We all know that the harp is a four-finger instrument. Our pinkies are just too short to be useful, no matter how much we might long for just one more finger to help us out.
This leaves us with the problem of what to do with those diminutive digits. The proper thing to do with your pinkies is to let them follow your fourth finger like a shadow. Those two fingers should move in tandem, opening and closing together, not stuck together as if with glue, but like elegant dancing partners. Think Fred and Ginger, not teenage slow dancing.
I often correct my students who are curling their pinkies, looking like they are having afternoon tea. It’s not just that it doesn’t look right, but it prevents their hands from functioning properly, and can even lead to tension-related problems. Obviously, curling any finger and holding it in one place will create tension in your hand. That is the last thing we need. But does your pinky serve any useful end at all in your harp playing? Here’s what a properly behaving pinky will do for you:
1. A relaxed pinky will anchor and balance your hand. Put your hand in playing position. Now extend your pinky and hold it there. Can you feel the weight of your hand shift? The weight of your hand moves back to center as your pinky relaxes and comes back into place.
2. Your pinky can release (or create) tension. Hold your hand in playing position as before, keeping your pinky in line with your fourth finger. Open and close your hand. Repeat that same motion, but with your pinky extended. Can you feel the tension in bottom of your hand? When your pinky is extended away from your fourth finger, creates tension across your palm and tightens your fourth finger. Having those two fingers work together keeps you whole hand loose and relaxed.
3. Using your pinky correctly adds strength and flexibility. When your fourth and fifth fingers move together, the motion of your pinky adds to the strength of your fourth finger. It also allows your fourth finger to move faster and more freely, since it is essentially cooperating, and not working against your fourth finger.
So next time you play scales or do your Conditioning Exercises, watch out for your pinkies. After all, you’re playing the harp, not having tea with the queen.