Got Harp Blisters?

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I believe that any discussion is worth an article. Got this posted by Rachel Hair about issues with blisters among musicians who play the harp. This is understandable. Unlike guitarists who usually use the guitar pick harpists have to rely solely on their fingers in conquering those great bunch of strings.

Hi folks,

Do any of you ever get blisters when you play? I’m just wondering how you deal with them when you get them, or how you yourselves prevent them?

I myself rarely, rarely get blisters as I’ve such hard callouses on my fingers. Last week though I had a very intense playing schedule… I had 4 gigs in 2 days, which was over 7 hours of hard, full on playing (mixture of background music and professional performing gigs).

I ended up with a massive blister on my right hand thumb, but under my callous, so it had like a 1mm skin on it! I’ve ended up taking a needle to it and bursting it and I’ve cleared the skin away (it was such thick skin it was never going to regrow in).
Now I’ve fresh skin though without callouses on my thumb that I’m going to have to “train” up again.

Was just wondering what you guys do if you end up blisters, small, or big?

Rachel Hair

Things that usually happen:

1. Small cuts on fingers on wrong places. This happens when a wrong part of the finger slides or gets into too much contact with the wired strings.

2. Blisters. According to harpist Amy Kortuem: blisters  can occur on the 4th finger of left hand, the finger that anchors all those big chords on those huge gut and metal strings in the bass.

Temporary Remedies (if there is an ongoing gig):

1. Duct tape. Here’s what Amy Kortuem said:

Once I resigned myself to the fact that it wasn’t going to look pretty, I gave in. Duct taped finger it would be. I packed up the harp, got it into the warm truck and went to my tool box — No. Duct. Tape. And I didn’t have time to stop at the hardware store before I needed to be at the Wine Café. So I steeled myself to just play through the pain.

I shouldn’t have worried, though. There were plenty of great musicians at the Wine Café, and the likes of Paul Durenberger and Minnesota Music Hall of Famer Billy Steiner rushed to my rescue with a roll of duct tape and a Swiss Army knife to trim the edges.

It made for some interesting adjustments in my playing. While I didn’t feel any blister pain, I also didn’t feel the strings at all. I spent more time looking at my fingers while playing than I have since I was first learning to play the harp. But I adjusted, and people enjoyed the show tunes and romantic songs I played.
I’m sold on the duct tape cure. So much so that I went to the drugstore last night to buy a roll for myself. The cashier looked at me a little strangely when I put the duct tape and a Valentine’s Day card on the counter (the card was for my 90-year-old neighbor, Ethel), but I didn’t explain. I just tripped off into the winter’s night with my purchases, ready to give myself a manicure with some silvery nail polish to match my newest performance accessory.

2. Plasters. Plasters are quite good for allowing one to keep on playing, as they shape themselves to the shape of your fingers, and don’t completely block off sensation.

Long term remedies:

1.Aloe vera. It has soothing, moisturizing, and healing properties. Cut a small piece, squeeze it and put the gel on your finger. Don’t be afraid to moisturize your skin,  as keeping it dry will exacerbate the problem in the long run.

2. Rock tips. It builds callouses for sensitive fingertips. More info through this link:

Big thanks to all harpists who contributed their ideas:

Scott Hoye, Amy Kortuem, Màiri Macleod, Leo Phillips, Corrina Hewat, Renia Kayiava, Karla Sullivan, Susan M Berry, Ray Pool, Alice Freeman, Julia Somerville and Eliseo Mauas Pinto.

Additional info can be found here:

2 thoughts on “Got Harp Blisters?

  1. I remember this being discussed at a harp circle I attended years ago. The consensus was that most players either blister or callus, but not both. What makes the difference is unknown. It could be diet, genetics….karma? 😉


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