This post briefly discusses how we number the fingers, why we don’t use our pinkies, and keeping our hands “harp-ready”.
Harpists use only eight of our ten fingers. We do not use our pinkies to pluck the strings. The primary reason behind this is because they are too short to reach the strings. If they are extended to try and reach a string, it compromises the technique and ease of playing, so we do just fine with eight instead of ten!
Like some instruments, we number our fingers to facilitate reading and playing music. Our thumb is 1, pointer finger is 2, middle finger is 3, and ring finger is 4. When we see harp music, some notes will have numbers below or above them. These numbers indicate which finger should pluck which note.
To keep our hands and fingers in the best state to play, here are a few tips to keep in mind.
Keep your nails short. Long nails get in the way of playing correctly. We do not want to hear the sound the nail makes on the string, only the flesh.
Wash your hands before playing. The natural oils on the hands can very gradually wear down the strings over time. Not to mention anything else on the hands that will either transfer to the strings, or make it difficult to maintain a good grasp on the string when playing.
Keep your hands moisturized, but only when not playing. Because we wash our hands before we play (which can be quite a bit during the day/week) it is important to keep your hands hydrated. Do so with lotion and/or increasing your water intake. Healthy, hydrated skin will decrease the chances of cracked skin. Playing with cracked skin on the fingertips can be quite painful.