Harp practice

Haven’t posted anything about the harp lately, so here’s a [rather technical and boring] post about how I’m doing…

I’ve been more consistent in practicing the past week and a half. I’m remembering that it took years for me to be good at piano, so I need to be patient with my clumsy fingers. I’ve definitely noticed improvement in my scales when I’m practicing consistently, and that’s enough motivation to get me in front of the harp for at least 15 minutes, although there have been several days when I’ve been able to practice for almost an hour! (Learning harp as a grown-up is sure different than learning piano as a kid… I don’t have as much “free time” to practice, nor do I have someone giving me stickers when I do.)

I’m finally past the “beginner technique” books (“Fun From the First” by Samuel Milligan) and am learning four songs from the “Medieval to Modern” books (by the same author):

    1. Tambourin by Louis Claude Daquin (1694-1772)
      A happy-sounding song that is meant to be played fairly quickly at 104… hm, what are the “units” for a metronome? There is one killer passage that involves lots of very fast sixteenth notes with the right hand which keeps me playing the song at under 80. The left hand plays the exact same chord on each quarter beat for the whole song.
    2. Andiam, Mio Tesoro (anonymous), an Italian song from the 16th century
      Pretty song that involves lots of scales with both hands, which I’m finding are very difficult to play evenly! Lots of online metronoming with this song. I need to play this at 138, but my current max is 128, at which speed I finally managed to play decently once today.
    3. Weinachtsglocken by Neils Wilhelm Gade (1817-1890)
      This song involves “sliding,” where the thumb (or some other finger) doesn’t just pluck a string (with the finger then completely off the string and in the air) but plucks… um… across the string to land on the next string for a more seamless transition. Up until this song, all the notes were fully plucked with fingers drawn completely into the palm of the hand, so this is a bit of a shift. It’s a little complicated for me since sometimes the thumb is sliding while the other fingers in a chord are plucking. Currently I have the right hand (which does all the sliding) down pretty good by itself, but I still fall to pieces when I try to play both hands together. I haven’t been practicing this one very much.
    4. The first of”Three Traditional Welsh Airs” arranged by Samuel Milligan — this one is Breuddwd y Frenhines (“The Royal Dream”).
      I’ve barely played through this one because it involves rolled chords, which are another new concept for me. Rolled chords are that nice harp-y sound where instead of playing all the notes of a chord at once, you play up the notes of the chord one after another, quickly. Anyway, instead of really practicing this song (I’ve played it through maybe twice), I’ve been working on rolled chord exercises instead, trying to get a nice, even rolled sound. I’m pretty consistent with one hand at a time, have been approaching the challenge of playing rolled chords with two hands — left hand (lower notes) rolling into the right hand.

    I’ve been focusing more on #2 on my 15-minute days, practicing the scale passages at different speeds. I usually throw in just the hard passage from #1 on those short practice days as well. When I have more time, I practice rolled chords and other “finger independence” exercises. When I have even more time, I run through #3 a few times with both hands.

    I’ve been meaning to research used pedal harp sales but haven’t gotten around to it yet. Maybe when the frenzy of baby shower planning is over (I have one more to plan after the one this weekend)…

    2 thoughts on “Harp practice

    1. When I first started flute (and then when I switched to bassoon) for many years I was not allowed to practice for more than 15 minutes. Even if I wanted to. At first, when I got older I thought it was a childish attention span thing. Now, I don’t think so. I was working hard on muscle memory, mental memory (remembering what the blobs on the page meant [in the case of tenor clef] and fingerings], and just the physical stuff necessary to play. I’ve tried hard to apply this to everything. But now, I will put in 2-3 15 minute practice sessions but will add in a long break. You have me wanting a cello now. Hmm… cello or spinning wheel…..🙂

    2. How interesting! I only remember hour-long practice times for piano.

      One of my friends has recently picked up the cello; one interesting side benefit is that her fingerprints are worn off on her left hand!!

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