Common Mistakes

5 Common Hand Position Mistakes Self-Taught Harpists Make

June 11, 20243 min read

Good hand position is a lifelong pursuit! There are so many subtle changes you can make to your hand position that can make playing the harp easier, or harder.

Let's review good hand position, and identify some mistakes that may have found their way into your playing - and how to fix them!

Good hand position starts with a rounded hand, almost as if you had wrapped your hand around a mug or water bottle and pointed your thumb upwards.

Tilt your palm so it faces about halfway between the floor and the strings, so your fingers are angled downwards and thumb is pointing upwards, angled a little to accomodate the rotation of the palm.


Mistake #1: Holding the Hand Too Perpendicular to the strings

Remember that tilt of the palm I mentioned? When your palm faces the strings too directly, the fingers can become horizontal, and create more tension in the hand, and result in hitting extra strings.

Mistake #2: Thumb Too Low

This is a very common mistake that nearly all harpists contend with over the course of their study of the instrument. Your thumb should point upwards, rather than stretching out horizontally. Another way to measure this is to make sure the bottom joint of your thumb isn't lower than the bottom joint of your second finger.

This way, your thumb gets lots of leverage and strength to pay the string with good tone.

Mistake #3: No space between the thumb and second finger

The space between the thumb and second finger should almost look like the letter C: open and round. When that space collapses and the thumb starts to rest on the second finger, the hand feels cramped and the thumb once again doesn't get the leverage it needs to play.

Mistake #4: Reaching the Fingers Too Far Forward

This is a tricky one to spot at times, because everything else might be right about your hand position but it still feels difficult to play.

With this issue, instead of the fingers curving back in front of the palm, like they would if you wrapped your hand around a mug, the fingers reach farther forward than the palm, which makes it so that the fingers don't get to make use of all the muscle in the palm, and are left out all on their own without as much strength. It also makes the thumb reach forward horizontally, making it more difficult to play.

Mistake #5: Ignoring The Rest of the Arm

Your wrist, elbow, arm, and shoulder make a huge impact on the rest of your technique! Be sure to keep your wrist at a neutral angle or tucked slightly downwards, but never rounded upwards.

Elbows should be away from the body, leaving room at the armpits. Shoulders should be relaxed.

Have any of these mistakes crept into your playing? The fixes can be simple, though that doesn't always mean easy.

If you'd like a teacher to help you fine tune your hand position rather than struggle through it on your own not knowing if you're doing things right, check out my teaching studio here.

Samantha Ballard is a professional harpist, arranger, teacher, and recording artist based in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Samantha Ballard

Samantha Ballard is a professional harpist, arranger, teacher, and recording artist based in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

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