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How do I play autoharp without pain?

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Kaleea 08 Jul 01 - 01:44 PM
toadfrog 08 Jul 01 - 02:20 PM
wysiwyg 08 Jul 01 - 02:22 PM
catspaw49 08 Jul 01 - 02:24 PM
SINSULL 08 Jul 01 - 02:35 PM
Clinton Hammond 08 Jul 01 - 02:51 PM
McGrath of Harlow 08 Jul 01 - 04:21 PM
John MacKenzie 08 Jul 01 - 04:33 PM
Bill D 08 Jul 01 - 05:31 PM
DonMeixner 08 Jul 01 - 06:19 PM
Tone d' F 08 Jul 01 - 08:37 PM
Margo 08 Jul 01 - 10:37 PM
TNDARLN 08 Jul 01 - 11:06 PM
GUEST,Claymore 09 Jul 01 - 05:33 PM
wysiwyg 10 Jul 01 - 04:21 PM
Bill D 10 Jul 01 - 05:25 PM
Bill D 10 Jul 01 - 11:37 PM
wysiwyg 11 Jul 01 - 01:49 AM
Jingle 11 Jul 01 - 01:42 PM
jeffp 11 Jul 01 - 02:01 PM
Jingle 11 Jul 01 - 03:33 PM
Bill D 11 Jul 01 - 04:05 PM
Bill D 11 Jul 01 - 04:08 PM
Bill D 11 Jul 01 - 04:23 PM
Margo 11 Jul 01 - 11:39 PM
GUEST,harpjunkie1 12 Nov 09 - 09:19 AM
GUEST,Gayle 26 Aug 11 - 09:12 AM
GUEST,Jim Knowledge 26 Aug 11 - 11:08 AM
GUEST,MountainSufi 07 Apr 14 - 04:12 PM
GUEST 07 Apr 14 - 07:46 PM
GUEST 07 Mar 15 - 04:34 AM
PHJim 07 Mar 15 - 11:05 PM
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Subject: How do I play autoharp without pain?
From: Kaleea
Date: 08 Jul 01 - 01:44 PM

I recently obtained a good autoharp which is set up with the Bryan Bowers arrangement of chord bars. I hold it in the "baby" fashion or strap in on using the strap which crosses the back with an X. I use fingerpicks on the right hand thumb and fingers. The problem is that after I play I have severe pain in the left wrist and hand, and my left hand & fingers will be numb sometimes for a couple of days after. As I enjoy very much playing the autoharp, I would like to find a way to play without discomfort &/or numbness. While I do have arthritis, no I don't have carpel tunnel, and no I don't spend much time typing at the PC. Any suggestions? Thanks! Kaleea


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Subject: RE: How do I play autoharp without pain?
From: toadfrog
Date: 08 Jul 01 - 02:20 PM

That's a lot like my own experience with the concertina. I can't tell you what you should do. But with all my heart, what you should not do is going on playing the autoharp, at least until you've found a much better way. If you haven't got carpal tunnel now . . .


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Subject: RE: How do I play autoharp without pain?
From: wysiwyg
Date: 08 Jul 01 - 02:22 PM

This sounds like the START of carpal tunnel.

First, I would do a search here at Mudcat on CARPAL TUNNEL. Search also on PAIN. Then, read the recent thread on autoharps and some of the older ones. You can click on my name in this post's header and look within the list that will come up, for autoharp threads. (If the list takes too long to load, or locks your computer, just let the list load partway and then hit the STOP button on your browser and you will get a partial list.)

In brief, I play mine tabletop, tilted toward me slightly, and upside down. And amplified so I don't have to strum so hard to get a nice clear tone.

I'd search up those threads for you if I weren't having the compueter and modem problems I'm having-- but good luck!


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Subject: RE: How do I play autoharp without pain?
From: catspaw49
Date: 08 Jul 01 - 02:24 PM

First, although you are rightly using a strap, are you sure it is carrying the weight and not forcing some extra pressure on your arm/wrist?

Also, perhaps an angle change in the position could help, or a slight change in height held. I found that a slight shift to the right and a little higher than what I was used to made a difference for me.

Spaw


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Subject: RE: How do I play autoharp without pain?
From: SINSULL
Date: 08 Jul 01 - 02:35 PM

Last resort - place it flat in front of you and cross over your hands.


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Subject: RE: How do I play autoharp without pain?
From: Clinton Hammond
Date: 08 Jul 01 - 02:51 PM

To stop the pain caused by autoharp playing, go deaf...

:-)


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Subject: RE: How do I play autoharp without pain?
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 08 Jul 01 - 04:21 PM

Maybe you should play it the old-fashioned way. Lying flat on the table was the way thet were originally meant to be played. The autoharp lying flat on the table I mean - otherwise it'd probably be even more painful...


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Subject: RE: How do I play autoharp without pain?
From: John MacKenzie
Date: 08 Jul 01 - 04:33 PM

It sounds as if you need to try and find a position in which your wrist is as straight as possible Jock


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Subject: RE: How do I play autoharp without pain?
From: Bill D
Date: 08 Jul 01 - 05:31 PM

the left hand is the weak part of the position...the right hand is getting exercise...Perhaps you are pressing TOO hard because the felt is worn and requires extra pressure. Depending on the autoharp, it can be possible to change chord bar arrangement (21 bar is easy,,,recutting them on a 15 bar is harder)...after 30 years, I 'can' still cramp my left hand & wrist with excessive playing.

Do consider playing it on a table or your lap, although Brian Bowres style is harder that way...but if you can find a Kilby Snow record, you will see what CAN be done!!!!


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Subject: RE: How do I play autoharp without pain?
From: DonMeixner
Date: 08 Jul 01 - 06:19 PM

I play with pout a strap and hold it up a little higher and slightly to the left pof my body. In my case this allows the wrist to be straighter and I don't have the carpal problem. Also try playing sitting down with it resting on your knee and leaning back to yoy. This may help some.


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Subject: RE: How do I play autoharp without pain?
From: Tone d' F
Date: 08 Jul 01 - 08:37 PM

The only way to play a harp without pain is on a CD


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Subject: RE: How do I play autoharp without pain?
From: Margo
Date: 08 Jul 01 - 10:37 PM

Wise crack: Tune it! :o)

Actually, I know a gal here in the Pacific Northwest who plays harp. She wears a fanny pack (looks well stuft) upon which she rests the harp. I never gave it a second thought, but now I can see how it would relieve some problems. I don't suppose you use a fanny pack?

That's my .02, Margo


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Subject: RE: How do I play autoharp without pain?
From: TNDARLN
Date: 08 Jul 01 - 11:06 PM

There's been quite a bit of discussion on the cyberpluckers list about this, also articles in Autoharp Quarterly. I suspect the FAQ on the website [autoharp.org] would also have info. Bryan Bowers stresses good ergonomic positioning.

I've even taken my harp/strap to the chiropractor's office and ask her what I needed to change. She recommended piano. [couldn't resist that, sorry] You shouldn't stoop over, which for most folks means wear it high [shorten the strap]

And I think Bill D is on target when he mentions your chord bars and felts- sounds like you need to have the action lowered so that you're not having to strain so. There are several folks around who can do this for you if you like. Hope you get some relief soon!

T


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Subject: RE: How do I play autoharp without pain?
From: GUEST,Claymore
Date: 09 Jul 01 - 05:33 PM

There is an excellent article in one of the older issues of Autoharp Quarterly (Volume VII, Number 1) called "When It Hurts to Play", written by Catherine W. Birtell, MD. It is repeated in the Mel Bay publication, "The Autoharp Owners Manual" (pgs 98-101), compiled by Mary Lou Orthey (MB99361 - $19.95 US) which is an excellent all purpose resource for the 'harp player.

I have some quarrel with Bryan's arrangement and use a Majors forward, 7ths in the second row set tight to the subdominants, and minors to the rear, arrangement. The problem is that Bryan's cradle keeps the harp flat across the chest which in my case would prevent "throwing the harp", a technique of getting tremelo and phase effects by quickly shouldering the 'harp off towards the mike and using your right wrist to pull it back as you continue to play (a good technique if you need to provide a Celtic style drone to hammered dulcimers).

(And yes, I do have some suspicion that some twit will comment on "throwing the harp", but we all have to deal with someones "special child" at some point in our adult lives.)

By canting the harp around back towards your left and reaching around the 'harp a bit more with your right hand to play the strings, you can reduce the angle on both the wrist and fingers of your left hand. Yes, you increase the angle on your right hand, but since it is moving in many directions at once, while strumming and picking the strings, it is not as likely to cramp up.

As the others have indicated, you should let the pain subside before trying this. But once you feel up to it, you might want to lose the strap arrangement, sit down, place the 'harp in your lap and tilt it in a manner that makes sense to you (and your left hand) and make up the difference in the angle with your right hand. If you develop problems with either hand at this point, you may want to consider the suggestions of playing it Kirby Snow style, in your lap.

Incidently, I stopped by the the Mt. Laurel Autoharp Fest in Newport, PA this past weekend and it was the most bang for the buck I've had at any festival including Augusta, Common Ground etc. Autoharps ain't what they used to be, with split/and composite chord bars doing floating pentatonics. Watching Karla Armstrong do N. Coles "When I Fall in Love" with all the blues chords on an ultrasonic 'harp was stunning and left the 'harp crowd with wet eyes and the rest of the crowd with wet seats.

Alan Mager finally won the championship, and this, with four days of classes with the best for $65, was a true bargain. Food was provided by a local Grange and I had a great meal every night for around 5 bucks. I highly recommend that if you're past the Church Lady phase of autoharping and want to see the future while Europe sleeps, save out the latter part of June, first of July weekend next year for this one. It's more fun than white people oughta have. Good Luck!


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Subject: RE: How do I play autoharp without pain?
From: wysiwyg
Date: 10 Jul 01 - 04:21 PM

What's the Snow style referred to there?

~S~


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Subject: RE: How do I play autoharp without pain?
From: Bill D
Date: 10 Jul 01 - 05:25 PM

Kilby Snow used one pick, on his index finge,r and played on an old 'harp with the wide space at the bottom (upside down to ost of us)...he made a pick from a brass Model T hubcap that he could flick back & forth rapidly...

(I have sort of copied the idea, but I play Mother Maybelle style, with the 'harp against my chest)


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Subject: RE: How do I play autoharp without pain?
From: Bill D
Date: 10 Jul 01 - 11:37 PM

no! Model T head-lamp!...*read before you post, Bill!*


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Subject: RE: How do I play autoharp without pain?
From: wysiwyg
Date: 11 Jul 01 - 01:49 AM

Hmmm.... uh oh. Bill.... Would it sound like using a tuning wrench to play with back and forth? Was that a laid-down position or the babyburp hold?

Do you have a recording? Picture? Can I get a copy?

Did he melody pick that way or just do chords? ~S~


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Subject: RE: How do I play autoharp without pain?
From: Jingle
Date: 11 Jul 01 - 01:42 PM

I favour the Maybelle Carter style against the left shoulder with crossed hands. If you play flat on a table you could have problems playing in pub sessions. Picture it: "OK everyone move your pints off the table while I give you four choruses of Red River Valley". Not a popular move. The upright style and crossed hands do allow you to get a good strum going for accompanying songs but if you stand up you need a strap and your knee on a chair. PS What is a fanny pack? Sounds filthy to me.


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Subject: RE: How do I play autoharp without pain?
From: jeffp
Date: 11 Jul 01 - 02:01 PM

Jingle, you must not be from the US. Here, the fanny is the bum. A fanny pack is a belt pouch. They were originally designed to hang over the butt, hence the name. Nowadays, they are usually worn in front. Maybe they should be called kangaroo packs. Hope this helps.

jeffp


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Subject: RE: How do I play autoharp without pain?
From: Jingle
Date: 11 Jul 01 - 03:33 PM

Thanks for the info, jeffp. In Yorkshire we call a bum a bum so I was confused.


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Subject: RE: How do I play autoharp without pain?
From: Bill D
Date: 11 Jul 01 - 04:05 PM

Susan...here is a pic, quickly scanned, of some autoharp playes from an old Folkways album...Kilby Snow is on the right autoharps I'm not 'sure' whether he played exactly like this, or whether the harp was tilted for the photo..but the general position is what he did...Mike Seeger says Kilby had a thumb pick, but insisted that he could find little wear on it, and that 99% of what Kilby did was with one finger pick! zippty-pick! (I LOVE to be able to flip back & forth with my pick, which I wear on the middle finger for longer reach)

and here are my picks ...2 I made(one bent at the tip to simulate what I 'thought' Kilby was supposed to have used), and 2 Mizrabs,(sitar picks) that I bought...same principle, different construction, weight and sound. I just found some brass scrap and cut & bent until I had something...those picks are 25+ years old!

and just for interest, here is an old picture of my case with various stuff Bill's case


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Subject: RE: How do I play autoharp without pain?
From: Bill D
Date: 11 Jul 01 - 04:08 PM

sorry pasted same address twice//*sigh*...here are the picks


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Subject: RE: How do I play autoharp without pain?
From: Bill D
Date: 11 Jul 01 - 04:23 PM

well, if I had looked further in the folder, I'd have seen that ther are two smaller pics of Kilby & his son, Jim...and that Kilby bent his pick in a funny way at the tip so as to hit the strings with it correctly...prependicular to the strings, even thought the motion of the finger is NOT perpendicular.

Pop Stoneman made a special pick of spring steel for the same reason, and it is kind of a cross between Kilby's and mine...but we all strum in both directions, rather than the the way Brian Bowers developed using standard metal picks, bent slightly.

The Mizrab mau be the easiest solution if you want to try that technique, and has been discussed in several threads, and Alice Flynn posted her source somewhere. (I just buy mine locally)


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Subject: RE: How do I play autoharp without pain?
From: Margo
Date: 11 Jul 01 - 11:39 PM

Oh dear, I beg your pardon! I had seen a discussion in another thread about Americans saying "Fanny" for what you call the "bum", and I completely forgot about it when I mentioned the "fanny pack". Yes, it's a zippered pouch that she wears in front, and rests the harp upon it. Sorry I'm not more continental, Margo


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Subject: RE: How do I play autoharp without pain?
From: GUEST,harpjunkie1
Date: 12 Nov 09 - 09:19 AM

I'm dealing with this right now, and it isn't fun. It is not, however, carpal tunnel, or even the beginnings of it. When the left hand is bent over and fingers curled in with force like you must do to play in the upright position, it is not natural and puts great pressure on the bones in the wrist, which are just floating around in there. The wrist muscles typically are not developed, particularly on the back side, and it is those muscles that hold the bones in place. When those bones shift out of place, they interfere with the tendons that run out to the thumb and fingers...so what you are experiencing, and me too, is actually tendonitis. The bones can be pushed back into place, but you'll have to do exercises (so my therapist tells me, and it makes sense) to strengthen the muscles to keep those bones in place. So, I'm taking a break for awhile to let it all heal up and strengthen those muscles. In the worst case scenario, I'm going to look into a reverse 'harp that I can play without crossing my hands, if I can find one.


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Subject: RE: How do I play autoharp without pain?
From: GUEST,Gayle
Date: 26 Aug 11 - 09:12 AM

Just a thought from a 78-year-old player in Western Australia who cannot find a pain free left-hand technique. I have seen a picture recently with the 'harp placed on the lap - but reversed! I tried this and found it great for the left hand which extends straight from the wrist with no strain. BUT - how do you play the right hand? Strikes me what is needed is an autoharp designed for lap use the other way around, with bars to the left and bass strings toward the body. They say the autoharp is a work in progress, so why not?
skydancer1933@gmail.com


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Subject: RE: How do I play autoharp without pain?
From: GUEST,Jim Knowledge
Date: 26 Aug 11 - 11:08 AM

I `ad that Billy Sugger in my cab the other day. `e was in a right two and eight. `is mouth was all bloody, a couple of loose teeth and a chunk out of `is ear.
`e said, "`ere Jim. Can you get me up to St.Thomas`s `ospital "toot sweet". I gotta get something done about this lot."
I said, "What`s up Bill, then? You `ad a set to with `er in-doors or you neighbour`s rottweiler?"
`e said, "Nah Jim. I bought this instrument from some bloke up `aymarket and I can`t play it for love nor money and it `urts into the bargain."
I said, "Cor, that`s a fine looking auto-`arp."
`e said, "Auto-`arp?? The bastard said it was an `armonica!!"

Whaddam I Like??


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Subject: RE: How do I play autoharp without pain?
From: GUEST,MountainSufi
Date: 07 Apr 14 - 04:12 PM

Get a HEAVY duty neoprene wrist brace for your left hand. NOT a simple band; save that for up by your elbow for tendonitis.


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Subject: RE: How do I play autoharp without pain?
From: GUEST
Date: 07 Apr 14 - 07:46 PM

That's the trouble with the Germans - we have concertina doors, they call them harmonica doors. Who made a sucker out of them?


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Subject: RE: How do I play autoharp without pain?
From: GUEST
Date: 07 Mar 15 - 04:34 AM

This is an excellent question. I saw one Youtube video where the autoharp player had a pad on the side of the harp for his arm. It looked like a pad used for the chin on a violin. This prevented the corner of the wood from digging into the arm and cutting off blood supply. If you look at pictures of Brian Bowers playing, often he holds the harp up very high so that he is strumming by his ear. This allows the left hand better access at the chord buttons. There is one more answer to this, but it is expensive. Hire a luthier to build you one of these:

http://www.andymanson.co.uk/img/Autoharp.jpg

It is a chordbar assembly with cantilevers which let the hand press it from one position and push the bar at another position. The luthier who built this one said it was for a client with palsy whose hands were not strong or limber. Good luck.


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Subject: RE: How do I play autoharp without pain?
From: PHJim
Date: 07 Mar 15 - 11:05 PM

BillD mentioned Kilby Snow. Unless you, like Kilby, are left handed, his style will have to be adapted in order to play with the right hand.
I haven't taken the time to peruse the thread, but after a quick skim I didn't notice anyone suggesting modifying the 'harp to lower the action. I have done this by gluing strips of felt on top of the ends of the chord bars, reducing the distance the bar has to be depressed before it contacts the strings.
Good luck Kaleea. Arthritis has given me some idea about what it's like to have to play with pain.


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