Which shoulder?

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    OK…..Here’s the scenario. Years ago when I studied harp in Paris as a beginner I was

    taught to play with the harp on my left shoulder. I’m not really sure why except that I was

    indeed left handed. The teacher I had was also a left handed and left shouldered harpist. I

    learned to find the levers “blind” quite easily and that’s never been a real problem. When

    moving to pedal harp later I just kept the left shoulder position and therefore learned the

    pedal positions with the harp turned to the left for my left shoulder as well. It’s never

    really bothered me a lot and now (45 years later) it has presented the first real problem for

    me. I’m now teaching and I encourage all my students to use their right shoulder as I feel

    they should. When playing examples though I play on my left and the hand positions are

    quite different. It’s confusing for the students.

    I’m thinking of changing shoulders after many years of harp playing and finding that it

    isn’t very easy because of the fact that both my pedal and my hand positions are very

    different when the harp is turned for the right shoulder. It’s actually quite frustrating and

    certainly awkward at best. I’m also at a point where I’m acquiring two new pedal harps for

    work and practice so if I’m going to do the switch , now would be the time.

    How many of you feel that I should go ahead and do the major work of shifting

    shoulders now in my career which would mean practically re-learning my total repertiore?

    (Not to mention switching bass and treble hands)

    I wish that I could ge back and redo all the years of practice but as a performer the left

    shoulder thing doesn’t bother me, only as a teacher.


    All the best,



    If it works? Why fix it? I won’t. (I am assuming the way you play really works, since you said you’ve been playing this way for 45 years)If I were you, I would teach my students the way I play too. I would be very curious to see how you play!


    I’m a little bit concerned about teaching students to play on your left shoulder. I’ve never even heard of any one playing on their left shoulder. My opinion would be if you learned it that way, you might as well keep it that way, but i would NOT teach students incorrectly! Isn’t it awkward on your left shoulder… don’t the tuning pegs whack you in the head?



    Hi Steven,

    Don’t worry, I would never think of teaching a student to play on the left. I’ve certainly had

    my own trials with it in my life and wouldn’t wish it on another. I’m happy to report that

    I’ve started making the effort to switch myself now and though it was terribly difficult at

    first, after a few weeks I was quite surprised how quickly I am becoming agile at it.

    I play professionally on TV each week so it’s been a challenge making the switch while still

    maintaining a professional playing career but I recorded my first show playing on the right

    last week and it came off just fine.

    There are, by the way, a number of professionals who play on the left. Most got started as

    I did in the Welsh tradition of harp playing and then moved to pedal harp without


    I’m glad that I’ve decided to make the change now and it’s gotten me back to practicing

    several hours each day which has been a blessing in itself.

    All the best,



    Oh! Well what do you know? :-) I never knew other people played on their left. Congratulations on your progress! Make sure you let is know how it tunrs out. :-)


    Tomye Waller

    It feels better to play left shoulder. I am left handed and right eye dominate. Playing on the right shoulder is more disorienting to me. This is important when you are trying to learn how to play.

    Sid Humphreys

    I have seen a left handed pedal harp out there before… that would be played on the left shoulder, the discs and pins are also on the right side of the harp.


    Weren’t all Welsh instruments (such as Nansi Richard’s) played on the left shoulder, the neck of the harp having the opposite twist to Erards etc. That was the norm from bygone days which only died out with the players of that era, or possibly the triple harps are built that way still. So what happened since 2005 Mark? Did you stick at the changeover ? I’m sure you could play figures with any hand but there would be some automatic actions you might not be able to eliminate especially in complex pieces & parts and the way separate hands learn to jump around. I can’t imagine having to reverse my hands in Debussy’s 1st Arabesque or Faure’s Impromptu with so many counter rythmns, besides which, wouldn’t new pupils be better off adopting the current convention which is transferable to/from the piano with the bass in the left hand, the treble in the right . Here’s an example of an automatic motor skill that proved fatal ……

    Surprising to discover that it was Nansi Richards suggestion of the cockerel on Kellogg’s cornflakes, according to Wiki….

    Sherri Matthew

    Hi Alison,

    Traditionally the Irish wire harp was always played on the left shoulder. Also I’m a lefty, so I had Triplett Harps build my Luna with left shoulder orientation (strings are on the right side of the neck). If you look at my profile photo of me playing my harp, you can see it was actually built that way, not the photo reversed (as some people have asked me!) And yes, it is very comfortable for me to play it that way. I don’t plan on taking up pedal harp and I arrange all my own material from sources, not studying repertoire, so it’s not an issue for me. The sharping blades are on the right side. I don’t do any teaching either so again, not too concerned about it. I do what is comfortable for me. I tried playing a regular nylon-strung harp once on the right shoulder and it was very difficult for me! My eyes kept crossing. 🙁


    I have a student who plays on the left shoulder. She came to me having already begun her study that way, and didn’t want to change. We haven’t gotten to lever changes yet, but if/when we do, I think she’ll do okay. One of her harps has the tuning pegs marked with blue and red on the “wrong” side, and she could find her way around. I’ve seen videos of people playing this way! to me, it’s all about making beautiful music, so if it works, it works.


    This is interesting to me. I’m left-handed, and the natural urge to put a harp on my left shoulder is very, very strong. Unfortunately, I’ve been a pianist since I was a kid and the idea of reading the clefs in the opposite hands would make my eyes cross. It’s a right pain being a left-handed musician; it was much easier when I got a viola because you can find lefty stringed instruments easily and just go at everything in a mirror image without any changes whatsoever in bowing or fingering (only one clef).

    I suppose I’ll just put in on the right shoulder so my right hand can stick with treble clef, but my instinct is definitely to put in on my left shoulder. 🙁

    Sherri Matthew

    Hi Janis,

    That’s why, when the Irish tradition presented itself, I just went with it. Didn’t worry about what everyone else was doing. Like you, I’ve been playing piano a long time too. My harp is a happy fit for me. Probably not the instrument of choice for most folks, but that was love at first sight (& sound!). It just sings and rings. Love my lefty wire harp! 🙂

    And yes, why not give a switch to the left shoulder a try? Just for fun! Might work well for you!

    Tomye Waller

    It is good to know that there are lefty pedal harps. It will be a long time before I need another harp. Although it is a regular pedal harp, it is quite comfortable to play even as lefty. I will continue to play lefty regardless.
    As a child, I was painfully forced to be right handed. For a year, I had to write right handed. My hand writing suffered greatly. I didn’t want any chance of that happening to my attempt a playing the harp.
    Your news of left handed harp lets me know that lefties have been acknowledged and accepted in the harp community. I was under the impression that I was alone in my quest to be a left shoulder harpist. Thank you!!


    It is indeed lovely to see so much acceptance. I got a very rude shock from the classical string community when it became evident that I bowed with my left hand; they were unbelievably hostile, beyond what I could ever have imagined in this century. And that was for an instrument where, as long as it is also mirror-image, there is absolutely no change whatsoever in bowing, finger, or anything else at all.

    I think I said this elsewhere here, but I’ve found this forum to be the nicest, pleasantest places on the web so far. I’m sure there are jerks everywhere, but there seem to be far fewer of them among harpists. 🙂

    I imagine mirror harps may be hard to find, though. 🙁

    Sherri Matthew

    Hi Janis,

    Wow, Some nasty stuff. Why would they care, as long as you were sounding good? At the end of the day, that’s what it should be about, yes? Hope you got out of that toxic place, doesn’t do much for the musical spirit over the long haul.

    Mirror harp! Could have a snazzy one built, with pretty glass inlay here and there 🙂

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