Some observations on playing with finger-tips

I’ve been playing almost every day now for a week and a half, using the tips of my fingers, with my nails trimmed short. Here are a few preliminary observations.

P1030283I have experimented a little with different nail lengths. At 2mm, my nails are too long, and they catch the string, but not controllably or consistently. I think that there is probably a gap between say 2mm and 4mm where the nails are too long for tip playing but too short for nail playing. I’m planning to make a few Youtubes of different length nails striking the strings, and eventually I’ll stitch them together into a composite.

String spacing has been raised by a couple of people as a possible issue, however I think this is due to a misconception that playing without nails means a modern pedal-harp derived technique should be used, with the fingers slid between the strings and pulling the string with the soft finger pad. I don’t find this useful and I don’t believe this is the direction I want to go in. I am using just the tips of my fingers, and this means that string spacing is not an issue. It’s no harder to play on the close spacing of the Downhill as it is to play on the wide spacing of the Otway. I am even finding it fine to play on the ultra-close-spaced Queen Mary.

However string tension has proved to be much more important than I expected. I have my Downhill strung rather heavily  (30 strings, total tension 440Kgf). It is speaking a lot less clearly than the Otway  (30 strings, total 360Kgf). The Otway’s iron trebles also speak well with finger tips. Usually I would always rate the Otway well inferior to the Downhill when both are played with nails.

The Dolmetsch harp too, ultra-lightly strung (27 strings, total 140Kgf) is speaking well, with none of the over-pulling that is hard to avoid with nails on this little antique harp.

I’m actually leaning right now to using the Otway for my concert in St Andrews a week on Wednesday, instead of the Downhill.

7 thoughts on “Some observations on playing with finger-tips”

  1. Are you going for another stringing scheme for the Downhill in the future? And switch to fingertips playing on the Downhill?

    1. Well no, because I like this setup for nail-playing. And I have the Downhill primarily to study Denis O’Hampsey’s repertory and style, and he was a nail-player. And I don’t know that I’ll do much tip-playing in future. I’m a bit scared of how long it will take to grow my nails out enough to play my medieval repertory. We’ll see.

    1. Hi Michael, I measured across 10 spaces to get an average for the midrange:

      HHSI Student Downhill: 11.9mm
      Patton Queen Mary: 10.1mm

      The HHSI Student Otway is in Dundee. I’ll measure it on Saturday for you, if I remember.

  2. Thank you for your reply. I know you’re a busy man. And thank you for all your research and sharing of information, not to mention your beautiful performances!

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