Brief Tutorial on Lever Shifts
by Barbara Ann Fackler
Learning to shift levers can be a challenge but once you learn some
basic tricks, it becomes second nature. The first thing you
need to do is evaluate the task. With time, those of you who
go on to read lead sheets will be able to sight read and grab
lever shifts (changes) more quickly.
that you don't need to watch your hand move
the lever. Think of what you do when you drop your fork at the dinner
table. What most people do is look to see where it landed. Then, they
reach to pick it up, no longer looking at the fork. Because they've
seen where it is, their hand is able to go right to the fork. You can
learn to do the same thing with levers. Learn to look away
from the lever before you move it. You
may need to see
the lever at first, but eventually,
you'll be able to find the levers without your eyes. The first step is
to look away before you actually move the lever to its new
In the same way that you learned how to play your harp without watching
your hands all the time, you need to get comfortable with moving your
eyes away from the lever as soon as you've located it.
There's a lot of choreography for the eyes in harp playing. Sometimes you need
to watch your hands, sometimes you need to watch the music and
sometimes you need to watch the levers. If you play in an ensemble,
you'll need to watch your conductor or other ensemble members. When you
think about shifting levers, it's important to remember that once
you've put your hand where
it needs to be, you no longer need your eyes on that task.
Practice moving a lever, any lever, quickly. Place
your LH on the lever and learn to move your eyes away from the lever
before you move the lever. This will help you prepare to keep your eyes
moving in the context of a piece of music. Try playing a D
change the F natural to F sharp, which makes the chord D major.
Shifting levers in rhythm is a good
practice. Working in 4/4, play four beats of
your first chord, then change the middle note of the chord to change
the chord quality for the next four beats. Work through this until you
can practically find that lever without your eyes. Here is a quick
you can print to guide you through this process.
When you are confident that you can find the lever you want and move it
efficiently, try the tutorial below, which uses Aura Lee (the
Elvis Presley's Love Me Tender). If you are at all inclined
to learn to read changes, I recommend using the E flat tuning. There
few more lever shifts, but the thought process will serve you well.
tuning tutorial (PDF)
flat tuning tutorial (PDF)
This is the preferred version of this tutorial. Unless you
in C or do not have full levers on your harp, use this version.
Listen to the arrangement of Aura Lee that is used in this tutorial:
mp3 of the midi file
Coming soon, a collection of solos to help you increase your lever
shifting skills. Instead of working on etudes you'll never perform,
this collection of solo music will help you increase your lever skills
while building your repertoire. There will be a longer
Aura Lee included in this set.
Aura Lee is included in the lead collection, Songs of
America. It can be played with no lever changes if
you leave out all the altered notes, which are never in the melody.
Many thanks to harpists Joanne Glover, Karin
Lyle, Alishia Joubert,
Babler, Karen Perry, and Janet
for their help in editing this project.