A beginner in harp and double-strung harps

Posted In: Mine' s a triple!

  • Participant
    evolene_t on #199117

    Good morning everyone!
    I have only recently joined this website because I was looking for  tips and advice for the Double-Strung.
    I have always been fascinated with the harp and longed to play it : my misinformed parents have told me that it could never happen because of the prive range of the instrument (I think they had only heard about the pedal harp and got scared). Now that I am finally grown up and getting a salary, I am taking lessons and consisering investing in my first harp.

    As soon as I heard of the existence of the double-strung I have fallen in love with the concept, from its portability to its wider range of possibilities. However, I am faced with multiple problems

    First, I am French, from the Celtic region of Brittany, and although that predisposes me to find great Celtic harps all over the place, the Double-Strung appears to be inexistent here. I believe Mae has faced the same problem in Britain. So, in order to get myself a double-strung I would need to import it from the US, with the high price range and the troubles that go with it. The Stoney End kits seemed like a good alternative but I have been flatly – though kindly – told by Gary Stone that the kit would have to be built by a luthier and a beginner in woodwork should not try. The various testimonies on this website have convinced me of that as well (great read though!)

    So I am keeping my eyes wide open and my first question here is : anyone know where one can find an affordable Double-Strung in Western Europe, and in France if possible?

    Second, this is about the technique: like I said, I am a complete beginner at the harp and almost as much of one at music theory. This does not pose a problem for my teacher, but she teaches Celtic and Pedal harp and was a little disdainfull when I asked her about the double-strung. She said that the strings were quite “loose” and one could really only play Renaissance music with it. Is this true?

    Furthermore, I am taking up “normal harp” lessons at the moment : however, would it be preferable that I continue like this for a few years, perhaps renting a 34 strings floor harp, and then invest in the double? Or should I start with the double as soon as possible to learn everything at once and not  be in constant renewal?
    Is the method and the playing so different from the simple to the double?

    From what I could tell, harpists here such as Mae or Alisson played the simple celtic before building their own double, so that might be preferable.

    Finally, what kind of practice would you recommed for someone looking to move to the double-strung? Am I overlooking something major here?

    Thank you all!

    • This topic was modified 3 years, 3 months ago by evolene_t.
    Participant
    Allison Stevick on #199179

    Welcome, evolene_t!

    I’m afraid I don’t have any tips for purchasing double harps in Europe, but I can say that doubles are not harder to play than singles. Also, mine certainly isn’t “too loose” to play. It definitely isn’t pedal tension, but it’s not like playing rubber bands, either! Don’t let your teacher discourage you if that is the direction you want to go, as it may just be that she isn’t familiar with the double-strung. You can play any music you like on it, not only renaissance music.

    Have you seen Laurie Riley’s website and/or YouTube videos? Her information is really, really helpful for any folk harpist, and she is one of the leaders in modern double-strung harps. http://www.laurierileymusic.com

    She has posted her entire double-strung tutorial video on YouTube. I’ve watched it a few times, and it’s great!

    Another person with double-strung tutorials on YouTube is a channel called Smilingharp. (I think her real name is Carol?) Anyway, her videos have been helpful to me, too.

    You do not absolutely need to start with a single harp, since it is very doable  to start out on a double, but I would say just go ahead and start with whichever type you can find. With the challenge of finding an affordable double near you, it seems you could get started playing sooner with a single that’s available while you search for your double. The hand positions, plucking, posture, and general musicality are the same (or at least very similar) between single and double. There are some techniques and tricks that are different, but that adds to the fun and won’t cause any problems when trying to learn one or the other. I switch back and forth easily between single and double all the time. 🙂

    I hope that’s at least a little helpful. Maybe someone else knows of some double-strung sellers in Europe. Happy harping!

    -Allison

     

    Participant
    Biagio on #199224

    There are as you observed a limited number of double strung harp makers.  However, you may find European harp dealers who carry them, and some talented harp makers who will make one for you.  A double is no harder to design than a single, and in some ways easier.  For example, the designer does not have to worry about the torque on one side that he or she must compensate for with a single, smaller doubles (3 1/2 octaves or so) can use zither pegs which an equivalent single (5+ octaves) cannot.

    I would suggest as a start that you contact Dusty Strings and Rees Harps and ask if they have dealers in Europe.  Additionally, look through this list of harp makers world wide and see if any make doubles:

    Harplust List

    Sorry to be blunt, but your teacher’s statements are absurd.  The maker does have to design for the greater tension, true, but that does not mean that the strings will be “loose.”  Simply that the harp will weigh more than a single of the same size.  Secondly, you can play any kind of music on one than you can on a single course lever harp – and a good deal more.

    It is of course possible that your teacher was thinking of the Italian arpa doppia in which case I do apologize for the above remark. Those few that are still being made do have rather loose strings (three rows of them) and indeed Renaissance music is mostly suited for them.  A modern double has two rows identically tuned (usually) and two full sets of levers.  Tension is around that of many lever harps, averaging about 24 lbs. per string.  By comparison, something like a Troubadour or other “pre-pedal” harp  averages around 30+ lbs.  So yes, “looser” than a pedal harp but not “floppy'”

    Recognize that any good harp is a significant investment but starting our on a double should not be a problem in itself;  the basic techniques are the same.  I personally know of at least one person who started with a double right from the beginning.

    Best wishes and good fortune!

    Biagio

    • This reply was modified 4 years, 6 months ago by Biagio.
    Participant
    Biagio on #199274

    Another thought….Blevins makes some nice doubles and there is a dealer in the Netherlands: De Troubadour Harpen:

    http://www.detroubadourharpen.nl/The_Bards_Harps/Welcome.html

    Blevins’ Cameo 52 (26 strings on each side) is a real hit here in the US, especially with therapy harpists.

    Biagio

    Participant
    evolene_t on #201252

    Good morning,

    First of all, my deepest thanks for your answers and my apologies for replying so late.

    Allison, I had indeed checked out the YouTube tutorials of both Laurie Riley and Smilingharp. They definitely convinced me that this was really what I was looking for!

    The fact that you’re both saying that the double-strung harps are not too loose is a relief. I’m actually thinking that my teacher must have mixed up with the “cross-strung” arpa doppia although I specified a few times the type I meant. But then again, she swears by gut strings and finds nylon a big loose already for her own play (she stills finds nylon a very acceptable material for strings, let us be clear). Being a full beginner, I appreciate the fact that she is proficient in teaching the harp (both Celtic and pedal) and I’ll see if there’s a seminar or something I can do to get a hang of the double-strung once I have one.

    Biagio, thanks a lot for the links. I will check out the harps that you have specified.

    Great to read that you can also go from the double-strung to the simpel without problem, Allison. I probably will start by renting whichever harp I like (I plan on going to see at the Camac, Salvo and Maison de la Harpe shop in Paris, if you know the brands) and putting money aside to buy myself a great double-strung.

     

    Which leads me to another fundamental question : how many strings are enough on the double-strung? Biagio, you were saying that the double-strung weighed more than the single. I also realise that there’s a lot more that we can do wit two row of strings so that there isn’t as much need to have 34 strings in order to play comfortably. But is 2×24 strings enough? Should I aim for 2×30? Then there’s the balance between the weight and the portability…

     

    Thank you so much!

    Participant
    Biagio on #201284

    You can do a great deal with only 3 octaves (44 total strings), personally though I’d prefer 3 1/2 or more and with a stand.  As with a single, for a beginner it will be easier to learn technique if you are not trying to balance a harp on your lap:-)  You and Allison mentioned Laurie Riley – she plays a Rees, I think it’s the Mariposa (68 total).  Some of her students the Dusty double FH26, another of our friends the Stoney End Lorraine double (58 total).

    Almost all of the additional weight is due to the tuning pegs – about 4 more lbs. if they are through and not zither ones.  Some make the sound board thicker and keep the same tension as their single version which might  be another pound in weight.  Others, like Dusty Strings, make the tension somewhat lighter instead.

    Balance should not be an issue.

    Biagio

    Member
    Elettaria on #206288

    Robin Ward in England builds a variety of multi-course harps, I wonder if he could do one or know someone who could? The French luthier Violaine Alfaric is warmly recommended by a friend of mine and makes a wide variety of harp styles, so I’d ask her too. I think both would cost far less than importing from the US.

    Participant
    evolene_t on #206609

    Hello to all,

     

    Thank you so much for your answers, specially yours, Biagio.

    I’ll look into the makers that you mentioned : Elettaria, I had also heard about Violaine Alfaric who seems to make  beautiful harps. However, she might be above my price range, especizlly considering that she doesn’t offer double strung harps on her website, so this one would be completely custom. Perhaps in a few years.

    I currently have been loaned a small harp (27 strings), which will enable me to see exactly the range that it allows me to do, and see how many strings I feel I might need with a double-strung. I hear what you’re saying, Biagio, when you say you feel more comfortable with 3 ½  octaves.

    Obviously my major concern when buying this kind of harps is that I have to try it out before buying it, if only to know if the sound is the one I want to stay with my whole life. The overseas part makes this complicated. However, I have also seen that Stoney End is link with the British website Hobgoblin. Perhaps I could go to London and check it out.

     

    Thanks again for your advice! If  you feel that you have anything to add or advice to give me,please do not hesitate to do so!

     

    Member
    Elettaria on #206624

    My friend said Violaine Alfaric was very reasonably priced, actually, and I think a lot of her work is custom so that’s not an issue. Worth a call? Luthiers working alone can be cheaper than companies, for instance in the UK because they don’t have to pay VAT. You’d also save on import costs.

    <span style=”font-size: 16px;”>The problem with getting a shop to order it in is that they add a mark-up, but in the other hand, ordering in lots of harps is cheaper than paying shipping for just one harp, so apparently it may balance out, but is worth checking. </span>

    <span style=”font-size: 16px;”>I’ve been told by Cindy Blevins that multi-course lap harps can suffer from a drier tone, as there are more strings competing for the same relatively small bit of soundboard. On the other hand, you get the strings vibrating in sympathy, so I have wondered if that cancels out that problem. Cindy had been talking about cross-strung harps rather than double-strung, too. People who actually play them will know! From what people using double-strung harps here have reported, it can help to replace the lower four strings with KF, that sort of thing.</span>

    Stoney End are really friendly if you chat to them, I’ve found.

    I’m glad you’ve borrowed a harp, that sounds excellent! Learning on that for a while, then buying a 34 string, then getting a smaller double-strung further down the line sounds like a sensible plan to me. You may fall in love with the bass range, for instance, as so many of us do. A double-strung is more of a specialist instrument, so it makes sense to develop your taste in harps more before you get one. You’ll know more about exactly what range you find most useful, what you like in the way of tone and feel.

    If you want something really portable and cheap and cheerful, you can actually get a 19 string cardboard harp kit as a double strung! Dennis Waring may be bringing out a 24 string version of his basic 19 string harp kit some time this year, with a harmonic curve and better string lengths, and if he offers that as a double-strung as well, I for one will be very interested. The sound on a decent cardboard harp can apparently be as good as the mid-range lap harps out there.  I’ve been chatting with Dick Ranlet of Wickford Harps, who is working with him on it, about this. I’d love to see a double-strung version of Dick’s harps, come to that. Pricier, but very portable.

    Participant
    Biagio on #206625

    It is unlikely that your first harp will be your last one, unless it is really crummy and causes you to lose interest.   Indeed, I can only think of a few I know who still have their first harp.  Those who do bought a small one which they then kept for travel, gigging and the like, and moved up to larger one(s).

    With many others, usually they sold the first one  because they were unsure about their commitment at first, so they thought to economize, buying a lap harp or a poorly made larger one.

    Of course it can also go the other way and one gets overly committed LOL – at one point I had eight harps and still have four.  Natch, it’s easier for me since I made them but honestly, most of the players in my local Society have at least two and some have even more than I. We often swap around after a few years as we get to know other players and needs change.

    Candid advice then with respect to a double: if you are convinced this is what you want to buy and keep, buy a floor sized one from a known maker and be patient looking for it.  Doubles are becoming more and more popular, shedding the unwarranted image as a “specialist’s” instrument – and they do turn up on the used market.

    I realize that shipping overseas and VAT is an issue in Europe (and the Far East for that matter) but when considering the harp as a 10-20 year investment I’d argue that it is better to get a really good one than to be disappointed.  So keep your eyes open for those played by experienced harpists like Laurie Riley and Cynthia Shelhart.  If you choose a custom made one, be sure that you discuss with the luthier exactly what you want.

    Personally, for what it’s worth, I find myself drawn to the wire strung so have sold my two doubles; but if I wanted a double and were not a maker I would buy a Rees, probably the Shaylee.

    Best wishes and good fortune,

    Biagio

     

    • This reply was modified 4 years, 2 months ago by Biagio.
    Participant
    evolene_t on #206635

    Thank you again for your advice!

     

    Elettaria, I too have mailed Stoney End and found them wonderfully quick and nice to chat with. Their price list still contained the Anne harp as a double-strung but they told me that the choice now was between the Britanny as a lap harp, of the Lorrain as a floor harp. As for the kit part, which would considerably have reduced the cost, Gary Stone advised me to get help from a luthier as a beginner in woodwork, it would have been too great a task.

    Which leads me to you advice, Biagio. I’m impressed,  eight harps does seem to be quite an investment! But I think you are right to remind me not to get fixated on one and only harp. Thank you for pointing out that the Rees’s also made double-strung, by the way, I strolled right past that when checking out their website!

    If you think it’s a good plan to first learn on a little harp, then on a normal 34 strings before investing in a double, I think this is probably what I will do. After all, I get very excited but I know how to take my time (I’ve been looking at these double harps for nearly two years, now that I think of it, and taking harp lessons for only one). If it enables me to access the second-hand market, all the better! (Although in Europe, this type of harp seems strangely unknown, even experienced harpists confuse it with the cross-strung all the time).

    Though I must say I never considered a cardboard harp, that might be the perfect compromise! It is extremely cheap for a harp and I could both develop my feel for the double, and not be afraid to travel with it. Since you recommended it I will look into this Blevins 🙂 Thank you for the tip!

     

    Again, wonderful advice that I keep in mind 🙂 Thanks again!

    Participant
    Biagio on #206648

    Grin – thanks, but not much to be impressed about, really.   Four were just different sizes (3 1/2 and 5 octaves) of the same basic design  – one pair wire, one pair nylon/gut.  Two were doubles.  which I lost interest in. The other two a Clark and a McFall restoration, both of which I just plain got attached to after spending so much time on them .  Beware addiction! But really, it is nice ar least to have a floor harp and one to take with you anywhere, methinks.

    Honest to goodness, if I could do it all over again I would just buy a Boulding Oranmore, a Blevins Cameo double, and a Caswell Gwydion.

    We are discussing non pedal harps of course and for some the orchestral pedal harp is the sine qua non. Not for me, though I first learned on pedal. At one time I lusted after a Porsche 911S and owned a Triumph Spitfire by comparison ha ha  Too expensive for this old cat now:-)

    On the other hand, would I have gotten so far as to know what to get? Hah, unlikely!

    ( Perhaps some history would be in order here, it may help to explain some differences between what went on in the US and in Europe, harp-wise back in the 1970s.  This was the time of the Beatles, folk music, R&B and the folk revival, you may recall. In Brittany and some other Gaelic lands, Allen Stivell galvanized an interest in the wire strung and “Celtic” music.

    Meanwhile in North and South America Roland Robinson had returned from Guatemala captivated by South American harp and his enthusiasm spread through the vibrant folk music community, which soon led to the modern lever harps of today. Prior to that about the only non-pedal harps in the US were the Clark and pre-pedal instruments such as the L&H Troubadour.

    One day in the 80s two superb harpists – Laurie Riley and Elizabeth Cifani – were sitting around talking. Both were accomplished on lever harps, wire,  and on the Welsh triple strung, with Ms. Cifani also on pedal; they conceived the idea of the modern double strung with two identically tuned parallel rows fully levered on both sides.  So they turned to their luthiers with that singular request: Laurie to Triplett and Ms. Cifani to Gary Stone.

    (Side note: Laurie still regrets selling that original Triplett; alas Steve no longer makes doubles but he does make several fine wire strungs).

    Now, harpists are in general conservative – considering the cost of a good harp no wonder – and it has taken a while for the modern double  and wire strung to catch on.  By the same token, makers are reluctant to promote a design that has little demand.  Even today, when both the double and the wire strung are enjoying increased interest most will only make doubles or wire strungs on request.

    Rees signed on to the double fairly early and today is generally considered the premiere maker in the US –  as you will still find it hard to get a narrow spaced wire harp in North America besides tghose ofJay Witcher,  David Kortier  and a very few others.

    This is not because either is difficult to make or play  but because there are just not that many people (yet) who want them. But it is changing and I for one am really happy that it is.  Let us remember that this is the oldest of the stringed instruments and be grateful that it continues to evolve:-)

    Peace,

    Biagio

    • This reply was modified 4 years, 2 months ago by Biagio.
    Participant
    Biagio on #206666

    Um, follows up…while certain techniques and effects are unique to the double theris lots that you can do that is beneficial while learning technique and will carry over when you find that double:

    -Echoing: obviously you cannot do that in the same octane, so train both hands to play equally well.  Often we think of a “melody hand” and a “chord hand”.  You can double the melody an octave lower on a single (and it will sound great).  Meanwhile you are training you sub-dominant hand – not a bad idea even if you stay with a single course.

    -Transpositions and chording: a cool thing about the doubles is that you can use lever to have one side in a different key than on the other.  But hey: if you harp has a sufficient range (say 4+ octaves) just put one part a fifth from the other.

    -Parallel and contrary motion: while this is an exciting evocative sound it excels on the double.

    B

     

     

    O fun!

     

    Participant
    evolene_t on #206694

    Thank you for that piece of history. I realise, even in France, that the practionners of Celtic harp are much fewer than I though. Although I grew up hearing it in Britanny, not that many people actually play it. Of course Alan Stivell is the main reference here and has inspired many others.

    On the other hand, people also practice the pedal harp in the classical range. But on that end there is the very real limitation that comes with the price range of that instrument.

    Thanks to your advice I will definitely start practicing those double techniques that could be applicable on the single. Being an absolute beginner I’m struggling with absolute beginner stuff such as finger placing ^^ it will come soon enough!

    Member
    Elettaria on #206707

    Hello, I was the one who mentioned there’s a cardboard double harp around, and it’s Waring, not Blevins.  For a Blevins double, add a zero to the price, and they don’t end up as lightweight.

    I don’t know of anyone who has bought the cardboard double harp.  If you look up cardboard harps on YouTube, make sure you trawl through the videos thoroughly.  Some are made by beginners who don’t know how to play the harp yet and haven’t tuned it well, plus they haven’t recorded it well either.  Others are by serious or even professional harpists do a much better job, and you can get a better impression of what they’re like.  People here generally speak well of them.

    There are two American companies making cardboard harps, Waring and Backyard.  The Waring one is 19 strings, and that’s the one also available as a double.  It has a basic triangle frame, no option for levers, and relatively short string lengths.  The double strung version simply puts two of the triangle frames together on the same soundbox.

    The Backyard Fireside harp is bigger, both the height and the soundbox, and has 22 strings, a harmonic curve, and the option of levers.  It’s not available as a double.  Both of them have the G below middle C as the bottom note.  The Waring seems more popular.  Quite a few people here have used the cardboard harps.

    I’m told by a friend of his that Dennis Waring is considering bringing out a “deluxe” version of his cardboard harp, which looks like it will have the same size soundbox, a taller pillar, a harmonic curve, and 24 strings, probably spaced a bit closer together and definitely with better string lengths, and going down to F below middle C. I’ve seen a photo of the prototype, it looks good. I think this may turn out to be the best cardboard option, and I’d suggest contacting him and asking how that’s coming along and whether it’ll also be available as a double.  I don’t know whether doubling it up on the same soundbox will work with a larger frame.  You can message him on Facebook.

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