Tips for Beginning Harpists

Are you new to the harp? Perhaps you are looking for some tips as you begin to play. In this post I will give you some advice on what you can do to improve your skills on the harp.

Make Sure Your Harp is Well-Tuned

The last thing you want is to have a harp that is out of tune. A well tuned harp goes a long way in improving your sound quality as well as your own enjoyment of whatever piece you are playing. So, make sure your harp is tuned before you play :). If you need help or advice on how to tune your harp properly, I recommend that you visit my “How to Tune Your Harp” post (here: https://harpcorner.com/2020/06/10/how-to-tune-your-harp/).

Your Hand Positions

Having the correct hand position is vital for playing the harp. The first thing you should know is that you do not use your pinky at all to play the harp. You will only be using fingers 1, 2, 3, and 4. And your thumb should be much higher relative to your other fingers.

Make a fist with your index to pinky fingers flat against your palm and your thumb resting on top (like you’re about to knock on a door). This is your hand’s resting position. This is the position your hand should form after you pluck each note.

Posture

You will want to have good posture while you are playing the harp. Try not to sit too slouched or too far forward. You will want to sit up straight with your harp leaning on your right shoulder and your knees on either side of the soundboard.

Make sure your harp is fairly close to you. I cannot give an exact distance because there are too many variables, but you do not want your harp leaning back too far. I made the mistake of leaning my harp too far a while ago and the way the harp balanced made it much heavier than it needed to be for my poor shoulder. So, just something to keep in mind 🙂 

Also, your elbows should be out (not tucked in) to a point where the outside of your wrist can bend and allow your thumbs to pluck higher on the strings than your other fingers.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Yes, that’s right. This is true of any instrument you are learning how to play, you want to keep practicing! You may initially find yourself getting frustrated or confused when you are first learning. All the different fingerings, notes, rhythms, and hand positions can initially be difficult to get used to. But, keep at it. Eventually everything will become more natural.

If you do find yourself getting frustrated when trying to learn a new concept or piece, just relax and take a break or play a tune you are already familiar with. Or maybe try to break it down and play it slower. Just be patient with yourself. Believe me it will get easier as time goes on. Keep at it, it’s worth it!

Find Good Harp Teaching Books

There are so many great resources out there for the beginning harpist. One of the first books that I used was called Teach Yourself to Play the Folk Harp by Sylvia Woods. This book is a wonderful resource. It takes you to the very fundamentals of how to play notes from sheet music on the harp even if you have no prior musical experience. I will link this book at the end of this blog post.

A second book that I would recommend is called Harp Olympics Stage I. This book says it is designed for someone with 1 or 2 years worth of piano experience. I believe it could be a good supplement to Sylvia’s book (mentioned above). In it you will learn how to play both the lever harp and pedal harp. One thing to note is that it is designed with a harp teacher in mind. I will link Harp Olympics Stage I at the end of the page also. 

If you are looking for some extra material to go the extra mile as you advance, Sylvia Wood’s Music Theory and Arranging Techniques for Folk Harps (also linked at bottom of page) is another good resource. But, if you are a complete beginner, I would wait on this one.

There may be other wonderful beginner books out there, but these are three that I have used and they have worked quite well for me. 

Also the Harp Olympics: Preliminary Round is a book that I have not used, however it is recommended for complete beginners by Harp Olympics Stage I. I will link it at the bottom of the page as well.

Final Thoughts

To close this post, I will say keep up the good work! Just like learning other instruments, learning to play the harp will require dedication. So keep up the practice! 🙂 And… remember to relax. Take it easy. And enjoy!

Here are some recommended harp learning books:

Teach Yourself to Play the Folk Harp: 

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Harp Olympics Stage I: 

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Harp Olympics Preliminary: 

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Music Theory and Arranging Techniques for Folk Harps:

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