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Are Your Fingers Failing You? 10 Quick Fixes

fingering fingers technique Sep 30, 2019

When was the last time you said this: “If it weren't for those 2 measures in the middle, this piece would be no problem for me?” 

We've all been frustrated by those spots where our fingers always seem to miss the strings or fumble or trip over each other. And it seems that no matter how much we drill them, they still feel unreliable or shaky. 

It's a fact that some passages are just plain hard to play, and they take much longer than the rest of the piece to feel familiar. But frequently, there is simply one small tweak that manages to clear up most of the difficulty. 

Many times, a student will play through one of these spots for me, and I am able to spot that crucial tweak. In these moments, it seems almost magical to the student; one small adjustment and much of the fumbling or insecurity is cured. But it's not magic, merely long years of experience, experience that I am happy to share with you. 

A student's first question to me is almost always about the fingering they are using, and this is a good place to start. A fingering that appears logical on paper may not feel comfortable at the harp, and a fingering that works well for one harpist may not work smoothly for another.

Often though, the problem isn't one of fingering, the real issue is the fingers themselves. The hidden difficulty may actually be a technical inconsistency or irregularity that is sabotaging all the practice attempts to fix the passage.

What follows here is a list of 10 of the most common technical corrections to make that will help you negotiate those tricky passages more fluidly. And then I'll give you an easy procedure to test that passage to identify and correct the underlying difficulty. 

 

  • Is your hand centered? If you’re having trouble reaching low enough with your third of fourth fingers, your hand may be pulled back too far toward your thumb. Your palm should be centered over the range of strings you are playing.
  • Are your fingers closing? When we don’t close our fingers, they get tense and tight and are less agile.
  • Are your fingers curved or is one of the joints locking? If one of your fingers sounds louder than the others or doesn’t play evenly in a scale or arpeggio, be sure to check this.
  • Is your hand and arm relaxed? Tension is a major enemy of smooth and fluid playing.
  • Is your arm supporting your hand so it is free to move? In Salzedo method terms, this is “elbows up.” But in any method, remember that your hand is not responsible for keeping itself in contact with the strings. Use the large muscle groups in your upper arm and shoulder to support your hand.
  • Are you keeping your hand at a consistent angle to the strings? When your hand twists and turns as it plays, or moves in and out in relation to the strings, it changes your entire technique. When your hand is steady, your fingers will more easily find the strings.
  • Is the problem at a cross-under or cross-over point? This is why we practice scales. And then practice them some more.
  • Are you rushing through the music? You might actually be making problems for yourself. Turn off the metronome (yes, I said it!) and listen to the flow of that part of the piece. Are you expressing the phrasing of the piece or are you hurrying forward in a place where the piece needs to breathe?
  • Is your other hand secure? You can sometimes trace a left hand problem to a right hand that doesn’t really know its own part well, or vice versa. It’s good to double check both hands.
  • Do you truly know the notes? Be sure that the notes themselves aren’t the issue. Are you trying not to look at the music, but you aren’t completely certain of the notes? Are there notes with ledger lines that still cause you to stop and think? When all else fails, check the notes!

 

In order to discover for yourself what the problem may be, I suggest you first play the passage very slowly at an even speed. You must play it slowly enough that you can play it absolutely correctly. If there is no tempo at which you can do that, then your issue is either that you don’t know the notes well enough or that your other hand isn’t secure on its part.

Then continue to play the passage as many times as necessary, checking each of the above points in turn. If you find the issue then you can correct it. If you don’t find the issue, then raise the tempo, playing the passage somewhat faster until you can identify the precise point you need to fix. 

There’s a bonus reward hidden in this process. Even if you never are able to determine the exact cause of the difficulty, by the time you have finished this process, the passage will have improved markedly. Maybe it is magical!

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