Key Techniques for Harp
by Karen Marshalsay
Available to buy here. (Previously advertised under the working title The Wire 100)
This is a compendium of fingernail techniques, with 100 exercises, studies and arrangements to encourage players and students to learn and use the gestures from the Robert ap Huw manuscript, along with a few other useful ones.
This book will also be of interest to anyone who is intrigued with the music of the Robert ap Huw manuscript, as each of the gestures on p35 of the manuscript are explained and described. These gestures, or fingering movements, are of course essential to play the pieces from the ms, but are also very useful to players of any harp, especially as ways to play decorations and ornamentation in both early and traditional music. They work really well when playing Scottish pipe tunes on the gut-strung harp to clean up the sound and give crisp articulation to the tunes.
A full contents listing is given below.
Recordings of all the pieces in the book are available here.
An alphabetical listing of the fingering gestures in the book along with some errata are noted in this pdf.
An example of how these techniques can be used in arranging Scottish pipe tunes is available here - an arrangement by Karen of Nellie's Strathspey. The easier version uses the half scratch and introduces the idea of placing the thumb onto a string to both clean up the sound and act as an anchor for the hand while playing '3 2' repeated notes. The more advanced version uses bee's plaits, thumb chokes, beats, breaks, half scratches and forked chokes. You can also hear Karen playing each version quite slowly.
Short video demonstration of one of the techniques - 'the beat'
1-3 Basic skills : damping and placing
4-7 Thumb choke ⃰
8-11 Short plait ⃰
12-13 Break †
14 Thumb slide
17 Study : The Gentle Fall of Rain
18-20 Practising gestures with both hands
21 Study : Both Hands Now
22-25 Half scratch ⃰
26-28 Forked Choke ⃰
29-30 Sliding the 4th finger
31 Study : Magnus the Elk (strathspey)
32 Back hop
33 Tune: Humpty Dumpty’s Reel
34 32 ‘dirrum’
35-42 Bee’s plait ⃰
43 Study :The Beekeeper’s Reel
44 Tune : Off the Wall (reel)
45-46 Little finger plait ⃰
47 Great plait ⃰
48 Study : Oldshoremore (slow air)
49-50 Beat ‡
51 Study: Harp Beat
52-53 Four finger plait ⃰
43b Study : The Beekeeper’s Reel part B
54-59 Double choke ⃰
60-63 Double plait ⃰
64 Back of the nail ⃰
65-66 Finger Fling ⃰
67-70 Thumb wrinkle ⃰
71 Finger shake ⃰
72-74 Exercises : Decorated Scales
75 Single Scratch ⃰
76-77 Double Scratch ⃰
78 Leap ⃰, Untitled ‡
79 Study : The Leap Year
80-81 Use of compound gestures when ornamenting traditional music
82 Some piping-style decorations
83-84 The coupled hands approach
85 Honey on my Porridge (march)
gut arr .
86 The Rhymer’s March
87-96 The Lights of Cluanie
97-98 Composite decorations & two-handed variations
99 Thug mi gaol do’n fhear bhan
100 Cumha h-Irteach
Sources for the techniques & further study
⃰ from the Robert ap Huw ms
‡ used in the Robert ap Huw ms but not on the list of gestures on p.35
† from Edward Bunting’s 1840 edition of The Ancient Music of Ireland