Celtic Harp Newbie!!
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Celtic Harp Newbie!!

GUEST,Jake 19 May 05 - 03:47 AM
John P 19 May 05 - 08:02 AM
jeffp 19 May 05 - 08:07 AM
harpmaker 19 May 05 - 08:22 AM
Mooh 19 May 05 - 09:32 AM
Sorcha 19 May 05 - 07:13 PM
GUEST 19 May 05 - 07:39 PM
GUEST,Julia 19 May 05 - 10:46 PM
GUEST,jake 20 May 05 - 03:43 PM
Helen 20 May 05 - 06:53 PM
GUEST,leeneia 21 May 05 - 05:24 PM
black walnut 22 May 05 - 09:26 AM
GUEST,Julia 22 May 05 - 03:04 PM
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Subject: Celtic Harp Newbie!!
From: GUEST,Jake
Date: 19 May 05 - 03:47 AM

So, after years of humming and mainly hawing, I finally got round to buying myself a celtic harp! It came yesterday at around midday and, about 6 hours later, I was still trying to get the bugger tuned. Finally getting there, I discovered in an astounding shock development, that I cant actually play the thing. So many strings, so few fingers and no frets at all that I can find.....
I think I've got the general idea but its the fingering that I'm having problems with, cos I read somewhere that you only use the thumb, index finger and ring finger. Is this right? Does it apply to the melody hand, too? And, I find that the inside of my right forearm is getting pretty sore where it rests on the harp body. Should there be any contact between arm and harp??
All help gratefully recieved! Also, if anyone knows any good online tutorials, I'd be very thankful,

cheers, Jake

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Subject: RE: Celtic Harp Newbie!!
From: John P
Date: 19 May 05 - 08:02 AM

Hi Jake,
Congrats on your new harp. Who made it, what's the model, how many strings?

Most harp players use all but the little finger on both hands. I tend to slip in the little finger sometimes, but my hand position is self-taught and not the usual thing. The usual thing is better -- get a teacher for a few lessons just to get that correct. You'll kick yourself later if you don't. Your arms should probably not be resting on the body of the instrument. There is a very good book called "Teach Yourself to Play the Folk Harp" by Sylvia Woods. Thousands of people have learned the basics from this book. You should have it, and it will be something of a substitute for a teacher if there isn't one near you (where do you live?). There are also a CD and a DVD that follow along with the book. There are lots of other books and videos out there. I don't know of any teaching sites on the web. Why not go ahead and give some money to someone who's taken the effort to produce teaching materials?

John Peekstok

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Subject: RE: Celtic Harp Newbie!!
From: jeffp
Date: 19 May 05 - 08:07 AM

John is right about the fingers. I second his advice to get a teacher. Learning proper hand position and technique will save you a lot of frustation and pain, as well as nerve and tendon damage down the line.

Don't forget to have fun too!

jeffp (not a harper but my sister is)

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Subject: RE: Celtic Harp Newbie!!
From: harpmaker
Date: 19 May 05 - 08:22 AM

Harps are rubbish. take up the piano instead.

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Subject: RE: Celtic Harp Newbie!!
From: Mooh
Date: 19 May 05 - 09:32 AM

My only experience with harp is building one from a kit for a friend, and once in a while accompanying another friend. I have noticed that (to my taste) much of the harp repertoire is too light and needs to be played with more balls. It is not inherently sappy. I like the sound of harmony but so many players argeggiate too much for my liking. I have, however, very much enjoyed the playing of Janet Harbison (I'm sure Google will turn up information).

Harp played with some toughness, spirit, balls, even confidence, sounds better.

From what I understand, good technique training will solve a lot of early problems. I'm to play with a harpist (harper, what is it?) this morning as it happens, I'll ask about it.

Peace, and good luck, Mooh.

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Subject: RE: Celtic Harp Newbie!!
From: Sorcha
Date: 19 May 05 - 07:13 PM

Check out Ann Heyman. VERY different from Sylvia Woods. Ann is NOT sappy!!

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Subject: RE: Celtic Harp Newbie!!
Date: 19 May 05 - 07:39 PM

harpo marx in at the circus..

the performance near the end of the movie is absolutely breathtaking display
of what the harp can be capable of

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Subject: RE: Celtic Harp Newbie!!
From: GUEST,Julia
Date: 19 May 05 - 10:46 PM

I agree that Ann Heyman is not wimpy, but she plays wire harp, not nylon or gut and the technique is quite different (lots of damping the strings as they ring a lot)

Sylvia's book is okay to get started.

Harpers of note are Kim Robertson (who has a video), Sue Richards, Wendy Stewart, William Jackson, Janet Harbison, Grainne Hambly
You could even listen to some of my recordings- ( I play with my fingernails, in the ancient style which gives a brighter tone and is easier on the hands and wrists than the modern pedal harp style which most people play today

There are lots of good harp websites ( is one) and a great harpchat on yahoo. Also some fun harp festivals and workshops run by local harp circles. Here in Maine we have a great group that gets together to play for fun and encourage one another.

Be careful to sit properly and do periodic headrolls and neck and upper back massage when first starting out. ( We hold alot of tension where our "wings " would be!)You might consider working with some small weights to build up your upper arms (not kidding) Keep your wrists slightly higher than your fingers. Shake out your hands occasionally.

If yours is a "lap harp" (small- under 29 strings) holding it can be tricky. Try sitting on a board with the end sticking out between your legs. Balance the bottom of the harp on the board, the top rests on your right shoulder. A little piece of wood nailed to the end on the board will act as a "stop " to keep the harp from slipping. Another option is to stand and place the harp on a table

Have fun, remember to breathe deeply- it's worth it

All the best- Julia Lane

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Subject: RE: Celtic Harp Newbie!!
From: GUEST,jake
Date: 20 May 05 - 03:43 PM

Thanks for the help! As I'm living in Austria (the harp is Austrian, by the way, with 29 strings), lessons are out of the question but the Silvia Woods book sounds like a good idea. I actually saw her live here, years and years ago.
So far, so not so bad....a very slow and shakey Sheebag and Sheemore is as far as I've got.....but at least it sounds like music....sort of.....


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Subject: RE: Celtic Harp Newbie!!
From: Helen
Date: 20 May 05 - 06:53 PM

Mooh, my sentiments exactly, which is why I really like Sileas (Scottish harp duo, Patsy Seddon & Mary McMaster). They definitely are gutsy. My favourite term for describing them is "raucous". Don't get me wrong they still play some gentle pieces, but they are definitely not wishy-washy in anything they do.

Jake, I bought my first harp in 1980 (I think). I didn't find a teacher for many years and it held me back. I tried to learn from the Sylvia Woods book and video but my main 2 problems were:

1) tuning it took about an hour (36 strings) by which time I lost interest.

Solution: I bought an electronic tuner which made it a quick and easy process to tune it and then I could spend motivated time practising instead.

2) I had only learned flute, a single-note-at-a-time melody instrument so I really had trouble trying to put left and right hands together playing different things. I cheat and just play melody and chords (like the fake books) but I need to be able to play music arrangements as written to progress more with my playing - mainly so that I can learn better accompaniments.)

Solution a) I went to music sessions for some years and followed the chords played by the guitarist until I was comfortable with accompanying other people. (Chords are so easy on harp: the basic ones are tonic plus third plus fifth string (I-III-V) e.g. C Major chord is C-E-G when harp is set to key of C Major. Once you have that hand position in place you can move the position from one starting note to the next and still be playing a chord. With a lever harp you are always in the right key after adjusting the levers and almost every time you use that 3 note chord spacing it works.

Solution b) still in progress - I still can't find a harp teacher here but I am getting piano lessons to overcome the left hand-right hand difficulty.

There is a brilliant harp e-mail List which you can get to by going here:

harps - how to subscribe to the harplist

Hope to see you there.


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Subject: RE: Celtic Harp Newbie!!
From: GUEST,leeneia
Date: 21 May 05 - 05:24 PM

I don't play harp, but I hang out with a harper. I also took a week-long workshop with Becky Baxter, who is a professional and Really Good. So I've picked up some knowledge about the harp over the years. Therefore -

1. The people who said take lessons are right. Playing the harp affects your hands, shoulders, back, and probably others things. You need to learn from a trained person how to sit, how to pluck the notes and how to stop them ringing.

2. Using Sylvia Woods' books to get started from is not a good idea. Sylvia is not held in high esteem by professional harp teachers. I have three of her books, and she doesn't mention having any qualifications in any of them.

(I have the books because they are handy for sessions.)

3. Get an electronic tuner so you can spend less time tuning and more time enjoying your instrument.

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Subject: RE: Celtic Harp Newbie!!
From: black walnut
Date: 22 May 05 - 09:26 AM

I play celtic harp. Harp is great. A dog with mittens could make a harp sound good.

But seriously....get a book, take a lesson, buy a video, or take a lesson. If you do it yourself you could damage your neck, back, elbows, hands, or fingers. Take it one step at a time. It's like any other instrument - you can play chopsticks for a while but you don't want to play it for the rest of your life.

At the same time, be creative. Improvization and playing by ear are good skills to have. You don't your O'Carolan to sound like everybody else's O'Carolan.


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Subject: RE: Celtic Harp Newbie!!
From: GUEST,Julia
Date: 22 May 05 - 03:04 PM

hello again- I don't mean to "harp on it, but I'd just like to remind folks that there are big differences between a "Celtic" harp, a wire strung harp, and a pedal harp as well as the techniques used to play them. A "really good" pedal harpist will not be a "really good" Celtic harper and vice versa. Ultimately, lessons from a good instructor are a good idea, but pedal harp technique is not necessarily appropriate for a lap harp. As with any teacher the student should interview the teacher, hear them play and decide if their approach is right for you.

The pedal harpists may criticize Sylvia Woods, but she has pedal harp training and has bridged the gap between the two techniques. In fact, most of the professional Celtic harp players are okay with her book AS A STARTING PLACE and she is internationally accepted for her instructive role in the Celtic harp community.

Sylvia's website is

By the way, if you are in Austria, you should check out Harpa, a European harp magazine which covers many different points of view.

Best- Julia

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