One of my students really struggled to pluck the strings of her harp correctly. She knew that she should close her fingers into the palms of her hands when plucking, but she just found it uncomfortable! No matter how hard she tried, she always ended up curling her fingers into a hook shape when she plucked.
What was the problem?
When I looked closer, I suddenly realized that something much more foundational was going wrong: the position of her harp compared to her body was not setting her up for success!
So let's take a little look at how your body should be positioned when you are playing the harp so that you can play with ease and freedom.
1. Your fingers should point down and your thumbs up (think "thumbs up" sign!). Your fingers should close directly into your palm and your thumbs should close over the top of the fingers.
2. Your wrists should have a slight dip. Find the right position by relaxing your hand and then lining your thumb up with your forearm. This position gives the hand the most freedom and power (just try bending your wrist down like a hook and then try to make a fist - you'll see how little power you have!)
3. Your arms should be a bit away from your body. Make sure they're not glued to your side, this won't give your arms much freedom to move!
4. You should be playing in the middle of the strings of the harp. This gives the best sound.
Problems you may have
What I realised about my student was that her harp was too high compared to her body. When this is true, playing in the middle of the strings means that your forearm is nearly parallel to the strings. And then plucking into the palms means plucking down towards the floor! It feels so unnatural and you feel as though you have no power.
If your harp is too low for your body, you may find your upper arms seem glued to your sides. This will limit the amount of freedom you can use to move your arms around.
Another problem that some harpists have with their harp position is that the harp leans heavily on the shoulder. Leaning too little can feel insecure, as though the harp will fall over at any point, but leaning too much can introduce tension into your playing because of the heaviness on your shoulder.
How to find a good position with your harp
1. Go through points 1-4 in "guidelines" and find a comfortable and free arm and hand position. Now check where your hands are in comparison to the strings. Are your hands lower than half way? That means that your harp is too high for you. You need to put cushions on your chair or find a higher chair that is the correct height for you. Are they higher than half way? You need to put your harp on find a block to so that it is high enough for you.
2. Get in front of a mirror or get a friend to take a picture of you playing. When you look at yourself, are the strings of the harp more or less straight up and down? If the are angled, it may mean your harp is leaning too much towards you (this can also be a sign that your harp is too high/tall). You can also use different angles to check how your hands and arms look.
3. Experiment! Test out what it feels like to play at different heights and in different positions. Each person has different arm and finger lengths, so you will need to find a position that works for your unique body.
4. If you're playing a lap harp, it can be quite difficult to balance your harp comfortably. If you have a body strap or a floor stand, this will really help to keep your harp stable so that you can focus on your playing. If not, try to find a box or chair to rest the harp on so that it feels nice and stable.
If you’re struggling to figure this out on your own, maybe you need some external help. So get a harpist friend to comment on your body position, or ask a harp teacher to help you work through this process.
Please let us know in the comments below if any of these tips helped you, or if you have any extra advice to share!