Live Harp Lesson 39 – Big chords and solutions for small hands

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Chords can sound wonderfully lush on the harp, but not everyone will be always comfortable with stretching their fingers and hands to perfectly match the composer’s vision. However, there are ways to keep your hands healthy and injury-free without compromising the harmony and the volume of the sound.

Let’s start with some questions that you may try to ask yourself when facing challenging chords. To make the most of this lesson, download the free PDF and follow the music examples with me.

Now onto today’s topic… step by step!
1. Do you need all notes of the chord?

Very often you can safely remove the repeated inner notes of a chord.

2. Can the other hand play any of the notes?

It may not be very obvious when looking at the score, but when you see that the distance between the thumb of the left hand and bottom finger of the right hand is not too great, very often you can “swap” between the hands some of those middle notes.

3. Can any of the notes be played an octave higher (or lower)?

Moving some of the notes of the chord an octave higher or lower gives you the potential for decreasing the spacing of the notes within one hand.

4. Mixing the previous two!

Sometimes in order to keep all “ingredients” of the chord we need to move them around within the chord. Often you will find that afterwards it’s more convenient for the other hand to play them.

5. If there’s no other way around it… how to play these big chords?

The answer is: always spread (or “roll” – depending which term you prefer to use) the chords which are too big for your hands.

Try this technique with your left hand (you can use the chord from the first example):

  • place the two bottom notes of the chord (that will be either 4th and 3rd finger, or 4th and 2nd – depending how many notes the chord has).
  • after you have played the 4th finger note roll over on your next finger to get closer to the next notes – then place the other fingers.

If you’d like to learn more about spread chords, check out Lesson 21 on Spread Chords.


I’m playing an excerpt from Sicilienne by Bernard Andrès (get the music here).

Listen from 12’53”.

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