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Where do I start with learning the harp?

The harp has been the national symbol of Ireland since the thirteenth century and even features on the logo of the nation’s favourite drink, Guinness. The instrument dates back 3000 b.c and was originally made from hunting bows and a few strings attached to the ends of a curved wooden body. Before setting about learning the harp many people will ask the same question, is the harp hard to play? The answer is a not so clear, yes and no! Unlike learning to play a woodwind or bowed string instrument, you can make great sounds on the harp from day one. However if you are looking to play the instrument to a very high standard, then it can become more tricky.

There are various online directories which will enable you to locate a harp teacher for one to one tuition. However you might want to consider online lessons as an alternative. We’ve reviewed a number of websites that help you learn such as Hands on Harps and Welsh Harps which can be an excellent place to start when learning a new instrument. Some of these sites offer free video lessons but you will need to pay for many of the tutorials. If you cannot find a nearby teacher, but believe you would benefit from one to one tuition, some sites offer Skype lessons for a very reasonable fee.

Foundational skills for learning the harp include:

  1. Learning how to sit with your harp: Think about the size of your harp and choose a chair accordingly. Sit in a comfortable but solid chair.
  2. Tune your harp: This will also enable you to develop a strong ear for music. For beginners it is advisable to use an electric tuner.
  3. Fingering: Keep fingernails short and use the soft part-sides or tips of your thumb and first three fingers. When you become more experienced you may play wire strung harps with your finger nails.

Beginners need to think about the physicality involved when learning to play the harp. The world’s most notable and successful harp players have been found to have unusually proportioned fingers, enabling them to play with greater ease than most other people. Playing the harp is a demanding experience and if you over do it at the very start, you may be put off for life. During your lessons or practice sessions, stop playing if you notice any discomfort or pain. Discuss any problems with your tutor and they should be able to adapt your technique to eliminate problems.

There is a lot to consider when you buy your first harp. Many people may favour renting a harp to begin with, just to ensure they are really serious about playing. If possible, ask your tutor for their advice or visit your local music store. You need to test out the harp you are playing to ensure you like the way it sounds. It is possible to buy a used harp but you need to consider wear and tear as you don’t want to pay for expensive repair bills. Head over to our Harp section in our store for a small selection if getting to your local music shop is a problem, or you just want to compare prices.

Making your practice session as fun as possible is going to ensure you keep coming back for more. Think about structuring your lesson as detailed below.

  1. Warm up your fingers
  2. Play your favourite song or make the most beautiful noises you can
  3. Improvise and get those creative juices flowing
  4. Practice your exercises
  5. Practice new pieces, especially the difficult parts
  6. Play some of your old favourites
  7. Finish off with a bit of composing or improvisation

Happy learning 🙂

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Claire Jones

Claire Jones

Edmar Castañeda

Edmar Castañeda

Joanna Newsom

Joanna Newsom