons I was so happy to study with Lucile Lawrence was that she always emphasized beauty of tone. Not everyone got that message. Power and volume are an issue for orchestral players, but that’s not a stopping point. The looks are a means to an end, they help a beginner develop strength and control. It is not the ending point. I will also say, when using nylon strings, you have to keep your callouses smooth, I have to sand mine, or the tone does get a hard ping to it. I am certain that in Salzedo’s late recordings, that is part of the tone quality you hear, incredibly deep callouses.

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