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    Veronika on #206392

    Hello all, I’m new here on the forum and a beginner harpist (started to learn six weeks ago). I’ve run into an unexpected snag: I associate colours with letters and words in my mind – it’s automatic and I believe it’s called synesthesia. I’ve always enjoyed it and it’s never been a problem… until I started to learn the harp. The problem is, that, for me, the letter C is kind of blueish grey and the letter F is brick red. You can see the difficulty! 😀 Anyone know how to change the colours of the strings? (Just joking.)

    Anyhow, it’s not a huge problem, but it’s kind of bizarre.

    Does anyone else here have synesthesia?

    Alyson Webber on #206399

    What colors do you associate with C and F naturally? It will be interesting to see if playing the harp begins to change your association over time. Also, be aware that if you ever switch to a harp that takes gut strings, the F is often black!

    I believe there was a thread once about coloring strings. It may be a difficult search, but I’m pretty sure Biagio commented so he may be back. If you wanted to try it, just get a B string and E string and color to your preference.

    I have heard of some synesthesia associations that could be really horrible (like names have flavors – how could you be friends with someone who tastes like liver?) so I’m glad yours is more fun. 🙂

    Biagio on #206402

    There is no rule about how strings are colored and if they are clear nylon that can be done  with ordinary fabric dye.  For gut and fluorocarbon that are not factory dyed you might try a magic marker for gut and pattern makers layout fluid for FC.  Here’s my method for nylon (there are others but I find this the easiest):

    Mix up a concentrated two quart batch of Rit(tm) with a tablespoon of salt and one of a soft detergent such as Dove(tm).  Put that in a slow cooker along with the clear nylon strings, set it to “high” and go read a book or something for an hour or three.  Check on it from time to time and when colored satisfactorily just rinse them off and dry.  You can save the formula mix and use it again and again.

    One note for other readers: use Rit commercial red, the retail type comes out more like mauve.  Navy blue retail however is OK.


    Veronika on #206405

    Alyson, I naturally associate F with red and C with grey-blue, so exactly the other way round than it’s on the harp.

    I’m also curious whether the association of these two colours will swap completely if/when I get used to the way it’s on the harp.

    So far I’ve been trying to associate the two colours with positions of the notes on the stave, rather than with letters, when playing, so that’s helping a bit. For example, I am trying to connect the red strings to the image of the middle C in treble clef. I feel more comfortable with F than with C, for some reason, so that’s my reference point now. (Though the F strings on my teacher’s harp are black, which always throws me again! At least now I know, thanks to you, that it’s because they are gut strings.)

    I haven’t heard about the names-flavours association, that does sound potentially unpleasant… I associate numbers and positions in space, which is apparently (like the letters-colours) one of the most common forms of synesthesia.

    Biagio, thanks for the detailed instructions! I had no idea you could do that. My harp has nylon strings, so it’s an option. Would it work also on the bass strings, those with the thin wire around them?

    I will try to get used to the “wrong” colours, but it’s good to know that there’s a solution if I continue to struggle.

    Biagio on #206429

    Veronika, no, you cannot dye metal.  Depending on the string supplier you may be able specify what colors you want.  For the time being if this is a real issue you could try just  painting the strings with Dykem layout fluid (since I assume you don’t want to take the strings off your harp).  You can find that in many places including Amazon, and it is also available as pens.

    You could also try oil based marking pens which wire players sometimes use – Sharpie provides several shades.

    “Painting” is not entirely satisfactory (it will rub off eventually) and dulls the tone slightly, but it’s probably the best solution if this is really an impossible issue for you.  Actually the best solution is probably to get used to the standard color scheme.



    Veronika on #206431

    Thanks, Biagio. I agree that the best thing would be to get used to the wrong standard colours. I’m OK in the middle three octaves, but the moment I get above the stave is where the confusion really hits. I’m going to draw red and blue lines through the staves in the pieces where I struggle, hopefully it’ll help to create new associations in time.

    Biagio on #206432

    Hi again Veronika,

    A few other thoughts that may be useful and relate to what wire strung harpers do since those are really hard to see…..

    -Just color the ends of the tuning pegs with enamel and use that to orient your fingers

    -Practice the “anchored finger” technique: this requires “finger memorization” – not a bad idea for any harper.  In brief, it means placing one finger (usually the thumb) and let the others fall to the rest by memory.  We take this to some extreme compared to classical harpists in that the hand is (almost) always in the same place and raises are minimal.  See Cynthia Cathcart and Ann Heymann for extended description.

    -Practice playing with your eyes closed.  This is not as hard as it might sound: after all some of the most famous harpers were blind.  It is also fun and relaxing (believe it or not LOL).

    Training your hand to recognize shapes is often the most difficult hurdle for new harpers to jump over and we all struggle through it.  Get a good exercise book such as Friou’s Exercises for Speed and Agility, Kondonassis’ On Playing the Harp, Maria Grossi’s Metodo per Arpa (in Italian but you do not really need a translation for the exercises), and/or two by Ray Pool – 1,2,3 Play and 3’s a Chord.  Any and all are excellent to own for any harpist.

    Best wishes and happy harping.


    Veronika on #206507

    Hi Biagio,

    Thanks so much for such a wealth of information! My teacher has also recommended playing with my eyes closed, so as to better concentrate on technique. I’ll keep doing that and will look into the other things you’ve recommended. I especially like the idea of colouring the tuning pegs. (I’ll have to put something removable on them, perhaps tie pieces of string on them, because I’m renting the harp and I doubt the shop would be too impressed if they got the harp back with some added colours!)

    I’ve just bought Bochsa Revisited, which is rather too difficult for me at the moment, so I’ll look at the exercise books you mention.

    Exciting times!

    andy-b on #206512

    Hi, Veronika:

    Instead of actually coloring the tuning pins, there are small rubber rings made that are designed to fit over the tuning pins or lever handles to indicate the notes. Sylvia Woods carries them (and probably others, too). You can get them in packs of black, red and black, red and blue, and white and yellow – so you could mark the levers or pins however you like and it won’t permanently mark the harp. I’m including a link. Hope this helps!


    • This reply was modified 4 years, 3 months ago by andy-b.
    Veronika on #206536

    Those are cool, Andy! Thanks!

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