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Key Techniques for Harp  

by Karen Marshalsay

(Previously advertised under the working title The Wire 100)

Buy the book (UK only) or PDF.

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                                              

Tunes :

85  Honey on my Porridge  (march)     

wire arr.                            

                                               gut arr  .                                                

86    The Rhymer’s March          

wire/bray arr.                                                           

gut arr.                                                       

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





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