December 3, 2002 at 5:00 am #89297
After a teaching hiatus of many years, I found myself suddenly thrust
back into it several years ago. Most of it came back pretty quickly,
but one thing has me stumped. How does one help a student strengthen
and train the large thumb joint to stay out where it belongs, instead
of constantly collapsing and ruining the hand position? I’ve tried
everything I can think of with one particular college student, who
has been studying for a year. She works very hard at correcting the
problem, but to no avail. Any and all suggestions would be most
Kathie BracyDecember 3, 2002 at 5:00 am #89298
Hi Kathie! Your post really interested me, as I am working right now with a hand therapist on an article for Harp Column magazine. I have one of those thumb joints that constantly collapses…..it has been that way for the 20 years I’ve played the harp and it is probably worse now than it was when I started due to overuse in playing. I met the author of our article (Carol Duffy) at the American Harp Society Conference last summer, where she confirmed what I had suspected all along: I am missing a tendon in my thumb, and it will NEVER be strait.
College was a real trial for me. I studied with the wonderful Alice Chalifoux, who is a very strict technician and very big on hand position. Every lesson was the same: Ms. Chalifoux would distress over my thumbs and give me all sorts of exercises to strenthen them. But neither of us realized the real problem, that my thumb was physically unable to straiten.
If this sounds depressing, I’ll tell you the good news, which is that my hand position is better than ever now, despite my collapsing thumb.December 3, 2002 at 5:00 am #89299
Katherine and Kim…You just can’t imagine how happy I am to see someone write in about this.December 4, 2002 at 5:00 am #89300
For goodness sakes, don’t quit!!!!! It’s hard to know what advice to give you without actually seeing your hands, but I would say that IF your teachers say you have good position despite your thumb, and IF you have made a diligent effort to straiten it with strengthening exercises and they haven’t worked, and IF you’ve been playing at least a few years and feel like your other fingers have developed strength and good position, then it’s time to stop worrying about your thumb and develop a strategy that works for you. For me, the number one thing is to listen to my sound. If I’m getting a strong and even tone over all fingers including my thumb, then I don’t care whether it’s caving in! (Practice scales and cross unders and overs a lot, because that is the place your thumb is going to hang you up.) If not, then whatever I’m doing is not working. Start listening and stop worrying!
By the way, I feel like I have to put in one big caveat here for others who may be reading this post…..I put the word IF in caps above to emphasize that my advice about ignoring your thumb is not meant to be a substitute for bad (or lack of) technique. As a teacher and performer I can tell you that developing a good technique is critical to your success as a harpist. Because my thumb doesn’t work properly is all the more reason I have to be extra careful about all the other elements of hand position my teacher drilled into me. If I didn’t have that foundation and support, nothing would work.
Keep us posted! I love hearing thumb stories.
Kim at Harp ColumnDecember 4, 2002 at 5:00 am #89301
Thanks Kim…This is one of those times when it is so nice to get support from this forum!November 28, 2004 at 5:00 am #89302
When I began study with Miss Lawrence, I remember her holding a pencil under the thumb joint while I was playing, or even better, holding my hand with hers, until I got the sensation memorized. The first exercise in Salzedo’s Daily Dozen is great for working on this.
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