Tired upper arms

Posted In: How To Play

  • Participant
    Janna Tuominen on #252936

    Hello everyone 🙂

    I’m new here and new to the harp! I have a question related to ergonomic playing.

    I feel otherwise quite comfortable playing, but I’ve noticed that my upper arms get slightly fatigued after playing for just five minutes. Nothing major but definitely noticeable. I play a small 27 Salvi Juno at home. I have a teacher and she is careful about posture, but we’re currently on holiday.

    The Harper’s Manual suggests three issues to target:

    1. Holding the elbows too high. I don’t make a point of holding them up too scrupulously, though (maybe 45 degrees)

    2. “Habitually holding the hands above heart level”. Since my harp is so small, I do raise my hands quite high at times to reach the 1st and 2nd octaves

    3. The weight of the harp might be pressing against the shoulder. I know this is not the case

    I was also wondering if tensing up the shoulders might be to blame? I have noticed that it’s sometimes hard to keep the shoulders and the hips completely relaxed.

    Has anyone experienced anything similar?

    Gretchen Cover on #252946

    The harp uses shoulder and upper back muscles. You will need to start by practicing in short segments and build up your endurance. There is a lot of mind/body coordination going on. Do you work out or do any exercises for your upper body? I do yoga twice a week which helps for strengthening and flexibility.

    Janna Tuominen on #252948

    Thanks for the reply, Gretchen! I do running, but I don’t exercise the muscles of my upper body at all. So if I’ve understood correctly, upper arm fatigue has nothing to do with correct/incorrect technique?

    Alison on #252952

    Well yes it does and round shoulders are evident in the posture of many older harpists, so you can see how things can develop. Try this, hold your forearm up flatly in front of you with your elbow level. Do you feel like your forearm or your upper arm is doing the work, ie is your forearm stiff enough to hold a tray or cup because that’s to be avoided. For a relaxed forearm and hand you need the work to be done by your upper arm muscles with your shoulders down. Test this and then move onto the harp.

    Gretchen Cover on #252982

    Why don’t you video yourself playing and send it to your teacher. Take a few clips from different angles. Alison has good advice above. Upper arm fatigue can have many causes. Not seeing you and knowing you are a beginner makes me think it is because this is new for you. Obviously, you are aware something is not right but without really seeing it, only educated guesses can be made here.

    Janna Tuominen on #252983

    Thank you for the advice to both of you! Yesterday I tried playing in a way where I engaged my shoulders and upper arms and it seemed to work. I’ve noticed that my right arm has the tendency to become relatively immobile while playing for some reason.

    And I think you’re right, Gretchen! It’s hard to assess a problem without seeing it. But it really helps to hear what factors are at play when creating sound on the harp.

    Saul Davis Zlatkovski on #253100

    Playing small harps creates stresses on different muscles, moreso than a pedal harp.

    jsmoir on #253116

    Alison- this is good info. As a singer, I know about posture, but it had not been addressed like this in the materials I have read and worked with. Perhaps a forum on Posture, release, allowing the shoulders to be ‘down’ (while arms are up!) might be a good topic for future fora.

    balfour-knight on #253171

    Hi, Janna,

    I couldn’t help noticing that in this thread, no one has addressed your sitting height in relation to the height of your harp. Is your Salvi Juno on a “stand” or up on legs? Small harps can be raised up to the comfortable level of a larger harp this way. I had a friend who owned a Camac Hermine some years ago, which was very low without a stand. I used a very low seat, but the fatigue while playing was intense! I finally raised the harp about 4 inches on a stand, used a normal height chair, and what a difference–I could play for hours! (My friend could, too.)

    Just wondering about this–maybe it could help.

    All the best wishes,

    Gretchen Cover on #253175

    Excellent observation, Balfour. I have not played a lever harp in years so harp height was not on my radar screen. That is very important. Another reason why a video would help.

    Janna Tuominen on #253176

    Thank you for the tip, Balfour. My Juno has long legs and I’ve actually further elevated it by placing it on a few sturdy books while playing. I sit on a very low chair (with knees aligned with thighs, though, so not crazy low). But if I remember correctly, my arms get tired even during lessons at the conservatory where we have a much larger level harp. I’ll have to make a comparison.

    balfour-knight on #253204

    Glad to hear about the legs on your harp, Janna. I agree with Gretchen, the video seems to be your best option now. I’m sure you and your lovely teacher can figure this out. We are always glad to offer our help here on the HC forums. We would love to know how this all turns out.

    Harp Hugs,

    Janna Tuominen on #253340

    I put another book under my harp and it actually helped a bit! My arms feel way less tired now.

    I also asked my teacher about this problem and she assured me that as a beginner, I should not worry too much as it is normal for a new habit/body position to take some time to feel comfortable. She told me that when she started playing the harp a long time ago, she also got tired arms. The problem obviously disappeared with time and practice.

    All of your suggestions have been really helpful, thank you :)!

    Saul Davis Zlatkovski on #253474

    You need to have strong arms to play the harp. Doing push-ups or planking exercises will help if you don’t have any weights around.

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