Continued Coverage and Follow-up to “The Core Issue” article by Kerstin Allvin published in the Harp Column September/October 2012 Issue

Continued Coverage and Follow-up to “The Core Issue” article by Kerstin Allvin published in the Harp Column September/October 2012 Issue

September 2012

I’m posting this as a follow-up to my article in the September/October 2012 issue of The Harp Column called “The Core Issue.” You can check it out at www.harpcolumn.com, but be sure to come back here for more information.


Some additional thoughts on core as related to harp health and harpists well-being:

As you begin to work with stretching and strengthening, pay attention to where things might be tight or where you have sensation. Noticing pain is very important to not hurting yourself. Only go where your body needs to be and not where your head is telling you to be. As always, do not do any exercise or stretch if you have a prior injury or contraindication without consulting your doctor.

Since the core is so crucial to your ability to perform, paying attention to how you are sitting is the first step to re-aligning your body center and becoming a more conscious player. Sitting at the correct height FOR YOU can be the single most important thing you do at the harp besides breathing and opening. I can elaborate on this here. You can experiment with height keeping these small guidelines in mind.

If you sit too low, the harp weight on your shoulder increases and more of that weight goes into the right side of the neck or through your shoulder into your mid-back and finally low back. It may also force you to lift your shoulders higher to reach the strings, or require your right hand and elbow to reach awkwardly over your shoulder and head to play the upper strings. You may also experience pinching in the hip-flexors (the muscles in front of the hip) and groin as your knees become higher than your hips. You may notice this especially when you stand up. This may make it more difficult to pedal as well, as the quads (thighs) can’t help you move your lower legs and feet. There’s too much weight in your heels.

The benefits to sitting lower are more connection of the core body into the seat which can support your weight evenly, less strain on the head and neck as it can sit straight on your spine without shifting forward in order to see the strings.

If you sit too high, the head and neck must “look down” at the strings thus throwing the head forward and/or straightening the back of the neck and taking the natural curve out of the neck. You’re farther away from the bass wires and the weight of the base of the harp can take the harp forward from you as you play forcing you to continually hold it against you with your fingers and wrists as you play.

The benefits to sitting higher are, there is overall much less weight on the core of the body and you can be freer to move and breathe. The arms are at shoulder height or lower for the best strength and energy to run from your core to your fingers. And you can dance on the pedals as the entire leg energy is free to flow and move.

Perhaps you have noticed that if you sit at different heights, the harp may either come in close to the right side of the neck, if too low, or shift off toward the outside of the collar bones to the front of the arm, if too high. It also may sit high on the collarbone or low into the upper ribs. Somewhere in the middle of all this is the best. Wood on bone is not such a great idea, and pressure on the front of the arm bone can cause inflammation and connective tissue problems. I have to watch my students carefully as they tend to want to sit under the harp. Harp should come to you.

Finding a good height for you is taking the time to experiment and discover your best fit at the instrument, allowing you to perform in complete balance and symbiotic relationship with your harp.

Here are some other core strengthening exercises:

Supported forward folds
Stand facing a chair or bench with feet hip width apart, unlock the knees. Inhale and as you exhale hinge at the hips placing your hands on the support. Support the low back with a gentle lift of the low belly. Lead with your heart and not with your chin, keeping head in line with the spine. You can hold the posture for a number of complete breaths then press into the floor with the legs and keeping the knees unlocked, place your hands on your hips and come up to standing. Gradually with practice, you can lower your support, eventually placing your fingertips on the ground always staying supported through the legs and knees unlocked.

Side Bends
Standing with feet hip width apart, inhale and circle arms overhead. Keep hips pointing forward equally above knees and ankles and gently lift the belly. Side bend to right, hold, then left and hold, always breathing fully as you hold each side for several breaths. Repeat.

Back bends
While practicing side-bending above, take a moment to do a gentle backbend with arms over head. Keep shoulder blades on the back and shoulders away from your ears. Support with the low belly by drawing it in and softly lift your gaze to the ceiling. Keep feet planted, knees unlocked and hips even. Always be mindful of your stopping point, where breathing becomes difficult and uneven.

Sit-ups
Yes, I said sit-ups. A healthy core needs a healthy abdomen. Lying on your back, bend knees and align them with your hips. You can use a chair or low bed under your knees, but keep calves parallel to the floor. Keep the feet and shins active by flexing your feet so toes are pointing up. Interlocking your fingers behind your head and gaze to the ceiling, lift using your abdominal muscles. Do not use your head and hands to lift your torso. By keeping the spine straight and not lifting from the head, you may only come a few inches off the floor. These are working deep muscles here, so you may find that you don’t need that many repetitions. Try to avoid lifting with the chin and neck.