Bad Habits

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    I’m a new harp player and haven’t been able to find a harp teacher in my area. I keep hearing about the importance of taking lessons because one can develop bad habits quickly that are difficult to break out of. What are some of the most common bad habits a beginner should avoid? Thank you!

    Angela Biggs

    Keep your thumbs up, back straight, shoulders relaxed. Have fun, and welcome to the wonderful world of harping! 🙂


    Without a teacher in your area, you might enjoy using a book for new harpists that has a DVD to go with it. That way, you can read what to do, and hear and see a good harpist playing what is on the page, if you have a DVD player. You can repeat those parts often, hoping to play as well as the recording sounds. You learn good habits from watching the harpist. Two harpists who have made such books and recordings are Phyllis Schlomovitz: Beginning Harp Books 1 and 2; and Pamela Bruner: Play the Harp Beautifully, Books 1,2,and 3. There may be more of these teaching aids available, and perhaps someone will add a post here soon with more information. Tell us what area you are in, and how many strings your harp has, so more help will be available for you here.


    I’d also suggest making video recordings of yourself as you play and try the techniques demonstrated on the DVDs. It’s amazing what your fingers can get up to if nobody is watching them! So checking that your thumbs are up and your fingers down, that your fingers close fully into your palm and that your hands, wrists, arms, shoulders look like the DVD teachers. You might also look into teachers available on skype – a good option when there are no teachers in your area. Oh, and the other thing to do is to listen to your final notes as they continue resonating thru the wood of your harp – so beautiful!


    Some teachers might be willing to give lessons via Skype, also. It could be a way to check in once a month or more to make sure you’re not developing any bad habits. 🙂 Not sure of any specific teachers that do this, but ask around? 🙂


    I taught myself for 3 years before starting lessons, and I have had to break a LOT of bad habits. I’ve had to relearn keeping my thumbs up and the rest of my fingers pointing downwards; CLOSING after every note in a relaxed way (flat into the palm, not curling fingers tensely); placing firmly and confidently instead of spider crawling and catching notes on the fly; elbows up. When I have a hard or fast piece which requires a lot of concentration on the notes themselves I still tend to revert to my old problems (I have been taking lessons for 2 years now). I would say do everything you can to find a good teacher if you possibly can! If not, the others’ suggestions of getting DVDs are good, so that you have something to compare yourself to.


    Elbows shouldn’t droop. Don’t always play quietly – if your technique works loud it is likely to work quiet, but the otherway round is less certain.


    I agree that it is vital to have some feedback on technique, particularly at the beginning. Lots of teachers, including myself, offer lessons via Skype or other videochat programs. I recommend having at least a couple Skype lessons and also using a DVD program as others have advised. Another good program is Sylvia Woods’ “Teach Yourself To Play The Folk Harp.” You can find it on Be aware that in addition to not having good tone, bad habits can cause serious physical problems like tendentious. Definitely get some feedback from a teacher for a good foundation before teaching yourself.


    Thank you 😀


    Patricia, I have a 25 string folk harp and I live in Humboldt, California (north of San Francisco).


    I have found Pamela Bruner’s books and DVDs invaluable to my studies as a harp player, and I highly recommend them.


    Hi. In answer to your question, “What are some of the most common bad habits a beginner should avoid?”… Practice slowly and deliberately using correct technique: keeping your thumbs high, and closing each finger to the palm, bending only at the knuckle closest to your hand (not your fingertips). It is better to go slowly and use good technique to strengthen your muscles, rather than to just get through the song. At the same time, count out your timing. I would rather hear a student play through a few measures correctly, than to speed through the whole song with sloppy technique and poor timing. Compliment yourself on what you do well; don’t criticize yourself on what is coming more slowly or difficult for you to master. Break down the song you want to learn into small parts, and rejoice in small steps!

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