Friday, January 17, 2014

Have You Always Wanted To Play The Harp?

If you are one of those folks who has fallen in love with the harp and would love to learn to play it, The University of Wisconsin at Parkside in Kenosha WI has a class for you!

Parkside is officially offering its first ever "Beginning Harp" as a minicourse taught by UW Parkside harp instructor Anne Morse Hambrock.

  • Class size is limited to 8 and the enrollment must meet at least 5 for the class to run.
  • Harps are provided
  • No musical background required
  • The course will meet on the UW campus in the harp studio located in the Rita Talent Picken Center For The Arts
  • 6 classes meeting on Tuesday evenings from 7:00 - 8:30 p.m. from February 4 through March 11
  • Materials needed: 3 ring binder with staff paper (available at music stores), loose leaf paper, pens and pencils
  • Registration fee is $79
This is an extremely affordable way to "get ones feet wet" and explore one of the world's oldest and most beautiful instruments. The $79 fee offers 6 group lessons for a price one would generally pay for two private lessons. And access to the instruments is included! No need for an expensive rental instrument!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Calling Non Majors for Harp Study!

Recently a colleague asked me if I would ever consider accepting a harp student at the college level who did not want to major in harp.

My answer was a resounding "Yes!!"

I enjoy working with harp majors - it is always great to help harpists who are super serious about their instrument to further their career path. But I also feel that there are only so many job opportunities out there for those who choose to major in harp performance.

During my teaching career of over 30 years I have coached hundreds of harpists who went on to major in things like law, medicine, business, pharmacy studies, language, etc. but still wanted to keep playing harp. Some of them went on to be part-time professional harpists, as an addition to their other careers, and some only played for fun, but they all wanted not only to keep playing, but to continue to grow. Both as harpists and as overall musicians.

Now that I have grand concert pedal harps in place at both The University of Wisconsin Parkside and Carthage College, I am in a better position than ever to serve this population of harp students. Both schools have ample opportunities for ensemble playing - any student who consents to play in ensemble is eligible for applied harp lessons, even if they are not a music major. At Carthage there are also opportunities for study without the ensemble requirement.

I also teach my students, majors or non,  to make their own arrangements, improvise, and play for music therapy purposes. I offer full coaching for all aspects of using harp as a business whether it be weddings or any other professional playing.

Click here for more information on studying harp at the University of Wisconsin Parkside

Click here for more information on studying harp at Carthage College

Or if you just want to chat about your college harp options email me at or visit me on facebook  or twitter or Linkedin.

A New Harp For Carthage College!

I am pleased to announce that Walter Krasicki of Venus Harps donated a brand spanking new Grand Concert harp to Carthage College this Spring!

I have been teaching harp at Carthage for over 8 years now and our two biggest headaches have been the lack of a school owned instrument and the limited space in which to store a personal harp owned by a student. With this donation I can now serve the population of harp students who do not wish to bring a harp to campus!

Thank you, thank you thank you!!

For a full article on the new harp and the donation click here.

Update: We will be giving the new harp at Carthage its official debut on a faculty harp recital Tuesday, November 12, 7:30 pm in the Johnson Recital Hall. Works by Francisque, Roush, and PiernĂ© as well as original jazz and celtic compositions and arrangements by Anne Morse Hambrock.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Recordings Store Fixed for My CD Round and Round!

Recently it came to my attention that my recordings page was no longer functioning as a store and no one could purchase my music! Worse, I have no idea how long this has been the case!!

But, all is now well. The problem has been fixed and folks can once again purchase my CD "Round and Round". You can either download the entire collection of tunes for $10 or else download individual songs for $0.99 each.

You can click here to go directly to the recordings page.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Teacher's Corner: Teaching Blind Students to Play Harp

Recently a colleague asked for tips to help teach a blind harp student. When I first began teaching harp at Carthage College, there was a blind student who owned a lever harp but had only taken about 3 harp lessons before I met her. She had been doing the best she could on her own and was very frustrated. We got right down to it and, after four years of hard work together, she was able to give a senior recital split between harp and piano. She and I were very proud.

But the journey was not easy. The first difficulty we found was the lack of good sheet music for the blind harpist. There were very few pieces to choose from. Not only that, the pieces we found did not seem to have been vetted at all. It felt as though a publisher made an arbitrary decision "This music is popular, let's also publish it in braille!". So we took another approach.

Step one was to make sure she was sitting at the right height and to always sit in exactly the same position at the instrument. This is vital. When your only guide to the instrument is how far your arms are extended, middle C must feel as though it has a permanent location.

Try the following experiment with a friend and a tape measure. Close your eyes and hold your hand, palm facing you, exactly 7 inches in front of your face. Have your friend measure to assess the accuracy of your guess. Chances are you missed by at least an inch. Gauging your distance in a vertical plane without the benefit of vision or gravity to aid you is very challenging. This is why sobriety tests involve touching your nose while your eyes are closed.

Step two was to have her focus on playing exercises that were completely linked. By this I mean scale and arpeggio patterns that cross over or under or change direction ascending and descending. We spent at least a year focusing on every kind of connecting finger passage we could find. The kiss of death when you cannot see your strings is playing passages, especially in the left hand, that jump. The right hand has the benefit of using the edge of the soundboard for guidance - no Salzedo fear of touching the board allowed when teaching the blind - using the board as a fulcrum for the right hand is crucial to navigate the strings without sight. But the left hand, more often than not, will not have this advantage. Using the board in the left hand will mean a position so low on the strings as to almost sound pres de la table.

This problem of jumping passages in the left hand is what made so many of the braille editions of sheet music too challenging for my student. I'm not saying they were too challenging for any student, but probably not a good idea for the average student.

So the next step, after establishing good hand position, good body position, and good technique, was to start making our own arrangements of music she would like to play as well as teaching her how to make up her own compositions.

Her greatest love was church music so we started with hymns and folk tunes. We treated these tunes exactly as one would when using a jazz "fake book". We looked for melody lines that were at least 75% "connectable" in the right hand, memorized and perfected them. Then we created bass lines that could be equally connected. She had a braille translator so sometimes I would say the notes aloud and she would enter them into her translator, sometimes I would have her learn the melody by ear and by feel directly onto the instrument.

When it came to teaching her how to compose, we started with basic music theory and I just turned her loose. For those not quite up to that challenge, I play a simple bass line in a minor key using only the tonic and subtonic chords (in the key of D minor that would be D chords and C chords, for example) and let my students freely improvise on a second harp. For optimum results, play the bass line for at least 7 minutes. It generally takes at least 2 minutes of noodling for a student to stop worrying about whether or not they are doing it right to really relax and get into the groove of improvising. I use a minor key because there is almost no chance of a truly horrific dissonance that will scare off the novice improvisor.

My blind harp student had the added advantage of being able to sing while she played so, over the course of the 4 years she made wonderful progress.

I hope this post has been hopeful to any aspiring blind harpists and those who plan to teach them. If you need further tips, contact me on my facebook page:

Monday, March 4, 2013

Noon Concert to Introduce Parkside's New Harp!

This Wednesday, March 6, at noon in the new Bedford Concert Hall at the University of Wisconsin Parkside, I will be playing a concert to formally introduce the new Venus harp the University purchased!

Admission is free and the program length is roughly 45 minutes.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Harp Teacher's Corner - Hand Position Part 2

In Hand Postion Part 1 I addressed the fact that there are a number of different harp techniques and hand positions used around the world.

To briefly recap - a harp with a very loose tension, such as a paraguayan harp, will use an entirely different hand position from a harp with tight tension, such as a concert pedal harp. If you are searching the internet for videos and other tutorial materials related to hand position be sure you know what kind of harp you plan to be playing and what type of tone you prefer. If the harp in the video is not the type you will be playing - or does not have the tone you are looking for - skip that video and find one that matches your ideals.

I teach both pedal and lever harp students, many of my lever harp students being adults. Many of these adults are hoping to play harp in a spiritual setting of some kind - either in church or in the sick room. The most important thing to keep in mind when you are pursuing this type of playing is that you want a smooth, non-jarring tone and technique. The experience you create for the listener should be as calm and healing as possible. This will not happen if your movements are jerky, your hands are tight or stiff, or your touch is too strident. It is also not possible to play with a healing energy if you are completely stressed out about your own ability on the instrument. For this reason you must find a competent teacher near you to help you tame your hands into a good position to enhance tone and facility. I have worked with many students who are impatient to begin playing "a lot of notes" with no regard to tone or technique. In my experience "short cuts make long delays". Ignoring your teacher's advice regarding hand position, refusing to stabilize your technique, will only frustrate you and delay your ability to play the harp with the tone you enjoy hearing from others.

My technical background is rooted in both the Salzedo and Grandjany techniques. I find the Salzedo technique most useful for flashy concert playing as well as orchestral playing that requires the harp to project through an entire orchestra. However, it is my Grandjany training upon which I call for any piece of music in which the desired goal is a beautiful tone and nuanced phrasing.

In my over 30 years of teaching I have found that the "squeezing" technique advocated by Marcel Grandjany and his students produces a tone suitable for both pedal and lever harp. (Although it is helpful not to squeeze too much when playing a lightly strung lever harp such as a Triplett or a Yoder).

The most important facets of this technique are:

1) An "oppositional" relationship between the index finger and the thumb.

By this I mean that the thumb and index finger must be pointing in opposite directions (thumb up, finger down) so that the hand can truly squeeze the strings. You should never think you are plucking or strumming the strings. Rather, you are "pushing" them. The thumb pushes the string toward the column and the finger pushes the string toward your sternum or other part of your core. This will allow both the thumb and the finger to push their way through the strings to their ultimate destination. The finger will close entirely into the palm and the thumb will close over the hand touching the index finger between its knuckle joint and the  joint immediately adjacent. This closing is imperative for a deep tone. Peeling your fingers backwards off of the strings in a plucking motion will create a superficial, and often tinny, sound. It will also guarantee that the listener will hear your fingernails unless you have trimmed them all the way down to the quick.

2) A loose, relaxed extension of the arm with an elbow neither too high or too low and a wrist that does not stick out but is, instead, tucked in.

If you imagine yourself sitting on a horse and holding the saddle pommel you will understand what your goals are for your arm, elbow and wrist position. On this horse, if you do not want to fall off, you cannot raise your elbows too high or stick your wrist out. Doing so will eliminate the use of all the muscles on the inside of your arms. You will be reduced to the strength of your outer arm muscles only and it will be a very unstable feeling. Likewise, if you clamp your elbows into your body and flex your wrists at an extreme angle, you will short circuit the signals to your outer arm muscles. Good harp position, as with good riding position, requires your arms to be balanced so that your movements are both strong and flexible - creating security and stability. Probably the most frequent problem I see in beginning students is a wrist that sticks out. This lowers the thumb and raises the index finger so that they are almost parallel, making the relationship I outlined in section 1 almost impossible.

3a) Fingers that open and close properly as a unit.

Harp often requires that you place several fingers on the string at once. Many passages are simply not playable when one attempts to "load" the fingers onto the instrument one at a time. To accomplish the act of placing more than one finger at a time your fingers must learn to function as a unit. Everyone opens, everyone closes. Beware of the "trigger finger" syndrome where the thumb and index finger are on the string but the other fingers are held back in the palm like a child shooting an imaginary gun. If the index finger is on the string, the other fingers should be open as well but just slightly. They should not be open past parallel with the index finger.

3b) Avoid "over opening".

This is when you open your hand to play the next sequence of notes -let's say it is a four fingered chord - and, instead of opening your hand to the precise amount needed to hit your target strings, you open to a random "wide open" shape. Imagine you wish to pick up a pencil from the table. You open your hand to the precise amount needed and grasp the pencil. You do not open your hand twice as wide as you need to and then shrink down to grip the pencil. It is just as unnecessary to make this extra motion when placing more than one finger on harp strings. Think of your strings as a target you are trying to hit and be as efficient about it as possible. Over opening also causes problems when playing a one handed descending scale. After the thumb crosses over (maintaining a high position above the index finger,) the rest of the fingers should only open enough to find their next target. If they open above the desired target and have to be adjusted downward, you lose speed and evenness.

4) Fluid and controlled hand wrist, arm and finger movements.

Sharp movements will produce a sharp or harsh sound. If your goal is a smooth, rich tone, you need smooth rich movements. Go to the ballet (or watch some online) and examine the way the dancers use their arms. Professional dancers will use their arms to fully telegraph the emotion of the dance in question. A ballerina performing in Swan Lake will have a very distinctive pace and grace of arm movement that will match the emotion and tempo of the music. A fine harpist will do this as well. It is astonishing the amount of effect follow through of the fingers, hand, wrist, and arms will have on the tone you produce on your harp.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Broken Leg

Some of you have noticed that it has been a while since I posted on the blog. That would be because, on the morning of March 7, I fell and broke my leg in two places. (You can read the blow by blow description of how that day turned out here.)

If you play harp, you know what a crisis this is. I often tell my students that, to play pedal harp, you can get an infected earlobe, break a rib, or have oral surgery. Every other part of your body, you need.

For those of you who don't play harp, an explanation: A pedal harp has 7 foot pedals - 3 on the left for D, C, and B, and 4 on the right for E, F, G, and A. This is how you make all your sharps and flats. Without them, you are left with nothing but what would be the white keys on the piano.

My first reaction after I fell was to mentally calculate all the playing engagements I had coming up:

"The Light in the Piazza" two weeks, every night - starting 3 days after the accident
Concerto in B flat for Harp by Handel - 1 remaining performance, 6 days after the accident (I was getting excused from the show for this).
Church service for a client's 95th birthday
Holocaust Memorial Service
Danses Sacre and Profane by Debussy 
Sheherezade with the Kenosha Symphony
Jazz set at Caroline's Jazz Cllub

These are just a few of the things I was committed to in the weeks following the accident. I knew the show "Piazza" would be flat out impossible, even if I had only sprained my ankle, so I contacted the director immediately so that she could get someone else.

And, when I say immediately, I mean immediately. I had not even gone to the ER yet.

The next day - a diagnosis of a fibula broken in two places in hand, I started divvying up the gigs into 3 categories: Full Pedals, Right Footed Pedals, and No Pedals

Full Pedal performances that would fall within 8 weeks of the accident were right out. Those folks would have to be called and arrangements made.

Right Footed Pedal and Non Pedal gigs I would be able to keep on my roster but I would need to be sure I had a harp moving crew and that the venue would be prepared for me and my crutches.

I have to say, the trickiest one was turning the Handel Concerto into a Right Footed Pedal piece. Fortunately, the two fast movements, 1 and 3 were not a problem - all the pedals are in the right foot anyway - but movement 2 would be trickier. I wound up able cross my right foot over to the left for all the pedals except one. That one I had to leave out, which meant changing the harmony of a trill slightly but in a way that still fell within the range of the music.

I am very lucky - though my leg is broken, it is a clean break and I don't need surgery. That would have put me out of action for at least 5 months.

The two best pieces of advice I can give to other harpists are to have an injury or accident clause in your contracts so that a substitute harpist is acceptable and  to have a good relationship with the other harpists in your area so that they will be able and willing to help you in the mad scramble to cover your bases if something debilitating happens to you.

My sincere and profound thanks to Janelle Jensen Lake who went above and beyond to help me find a replacement for "The Light In The Piazza". Thanks Janelle, I owe you more than I can repay!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A New Harp For Parkside!

I am thrilled to announce that The University of Wisconsin at Parkside has just purchased a brand new Grand Concert harp. The Ebony Venus Diplomat was delivered on Monday and she is a beauty! (Here she is with my blue Diplomat.)

For those of you looking at prospective Colleges, this means you can now consider UW Parkside for harp study without having to bring a harp to campus.

The acquisition of a harp is just one of the exciting things happening over at Parkside - I have a beautiful new spacious studio that is just a small part of a beautiful new Arts Center. (Read about the new Rita Tallent Picken Regional Center for Arts and Humanities here.)

To everyone who made the harp purchase possible  - THANK YOU!!!!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Teacher's Corner With Anne Morse Hambrock: How To Pick A College

Tis the season to apply to college!

About this time every year I get emails from students inquiring about studying harp with me at the college level - either at Carthage College or at the University of Wisconsin Parkside.

Here are some of the most common questions I receive:

1) Can I major in Harp Performance at your school?
2) Can I minor in Harp at your school?
3) Can I major in Music Education ?
4) Does your school offer a degree in Music Therapy?
5) Can I play on the school harp or do I have to bring my own?
6) Is there a harp ensemble?

These are all excellent questions but there are several more you should ask or at least be thinking about.

1) Are there other harp students at your school and how many?

Some colleges have very small harp programs - 1-3 students, some have a mid range of as many as 9 and some have a very large program of 20 or more. If you wish to have the opportunity to play in as many ensembles as possible and a high level of visibility, a small or mid sized program may be a good fit for you. A small program may also have more scholarship money to offer. If you wish to be part of a large community of harpists with the cache of a prominently named teacher, you may feel that a big program is your best fit. One caution about a large program - depending on your skill level and dedication, you may find yourself studying with a graduate assistant rather than the primary harp teacher.

2) What ensembles are available and what level of harp parts will I encounter?

Just because a college has a music program does not mean they have a full orchestra. Some colleges may only have a small chamber orchestra. Although, you should not rule out the possibility of playing with bands and wind orchestras and also accompanying choirs. If you wish to play in an orchestra after graduation, you should be trying to get as much ensemble experience as possible while you are in college.

3) If I bring my own harp to campus, where will it be kept?

This is a very important question. While not every college can promise you your own practice room in which to keep your harp, they should at least be able to guarantee the security of your instrument.

4) Will I play only classical music or do you teach jazz and other modern approaches?

One of the realities of today's world is that becoming a concert performer of classical music or playing in an orchestra are not the only ways to use your harp skills after graduation. Many harpists find a majority of their income is tied to weddings and parties. Knowing how to successfully market yourself in this field is important. It is also wise to understand how to quickly make your own arrangements of piano parts to music your clients may request on short notice. Many college teachers cover this area but some do not and assume you will find your own way when the time comes.

5) Do you teach harp pedagogy?

Another very important question. If you are planning to teach harp after graduation there is a lot to know! While most teachers will at least address the subject of harp pedagogy while you are studying with them, not all colleges offer a harp pedagogy class for credit. This often has nothing to do with the harp teacher and everything to do with college budgets and bureaucracy. If the college you are interested in does not offer a pedagogy class for credit but you are passionate about learning to teach, you may need to ask the college to let you do an independent study with an emphasis on pedagogy instead.

6) Are there opportunities to play freelance while I am studying at your college?

First of all, if you wish to freelance while you are in college you need to assume that you will have to have your own harp and transportation with you. Do not assume the college will let you take a school instrument off school property. Also, do not assume you will be able to have a car on campus your freshman year. Some colleges have strict rules about living in the dorms freshman year as well as rules about bringing cars to campus. Secondly, you need to respect the market around the college and not expect to take work from your teacher if there are not many harp jobs available in the area. Encroaching on your teacher's livelihood will put a strain on the student/teacher relationship and interfere with the mentoring process.

7) Do you teach a particular harp method?

The three most commonly taught harp techniques taught at the college level in the United States today are: Salzedo, Grandjany and Renie. All three of these techniques are associated with famous harpists - Carlos Salzedo,  Marcel Grandjany, and Henriette Renie. For the answer to this question to be useful to you, you must first know what technique you are already using. (Your current teacher will be able to answer this question for you.) While there is often a mention of "French Technique" that is a vague and slightly problematic term as all three of the aforementioned harpists were a product of the Paris Conservatory. This means that, technically, all three of these methods qualify as "French". Currently, however, the Grandjany and Renie techniques are more commonly associated with this term of "French Technique" and Salzedo has come to mean a technique specific to the students of Carlos Salzedo.

Each technique does have a hallmark hand position and tone quality. Also, the farther away from the original teacher one gets, the more the technique can also take on the tone of the other harpists in the chain. For example: my Salzedo teacher was Lilian Phillips who studied directly from Carlos Salzedo in the 1940's. This puts me one step away from Salzedo and my students two steps away. My Grandjany teacher was Dr. Ruth Inglefield who studied directly with Marcel Grandjany in New York as well as Pierre Jamet in Paris. I also studied briefly with Pierre Jamet. This puts me one step away from Grandjany, with my students two steps away and then I have a direct contact to Jamet which puts my students one step away from him. This sort of harp pedigree can be confusing but knowing a potential teacher's stylistic background can help you achieve a good match.

8) How do I audition for you?

There are two main types of auditions - scholarship and non scholarship. Generally, scholarship auditions will take place on dates fixed by the college and will be in front of an audition committee. You are typically auditioning, not against other harpists but against all other instruments. A non scholarship audition can be as simple as contacting a prospective teacher and asking if you can come and have a sample lesson from them. I strongly recommend this if you are planning to major in harp performance. It is less important if you will only be minoring. You should be prepared to pay for this lesson; be sure to find out the usual fee for each teacher in advance of the lesson. If a teacher is particularly interested in having you as a future student, he/she will often then advise you to also give a scholarship audition.

9) What kind of music should I play at the audition?

If it is a scholarship audition, you should present your very best playing. While concertos are impressive and I do recommend playing at least an excerpt of one at your audition if possible, a really top notch performance of a lesser work will do more for your chances than a poor performance of a piece that may be over your skill level. Poor preparation on a major work will significantly reduce your chances of a scholarship. There are no brownie points for the attempt. Also, be prepared to sight read.

As far as the repertoire at a sample lesson, you should have at least one piece which you consider "finished" that you are proud of, and another that is "in progress" so that you and the prospective teacher truly have the opportunity for a teaching moment. If your hands are cold, do not be afraid to take a minute to do some warm up exercises. Just keep your warm up time to under 3 minutes.

In closing, probably the most important questions are not for the harp teacher but for yourself.

"What do I want to do with harp? 
Do I want a full time career as a harpist? 
Do I want a career in something else with some harp on the side? 
If I want to play harp on the side, do I want to play strictly for my own enjoyment or do I want to pick up occasional freelance work? 
Do I want to teach harp?"

To properly choose a college at which to study harp, you must first know what you expect to gain from the experience and where you wish to go with the instrument. It may seem like an obvious point that does not bear mentioning but you would be surprised at the number harp playing high school seniors I have encountered who have never given these questions any thought at all!

ADDITIONAL NOTE: Be sure to follow up with a thank you note any time you receive answers from a prospective teacher or have a trial lesson with them!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Teacher's Corner With Anne Morse Hambrock: Hand Position; Why does it matter?

I would like to begin my Teacher's Corner segments with hand position because, of all the challenges involved in playing harp, it is the one most likely to make or break your playing experience. The appropriate hand position will not only lead you to greater success musically, it will minimize tension and promote a longer playing career. This segment will not focus on specific hand positions (that will be in segment two) but will focus on why hand position matters and what it contributes to your playing.

To properly address hand position we will need to break it into two parts:

A) Tone and B) Facility. Let's start with tone.

One of the nice things about the harp is that, once it is properly tuned, it naturally sounds good almost any way you play it. To clarify my meaning, it is not at all like the sound of a violin or clarinet in the hands of a beginner - no squeaking and squawking. That said, some sounds on the harp are more pleasing than others. The tone you get from the instrument relies on the displacement, or movement of the harp strings. How the harp string moves and vibrates to produce sound is controlled mainly by three things:

1) The type of harp 
2) The type of strings 
3) The hand position and touch of the fingers.

1) Harp Types:

Harps come in a variety of sizes and string tensions. How tightly a harp is strung and the construction of the sound chamber, along with your hand position, will seriously affect the tone produced when you play. The tighter the tension, the more energy it takes to displace the strings and create sound so the more important it is to choose a hand position that can really squeeze the strings rather than simply brushing them.

Pedal harps generally range from the smaller 40 string harp with a straight soundboard to the 47 string Concert Grand harp with an extended soundboard.  Add to that the fact that different harp companies are known to produce harps with different tones - some brighter, some deeper. Sting tension tends to be uniform within a harp company but can vary slightly from company to company. And, in general, a new pedal harp will be tighter in tension but will loosen up over time depending on the frequency and strength with which it is played. When you are in possession of a new pedal harp, a good hand position and a strong tone will help you 'break the instrument in' and contribute to the development of its sound.

Non-pedal harps* also come in a variety of sizes - from as few as 13 strings to as many as 42- and have a broad range of string tension. Some non-pedal harps will say in their advertisements "Pedal Harp Tension". These harps are primarily for those who switch back and forth from pedal to non-pedal harp and desire the same tension or those folks who are only playing a non-pedal harp until they can afford a pedal harp. If you plan to transition from a non-pedal harp to a pedal harp, the hand position you use should be one that produces the best results on pedal harp.

Non-pedal harps that do not use pedal harp tension have a tremendous range of string tension.
A string with less tension will require less energy to displace.  For this reason, hand positions that would be considered unorthodox for pedal harp can still be effective on a certain non-pedal harp when it comes to tone.

2) String Types:

There are 5 main types of strings for harps: gut, nylon, wrapped bass wire, wrapped nylon, and brass wire. Nylon, and wrapped nylon strings are generally more springy so they require less energy for displacement than gut and wrapped bass wire.

The type of harp will often determine the type of string. Brass wire strings are only used on a specific type of non pedal harp and require a unique playing style with fingernails. The hand position used on a brass wire strung harp is unique to that instrument and is not consistent with pedal harp hand position. I am not schooled in this method of playing so I cannot address proper technique on such an instrument. But, I mention it here to illustrate the point that there is more than one proper hand position for playing harp.

The three types of strings found on most pedal and many non pedal harps are: Wrapped wire starting at the bass G string (10 strings below middle C) and descending to the bottom of the harp, Gut or Nylon or a combination of the two. Nylon strings tend to be slightly stretchier with more give to the string. As a result, they are easier to "overplay" when used in the lower octaves. For this reason, most professional pedal harpists choose to limit the use of nylon strings to the upper registers of the instrument. Whether to use nylon or gut on your harp tends to be a personal choice based on the tone you desire and how much you can afford to spend on strings. It is not at all unusual to have all nylon strings on a non-pedal harp but it does produce a different tone than gut strings.

Again, the type of string you have on your harp, combined with the hand position you choose will have a direct effect on the tone you get out of the instrument. The more rich the tone you are seeking to produce, the more finicky you will need to be about the strings you use.

3) The hand position and touch of the fingers:

There are a variety of hand positions used around the world. The position you choose to embrace will depend largely on the type of tone you wish to produce. Some hand positions yield a bright, almost tinny sound. There are cultures that value this type of tone and so a hand position that produces it cannot be considered "wrong" if that brightness is the desired tone. Certain Irish, Chinese and Paraguayan music (among others) use a hand position that would be considered suitable for their genre but unsuitable for pedal harp performance. The success of such hand positions depends greatly on the tension of the instrument being fairly loose. Paraguayan harps are very, very loose so all sorts of hand techniques are used that would not translate well to a pedal harp. Again, I am not schooled in this particular technique - a good resource is Alfredo Ortiz.

If you play a harp with pedal harp tension and desire a deep, rich tone in your playing, you must pay particular attention to hand position because you must displace the strings deeply and carefully. A deep tone can only be produced with certain types of hand position. This means that you cannot be cavalier with your hand mechanics and so must focus intensely on hand position.

B) Facility and Speed.

The other main reason hand position matters has to do with facility  and speed. A hand position that allows you to "pick at " the strings one at a time can actually work if you don't mind a thinner sound and if you are playing a passage that goes slowly and rings for a long time. 

But, any passage that runs through several strings quickly, such as an arpeggio or a scale, must have two components. Firstly, to play a fast four fingered arpeggio, you must place all your fingers on the strings at once and then execute them one at a time. (I call this "plant and peel") A good hand position will make this easy, a bad hand position will lead to frustration - especially when it comes to landing on several strings at once. Secondly, to change direction, cross over, or cross under, requires a hand position that supports moving in more than one direction.

These are the main reasons hand position matters and why, although it may seem time consuming to take the time to use your hand a certain way, the work you put into a good hand position will yield a better overall result and improve your playing.

Note: - If you are cruising the internet for videos on proper hand position, re-read the above information and be sure to pay attention to the type of harp the instructor is playing. If it is not similar to the type of harp you will be playing, it may not be of great value to you and you should probably continue searching until you find a harp and tone similar to your goals.

Next installment: Hand Mechanics and how to use your fingers to produce a deep, rich tone and smooth, fluid phrasing.

*I have used the term "Non-pedal harp" because it encompasses all types of harps that do not have pedals - paraguayan harp, triple strung harp, cross strung harp, double strung harp, and lever harp. I realize that not everyone likes to refer to their non-pedal harp this way but I use the term in the interest of clarity.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

NEW! Teachers Corner With Anne Morse Hambrock

I am starting a new feature on the news page related to teaching.

I have been teaching harp for over 30 years and, in that time, have encountered so many different student hands, personalities, and goals for harp playing that I feel I have learned as much from my students as they have learned from me. Over the course of the years I have also formed many opinions on the music available for harp study and the various approaches to harp technique which I plan to share in this segment.

With more and more people taking up the harp in the privacy of their own homes and using the internet or self teaching books rather than a private teacher, I hope to outline some information that will help such students as they wade through the teaching tools they encounter online. I also plan to address typical problems that arise through self study.

I hope this information will be useful to students and teachers alike.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Clean Up Time and A Video

I regret to say that I have neglected this site for over a year. Firstly, I had a very busy 12 months in the cartooning world (see my cartooning blogs here and here) and secondly, I forgot all my password and account info for this blog :-)

But it's time to get things back on track and, within the next month, you'll see a little more activity here. I have some performances I'm excited about this year and will post details later. In the meantime, here is my youtube video for "Bossa Nova Casanova" a tune I wrote years ago but never performed live until 2009 the the Jean's Jazz Concert series at the Racine Theater Guild. There is a full explanation of how the piece came to be at the beginning of the video. Enjoy!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

A Little Celtic Tune on Youtube, My Latest Video

Here is my latest Youtube video.

"Oh My Katie Wee" was written when I was expecting my daughter and subsequently she has declared it belongs to her.

(True story, I played harp right up until my due date with all three children - they all moved around quite a bit when I played, but my daughter was the only one who apparently knew my entire repertoire and would kick me if I made a mistake.)

This particular recording was made at the Racine Theater Guild when I appeared as part of their Jean's Jazz concert series. Celtic was not on the menu, so this was an encore.

I hope you enjoy it!