Tight Hands??

Posted In: Young Harpists

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    unknown-user on #166842

    I started piano a couple of years ago and my teacher never taught me to have loose hands. Then when I started harp three years ago, I still never learned. Now I have progressed so fast in harp that I am in very challenging repertoire and I basically can’t play the piece without loose hands. What should I do to loosen my hands?

    Elizabeth Volpé Bligh on #166843

    Practise very slowly, one hand at a time, relaxing your entire hand between every note. This is whether you are replacing or coming off the string completely. Make sure you are not pulling your thumb out of its normal alignment when you play it. In other words, your fingers and thumb should follow the most natural movement possible. If you are seeing lines on the back of your hands, then you are fighting the connective tissue that spans the palm. Think of the joints as hinges that only go one way. So, if you pull your fingers down and your thumb towards your second finger joint, your hand should feel comfortable. Also, breathe deeply whenever you feel that tightness come on. Hope this helps!

    Briggsie B. Peawiggle on #166844

    Emily, I had a similar problem. Elizabeth is right, but I just want to add since I went through the same thing….you MUST be aware of your tension and as soon as you feel it you need to stop…..play one hand at a time as Ms. Volpe instructs. Don’t try to keep going because the tension just increases. Pay attention for the very beginning of your tension.


    unknown-user on #166845

    Elizabeth & Briggsie-
    Thank you for the advice.

    carl-swanson on #166846

    Emily- It’s hard to know exactly what you mean by ‘tight hands’ without seeing you play, but maybe you are a very tense player, either on piano or harp, and you never learned to play from a relaxed state. The whole point of technique on either piano or harp is to use only the muscles needed at any moment to play a note and leave all of the other muscles in a completely relaxed state. It sounds like you are operating from a tense state all the time.

    You might try sitting at the harp, placing your fingers on the strings, and, before playing anything, just sit and focus on eliminating any tension before you play the first note. Play only a couple of beats and then stop. Work on making it through several beats or a measure without getting tense, and then build on that.

    unknown-user on #166847

    Hi Emily,

    I found this when I first switched from piano to harp. You may also be getting very muscular hands from loads of practise from difficult repertoire. I found a similar thing happen to me, as I advanced quickly, and my hands became tight and the muscles “thick”. If that makes sense. Tension has a habit of creating more tension as well, and if you do not relax the muscles they thicken and become stiff…and become harder to relax.

    I found making sure that my hands were warm (if your hands are tense, they may also be cold…) and concentrating on alternating exercises..not playing the same ones over and over and choosing ones that balance. I also alternate any strength work, with quiet and

    Briggsie B. Peawiggle on #166848


    Thanks for the tip on the hot water. I never thought of it and will keep it in mind.


    unknown-user on #166849

    Great advice! I can see how the warm ups and the cool downs will help. I guess when my hands are cold they do that too! As I was practicing today, I tried relaxing. My left hand was very relaxed, but my right hand kept getting more tense and tight. Do you think because I am left handed and do almost everything with my left hand my right hand is tense?

    unknown-user on #166850

    I see your point. In everything. Maybe tense would be a better word. Yes, my hands are tense. So is the pressure building up in my wrists after time just from being really tense? Thank you so much for the great advice. I’m really young and inexperienced, so advice means a lot to me.

    unknown-user on #166851

    Or hot packs, you know, the ones that have sand or grains in them and you heat them in the microwave? I’ve seen soloists hanging onto them before they go on stages too. Keeps the muscles warm and relaxed.

    unknown-user on #166852

    Ahhhh! That is useful information, that you are left handed.

    unknown-user on #166853

    You must cultivate suppleness. I suggest massage to loosen your muscle fibers. If you warm up with slow-motion playing, you will develop the long fibers of your muscles if you are over-emphasizing the short fibers. So, when you warm up in slow tempi, close your fingers and replace super slowly, and do not close quickly until you are in fast tempi. One thing about movement is that it responds to direction, so if you are telling your arms to move in a supple way, they will become supple, and your muscles will gradually change to being supple. You must seek a corresponding tone quality as well. This is actually a very serious issue, and I think you must work very closely with a teacher who can help you with this, or you risk serious injuries down the road.

    kimberly-rowe on #166854

    I’ve noticed that a lot of students who come from piano don’t quickly grasp the concept of closing IN to the palm. Maybe because with piano your fingers come up and away from the keys? Not closing all fingers, especially your pinky, into the palm always leads to tension. People coming from piano often let the picky come up away from the hand, even as the other fingers are closing, which leaves tension in the hand. I would recommend playing very slowly, as has been suggested, and checking to make sure all 4 fingers are closing fully into your palm. Then be sure this translates to a faster tempo. Just remember that at a faster tempo you’ll be worrying more about notes and it’s easy to revert back to improper closing.

    If you watch some good harpists play, you can see that closing is the one element that virtually all good harp techniques have in common!


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