Is your fourth finger a good team player?
If you're like most of us harpists, your fourth finger might sometimes feel more like a liability than an asset. It can be weak when you're trying to play an even scale, or it might be too strong when you're trying to balance a chord.
We also tend to undervalue the functions our fourth fingers fulfill. Although they may behave like bad boys, they are really specialists, called on to do certain specific things. When we work with them properly, they can turn from ill-behaved digits to valued team members.
So what special jobs are the duty of a fourth finger? Let's start with these two.
Perhaps the most important job of the fourth finger is to anchor the crossunder in a scale passage. Although there are instances where we cross under with other fingers, fourth fingers are commonly called on to keep our scales and arpeggios moving upward. A smooth, even-sounding crossunder depends on your fourth finger to place solidly on the next string, securely but without extra tension. And your fourth finger will need to do this without distorting the angle of the hand or arm. As you doubtless have experienced, this is not as easy as it sounds.
Another important function of your fourth finger is to help create an evenly balanced chord, one where all the notes sound at the proper time and with the appropriate volume. Many times, an uneven sounding chord can be traced to the fourth finger playing too soon, too late, too softly, too loudly or maybe not at all.
In the video attached to this post, I walk you through two exercises that work on these two skills. The first is a simple crossunder exercise. Be sure to do this with both hands, keeping your arm steady and your fingers secure and relaxed on the strings.
The second is a drill that has your third and fourth fingers playing together but without the support of your second finger and thumb. It will likely feel strange, but you will find out quickly how independent your fingers are. Be sure as you play to keep your hand and arm in proper playing position; to check this, put all four fingers on the strings, then close your thumb and second finger. Your arm and hand should keep the same angle whether your thumb and second fingers are on the strings or not.
Try these exercises and let me know what you discover in the comments below!
By the way, this video was part of one week's post in one of our My Harp Mastery themes. If you like what you are learning here, you might consider joining us. Find out the benefits of membership here.