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What Are the Best Tips for Learning the Harp?

By T. Webster
Updated May 23, 2024
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The best tips for learning the harp often start with understanding the basics. As is true with other art forms, it is important to use appropriate techniques when learning the harp. Using proper form allows more consistency when playing. It also is important to consider goals, musical ability and whether professional instruction is appropriate.

Good posture and holding the harp correctly are both important. A floor harp requires using a bench or chair with a height that allows the harp to rest on the shoulder without placing strain on the back. The harpist's legs should be on either side of the harp with the feet squarely on the floor. When the arms are stretched, the hands should easily reach the center of the harp.

The back should be held straight, but not tense. A relaxed posture allows for freer movement while playing. Tensing up can lead to cramping and can cause neck problems over time.

Hand positions and techniques used for playing the chords also are important to master when learning the harp. The hands are held close to the strings, with the thumbs pointing straight up. The thumbs are then placed on the strings as anchors and the fingers are used to pluck the strings around the thumbs. Basic hand positions for the harp typically require the left hand to be placed at the lower strings and to play the bass notes or chords. The right hand is usually used to play the melody and additional chords.

Learning the harp is less stressful when it is approached with a playful attitude. Plucking some of the individual strings to hear how they sound can be fun and informative. It also can be fun to practice a well-known harp sound, the glissando, by running an index across the entire span of the strings. This can be done from the shorter strings up to the larger strings and in reverse.

Individualized attention from a professional instructor is often helpful while learning the harp. Harp instructors are trained to monitor and make adjustments to hand movements. A teacher also can help in learning to play the chords and read music, for example. The best teachers are willing to meet a student’s aspirations for learning the harp, keeping in mind that some harpists have professional goals in mind while others simply want to play the harp for their own enjoyment.

It also is possible to learn independently by studying books or videos. Having some prior experience playing a musical instrument is helpful when choosing this route. Prior training on the piano or a guitar, for example, often makes it easier to learn how to play the harp.

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