The harp is a mesmerizing instrument, making it a popular piece for weddings to professional orchestras.
And although it looks difficult on the surface, the harp is one of the easier stringed instruments to learn due to the fact that it doesn’t have frets and doesn’t require bowing.
As you set out to learn the harp for the first time, you can expect to spend around 1 to 3 weeks learning your first song – however, if you have a background in piano or organ, it could be even quicker.
After you have your first song in the books, it will take up to a year to begin comfortably playing beginner music and then 3 to 4 years to become proficient. To play at an advanced level, it will take 10+ years.
But even professional harpists are still learning, so it will take a lifetime of dedication to truly master the harp.
Here are a few steps to get you started playing the harp.
There are many different kinds of harps a person can learn to play, but the main two are pedal harps and lever harps. The pedals and levers control whether each string plays a natural, sharp, or flat note.
Pedal harps are considered the “standard” for many professional groups. As a result, if your goal is to play in an orchestra or master classical pieces exactly how they were meant to be played, a pedal harp is for you.
However, if you’re looking for an easier way into the world of harps, a lever harp is still a great option as they are cheaper to buy and simpler to learn. In fact, some lever harps don’t have any levers at all! And even with a lever harp, harpists can still learn modified versions of pieces written traditionally for a pedal harp.
You can decide to tune your harp however you need to based on your skill level and desired repertoire. But no matter what kind of harp you have or how you decide to tune it, you should begin tuning your instrument with all of the levers or pedals disengaged. You’ll need a chromatic tuner to assist you in getting each string perfectly in tune along with a tuning wrench to raise and lower the pitches as needed.
Beginners often start by tuning their harp to the key of C major. This allows songs in the key of C to be played without worrying about pedals or levers.
However, as you get more advanced you may want to adjust your tuning to E flat major, A flat major, or whatever tuning makes sense for your repertoire.
Now that it’s in tune, you can begin by playing harp scales to learn the basic hand positions and how to pluck the strings – starting with the major and minor scales correlating with the key your harp is tuned to.
Once you’re ready to learn songs, “Ode to Joy”, “Aura Lee” and “Amazing Grace” are simple yet fun for harps tuned to C major.
At the intermediate level, “Clair de Lune” or “O Holy Night” are recognizable yet challenging songs to learn. Someday you’ll even be able to play Mozart’s “Concerto for Flute, Harp and Orchestra”!
Learning your first few songs on the harp is exciting, but sticking with it is key to becoming a great harpist. Plan to spend at least 10 to 15 minutes each day playing your harp – although you may enjoy it so much that you play even longer!
Consistency here is key, so keep practicing, and you’ll be impressing your friends or even playing shows before you know it.