I used to envy harpists who were left handed.
I figured that being left handed would mean your left hand would be more coordinated at the harp. As it turns out, I was wrong.
Harp playing requires dexterity in both hands, but the more we play, the more our hands become specialists. Our right hand specializes in playing melodies fluidly and evenly. The right thumb learns to dominate when needed to project the melody notes. The right hand often encounters convoluted passages with intricate fingering and over time learns to negotiate them fluently.
Our left hand develops the strength and dependability we need for solid, steady bass lines and accompaniments. Where the right hand fingers often play close together, the left hand plays wider spacings like octaves or tenths. The left fourth finger becomes quite strong from playing the thicker strings with clarity and depth. Our left hands stretch and strum; our right hands are more nimble and flexible.
The division of musical labor between the hands works well 90% of the time. For the other 10%, the times when your left hand has to play the melody or keep up with the right hand’s technical ability, we feel the lack of left hand facility. We tend to blame our left hand for being uncoordinated, but it’s really just a matter of training.
A sluggish left hand will hold you back technically and musically. You may find it difficult to get your pieces up to tempo, for example. A more agile left hand will give you more fingering options, help your hands sound more equal and open a world of more musically interesting pieces to you. In fact, developing your left hand facility is one way to move your skills up a level.
I recommend three simple strategies for stepping up your left hand fluency. All of them use the same simple principle: have your left hand play the same things as your right hand.
By the way, I still envy left handed harpists just a little. They don’t have to put the harp down to mark their music!