December 4, 2013

Go Gently, Go Slowly

We have spent a while talking about tuning.  I hope you’ve come to realize that tuning is an essential skill although it is often glossed over.  Be sure that no one glosses over it because they are uninterested.  It’s just that, as you play longer and longer and more and more, tuning becomes a habit and it frankly, it is so ingrained it is hard to describe.

Another thing that is so engrained it is difficult to describe is the physical act of tuning – how much is too much?  How far do you go before you should don eye protection (against the string you just know is going to break)?  How do you get past this fear of breaking a string?

Well – I’m not sure you ever get past the fear of breaking a string, but you do learn to manage it!
As for how much is too much and how far do you turn the key, when do you stop?  These are complex questions.  The answer to each truly is – “It depends.”

First, each harp is different.  I am fortunate to have an embarrassment of harps so I do a lot of tuning.  Each of my harps tunes up differently. 
Secondly, remember that earlier I said that tuning takes practice?  I told you that the more you tune, the easier it becomes.  One of the reasons it becomes easier is that, with practice, you begin to learn a lot of things –
  • what your harp sounds like as the tone comes to pitch (that is, you begin to learn how each string sounds as the needle gets closer to straight up and the lights get closer to green)
  • how the string feels against the key as it comes to pitch (as you get more comfortable with tuning, you will have the capacity to notice how the pin feels as your turn the key, how the key feels in your hand as your ears (and eyes) tell you you’re getting there)
  • what your harp feels like as the string comes to pitch (as the strings begin to ring sympathetically as you get closer to the correct frequency)
Go gently, make very small adjustments. It doesn't take much to move the string too much.  And it is easier to make another small adjustment than to change a broken string!

Take your time, go slowly.  Tuning can be very therapeutic and relaxing once you’re comfortable with it.  Move the key ever so slightly.  See if you can change the pitch of the string without being able to detect the movement of your hand.  With practice you may begin to enjoy the simple ritual of tuning (NB, this is not true if your Harp Circle, Ensemble, or Conductor are waiting!)

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