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Help: Autoharp Agonies

20 Apr 00 - 01:54 PM (#215097)
Subject: Autoharp Agonies
From: DonMeixner

I have a client here at clinic where I am employed who has a very generalized case of arthritis. She has overall limitations rather than just knees, hips or hands. She expressed an interest in playing the lap dulcimer but it became too painfull because of reach and repetative motion. Now she wishes to try the Autoharp, a possibility I don't hold much faith in tho'. I don't have arthritis but I'm willing to bet some one in the forum does and will have an oppion. First hand knowledge is the best.

1. Where do you hold it?

2. Do you pick it or chord it?

3. Have you made any adaptations to the device that allow you to play it better, or maybe be able to play it still?

Thanks

Don


20 Apr 00 - 02:06 PM (#215103)
Subject: RE: Help: Autoharp Agonies
From: Amos

They can be held with the arms crossed under them, standing up; but for your client probably better to set it in the lap.

You strum it, but you can use strong nails or finger-picks, and a cultivated sort of grab-and-strum technique to make chord segments from different sections come out sounding like a melody in a series of small arpeggio bursts which can be quite lovely. For the less dexterous, simple broad strokes will serve.

It does involve a lot of arm- or wrist- motion, with the strumming hand, and lifting up and pressing down of fingers on the chord buttons. However it can be played quite simply, with minimal knowledge and still sound beautiful.

It can also be played sitting on a tabletop, near to lap height so you don't have to keep your arms cocked all the time.

Hope this helps.

A


20 Apr 00 - 02:10 PM (#215104)
Subject: RE: Help: Autoharp Agonies
From: Jeremiah McCaw

Sounds like the modifications Rick Fielding has done with his autoharps may be you friends best bet. Somewhere on here there's an extensive thread on the subject. Or mayhaps the master hisself might speak. Rick?...


20 Apr 00 - 02:21 PM (#215109)
Subject: RE: Help: Autoharp Agonies
From: GUEST,Kathy

Autoharp would probably be a great choice for her to try. One hand just pushes buttons while the other can either strum or the fingers can pinch while wearing thumb and finger picks. She would probably like to play it on her lap or a table for comfort. For more info go to the Autoharp Page at www.fmp.com/harppage and you can find other links, an autoharp webring, and links to some FAQs and a listserv, the cyberpluckers. Hope this helps.


20 Apr 00 - 02:41 PM (#215120)
Subject: RE: Help: Autoharp Agonies
From: catspaw49

For those of you answering, be aware that the member who started this thread, Don Meixner, is a fine instrumentalist, innovator, and modifier of instruments. He is also probably the best versed person in this forum regarding overcoming physical limitations and playing instruments. As a result of a "confrontation" with a table saw he has very personal experience here and has helped a lot of others in the past on this forum. So give him your best creative thoughts and experience, but know too that he is not a rank amateur on this subject.

And Don.......Lemmee talk to a friend of mine and I'll get back in on this.

Spaw


20 Apr 00 - 04:25 PM (#215175)
Subject: RE: Help: Autoharp Agonies
From: Amos

Thanks, Spaw. On review, Don, I see your question is wholly different than the one I answered -- sorry for the mis-estimation. Shoulda known better.

A


20 Apr 00 - 09:01 PM (#215313)
Subject: RE: Help: Autoharp Agonies
From: catspaw49

Hey Don.......Describe the problems your patient has with repetitve motion and reach. You said tou don't have much hope for autoharp either and I wanted to know how serious the problem is and also something regarding this persons overall strength.

Spaw


21 Apr 00 - 01:48 AM (#215460)
Subject: RE: Help: Autoharp Agonies
From: Night Owl

Don...not sure that this will help....I place the autoharp on a wooden dining room table..(because it seems to amplify the sound and was too difficult to hold on a lap); this "student" sits on a pillow placed on the chair (the increased height means she doesn't have to bend her elbow more than a right angle); I wrote the chord bar keys on the opposite side of each bar (so that she could see them with the autoharp placed with bass notes closest to her) and myself or someone else presses the bars as she directs us or we hear the change coming.( with some "cheating" ;o). The only strain this setup places on her physically is hanging on to the flatpick she uses....a common problem to a lot of us!! (She didn't like using a finger/thumb pick). As far as repetitive motion, the old "Music Therapy" thread has some songs (I'm sure you know more!!!!)that are easily strummed once and the notes sustain on the autoharp for a few measures. IMHO it really sounds nice and more importantly...she thinks so too.


21 Apr 00 - 02:03 AM (#215465)
Subject: RE: Help: Autoharp Agonies
From: wysiwyg

I've turned mine around, tabletop, to pull the strum toward me, for various chronic tendonitis problems. However what is easier to strum thus strums very loud, making a very firm pressure on chord bars necessary to fully damp the unwanted strings.

Woud she consider the electronic version of the autoharp, which acts like a synthesizer but is set up like an autoharp? It's wonderful to be acoustic if you can, but if you can't... there can still be music.

What about harmonica? Keyboard? My husband got me one for the worst sore days. Also the plucked psaltery is not too rough, but then I don't have her exact problem.

Lap steel guitar or dobro, to slide instead of finger?

I waited YEARS to find what I could play and then adapt it and me to get started. Please help her avoid that if you can!!

~S~


21 Apr 00 - 03:18 AM (#215484)
Subject: RE: Help: Autoharp Agonies
From: DonMeixner

Great ideas everyone. The Kilby Snow style of backwards play may well work for my friend. Her disability is such thatShe would do well with a thumb and finger pick and strum the instrument as if she were playing with a marble 'tween her thumb and index finger. Her general strength is extremely low. So much so that i doubt she can even pick up the instrument to place it on her lap.

Praise, I suggested that notion of a harmonica to her. She pointed out that its very dificult to sing along to a harmonica and I conceeded that she was correct. :-)

I continue to plug along with her. There is something out there for her.

Don


22 Apr 00 - 01:26 AM (#215956)
Subject: RE: Help: Autoharp Agonies
From: wysiwyg

How about Irish lilting??? BG but serious also.

I am putting an autoharp pickup on my little plucked psaltery in a few weeks. Suggest you go see thread where we all discussed this nifty and cheap item, use filter with word [dulcimore] spelled like that... sometime in Feb. or March... could be the ticket, with pickup.

Have you taken her to the biggest music store you can find to play with ideas?

LAST resort (ducking)-- split track tapes to sing with. No, not karaoke, good stuff, hymns for instance. Getting cheaper too. Anything that will let her out of the no-music box is worth trying. Been there.

~S~


22 Apr 00 - 01:27 AM (#215957)
Subject: RE: Help: Autoharp Agonies
From: wysiwyg

PS, can't you match her up with a partner who can play but not sing?

~S~


22 Apr 00 - 08:27 PM (#216257)
Subject: RE: Help: Autoharp Agonies
From: catspaw49

Sounds to me like a couple of things might be in order Don, if you think your patient is serious. First, I think I'd try out some height and angle arrangements using a table and books as shims or whatever to establish the playung angle that's most comfortable and then whip-up some kind of stand to hold the autoharp that matched the dimensions.

Then I think I might try some different felt materials that might block the strings with less pressure......I don't know whether or not that's practical and perhaps just using new felys would be best. But some of the synthetic stuf used on capos for instance might work adequately with less pressure too....I dunno, just a thought.

Spaw


22 Apr 00 - 10:20 PM (#216301)
Subject: RE: Help: Autoharp Agonies
From: Rick Fielding

If someone could find that thread where I explained in detail my modification, it might help. It really works.

How 'bout the "Omnichord"..anyone familiar with those.

Rick


21 Jun 00 - 02:20 PM (#245497)
Subject: RE: Help: Autoharp Agonies
From: SINSULL

Haven't a clue about "blue clicks" but found this in my wanderings. From: Rick Fielding "Certainly Jeremiah. Although it's actually tricky to describe. Wish I could put up a picture or two.

It started out as a standard 15 bar Oscar Schmidt. What I wanted to do was have an instrument that could be as easily played on the lap (but NOT cross-handed) as cradled in your arms (Maybelle style)

I also wanted to cut the tuning time by 3/4 so I installed Schmidt's fine tuning system. Finally I wanted to be able to play any song in any key (while still having at least 3 inches of playing room free around the high strings.)

I removed the two plastic cartridges that hold the bars and cut them down to hold 11 bars instead of 15. I left the base of each cartridge on and drilled a hole in each end. I took the felts off two bars and glued them in the last space of each cartridge. This now keeps the two cartridges stable (like a square) There are now 9 openings left for chord bars.

I placed the cartridges (now just ONE assembly) at the bottom (near the fine tuners) and drilled through the existing holes into the autoharp itself. I then moved the cartridge assembly to the other end (very close to where the high strings are) and once again drilled holes through the existing ones and into the autoharp.

I use thumbscrews with knurled knobs to go into each of the four holes.

I've covered each cartridge with a thin piece of wood (about the size of a popsicle stick) to hold the bars in place. It's quickly removable with one thumbscrew in order to change chords.

Put a tiny drop of glue on the bottom of all the springs, so they won't pop out when tou're changing chord bars.

When I want to play with the harp on my lap (or when I'm working with a student who is very visually oriented) the cartridge is afixed to the left side, giving me about 3 to 4 inches clearance on the right side to play.

When I want to hold it upright I put the cartridge on the other end giving me lots of access to the high strings.

Using simple hardwood, I've cut about 50 blank bars (you could just as easily have used blank ones from Schmidt) and have felted about 35 so far. I played on an album recently where they wanted Jazz chords!! So I felted several bars to play Fm6, Cmaj7, and F#dim.

Sometimes when a student is having real trouble with guitar or banjo, I just insert 2 chords in the autoharp (like D and A7) and have them play it on their lap. We'll do something like Skip to my Lou, and since they have only two buttons to push (and still make glorious music) it can be a real ego boost when they most need it.

I know this sounds terribly complicated but it really isn't. I've done this conversion for several folks now and it takes about two hours. Making a hundred false starts and an equal number of messes before I finally came up with something that really worked has taken about 29 years!

Sheesh, hope that helps."

Rick


21 Jun 00 - 03:27 PM (#245523)
Subject: RE: Help: Autoharp Agonies
From: Dave (the ancient mariner)

Don, I've tried it because I liked the sound, and was told it was easy to play one. I have arthritis in my hands and cannot play guitar. The autoharp is hard to figure out. I have put it upside down on the table, and cannot read the cords to play it. Whoever designed it must have been a left handed bagpipe technician. The dulcimer is probably the best choice mate. Yours, Aye. Dave


21 Jun 00 - 04:21 PM (#245545)
Subject: RE: Help: Autoharp Agonies
From: wysiwyg

Oh Dave(tam)!!!

I play my autoharp upside down tabletop! Just turn the chord buttons around, or put stickies on them to read right side up! And play! Loudly!!! Using a pickup eases the bureden of picking and makes for less strain, and more expression...

~S~


21 Jun 00 - 06:58 PM (#245609)
Subject: RE: Help: Autoharp Agonies
From: Dave (the ancient mariner)

Sorry Praise, I quit playing and did not buy one... Guess I'll just listen to others who can really play good music. Yours, Aye. Dave