Complete beginner, new harp

  • Member
    FilipaPaixao on #186974

    Hi everyone!

    I’m new here and a complete beginner when it comes to the harp, and I was hoping some of you could help me.
    I’ve been wanting to learn how to play the harp for some time and so my parents decided to surprise me and give me one for christmas. It’s “homemade” so I can’t tell you its brand or model, but it has 26 strings and levers on all of them (I’ll attach a photo).
    Until I got it I hadn’t really read about how to start learning and how to choose an harp, so I did a little research and I kept reading that your first harp should have at least 34 strings if not more, to allow you to play most songs, and that an harp with less strings should be a secondary harp, for when you already know how to play and just want something portable.
    So, can I still learn with a 26 string harp? Is it true that I won’t be able to play most songs in it?

    (the image is flipped because of the camera)
    my harp

    Alyson Webber on #186976

    Welcome, Filipa!

    I think you should be able to get by with a 26 string harp, at least for a little while. There are plenty of song books made for lap harp, and you can search this forum where people list their favorites. The difficulty with the 26-string is holding it securely enough as you play. A 34+ string harp is big enough to sit on the ground with you at a comfortable level, allowing you to pluck away without concern of the harp teetering on your lap. I have seen videos of people with smaller harps with the harp placed on a bench to raise it up a bit. If you really enjoy the harp (which, of course, you will), you can look into investing in something larger in the future and keep the 26 as a harp to take “out and about.”

    That harp is certainly lovely and unique! The only concern I have is if the photo is flipped. The levers appear to be on the opposite side than you would normally find. If learning on a harp built “opposite” than most, you may have difficulty with the transition to a more standard instrument.

    Gretchen Cover on #186977


    You may want to consider renting a harp for a while. Salvi Harps and Lyon-Healy rent harps. I am sure there are other harp makers that do as well as individual harpists. You may want to join the American Harp Society to get the directory of members and member teachers. In addition, harpist Sylvia Woods is compiling a directory of harp instructors who teach in person and via Skype. As a beginner, having a teacher sitting with you is preferable. Go to There are also some excellent tutorials on youtube by Josh Layne and Hannah Deladurantey. My very best wishes to you on your new musical journey.

    FilipaPaixao on #186979

    If the main problem is the size of the harp making it more difficult for me to learn then it’s fine! As long as I can still learn most songs I don’t mind having a bit extra work. I just hope I can learn by myself, because there aren’t many harp teachers where I live (Portugal), and then one day I may buy a bigger one.
    About the levers, the harp is fine, but I used the camera on my computer and it flips the image!
    Thank you for your help!

    Biagio on #186984

    Congratulations Filipa!

    Many people begin with “self teaching” and a smaller; if they decide that they want to delve more deeply they move on to a larger instrument and individual instruction. I think most would agree that the latter is practically an imperative since good technique is absolutely necessary beyond basics and it is very difficult to master that on one’s own. That has certainly been my experience.

    For the present however There are some excellent self teaching materials. My personal favorites are those of Pamela Bruner (Play the Harp Beautifully series) and Yolanda Kondonassis (On Playing the Harp). If you can read italian (I assume you can) I’d also recommend Grossi’s Metoda Arpa. Grossi and Kondonassis are oriented toward pedal but most is perfectly applicable to a lever harp. They are mainly exercises, and excellent.

    It would also be worth while to broaden your resources. Again there are many but two I’d suggest are 1) The International Society of Folk Harpers and Craftsmen and 2) the Yahoo! group Virtual Harp Circle of which I am an “owner” and moderator. You can find both easily on-line.


    Biagio on #186987

    By the way, your harp looks to me as though it was made from the Music Makers’ plans for their Limerick model. A nice little harp and in fact my first one too. You may find that you need some support for it as it is rather large and heavy, awkward to simply balance on your lap. One approach would be to sit on a (padded) board and let the harp rest on the projecting end. Another would be something like the Blevins LeStik. A third are so-called “knee bones” which I do not recommend.

    A number of professionals have my folding stand. I have a few spares still (I don’t make many harps any more) and in all modesty they love it. Here’s a picture of that one:

    Have fun!

    Gretchen Cover on #186990

    Filipa, I’m sure if you look on the internet or call the orchestras in Portugal you could find a teacher. The American Harp Society has international members. There are no teachers listed in Portugal or Spain, though. However, there are two teachers in Brazil. Perhaps you could have Skype lessons even with the time difference. If you are interested, please send me your email and I will give you their contact information. Your English appears to be very good so you may find an instructor from another country.

    Biagio’s advice (above) is excellent. Having an instructor to learn technique will make all the difference in your ability to play well. You will enjoy your harp more, too.

    Janis Cortese on #186991

    You will probably want to upgrade to a 34-string eventually, but you should be able to get a lot done on the 26, so I wouldn’t hesitate to get started if I were you.

    And while it IS a good idea to get a teacher at some point, don’t let the lack of one keep you from getting started. I can absolutely recommend Josh Layne’s videos on YouTube. At this point, I should probably call myself a student of his since he’s had such a huge influence on me. 🙂

    A teacher is a great thing to have, but if it’s a choice between playing with a teacher or not playing at all, then go ahead and start learning on your own. Just always pursue relaxation and suppleness in your hands and the rest of your body while you do so.

    Good luck! 🙂

    Janis Cortese on #186992

    One more question — do you already play any other instruments? If so, that can be helpful, especially since you are aware of the kind of hard work that’s needed to play something well.

    FilipaPaixao on #186993

    I know you’re right, the best way to learn is with an instructor, but right now it’s really impossible for me. Apart from the fact that I can’t find one (well, i’ve found one, but each 1 hour class would cost 50 euros and I think that’s a bit too much), right now I’m getting a degree and my driver’s license and taking japanese classes so I don’t think I could fit anything else in my schedule! I’ve ordered Sylvia Woods book, “Teach yourself to play the folk harp”, after reading some reviews about it, and I’m hoping it will help me getting started.
    Thank you for all your advice!

    patricia-jaeger on #186995

    I agree with Alyson that a harp of this size needs to have something sturdy under it to bring it up to where you, sitting at a comfortable height, can reach out with forearms parallel to the floor with elbows bent and arms slightly raised away from the body. There seems to be a standardized height that dining-room chairs are built, in the furniture industry, of seventeen- and-a-half to eighteen inches. Have someone armed with a metal tape measure or firm yardstick, raise the harp in front of you to the height where your fingers would be comfortable in the middle area of the strings; the right hand slightly higher than the left; then that distance from the floor to the bottom of those small harp legs needs to be measured. That is most likely the height of the small supporting bench or table you need when playing. Height is one factor; nearness of the instrument to your body is another, so that when your elbows are bent and the forearms are still parallel to the floor, the harp can tilt and rest lightly on your right shoulder, with fingers able to reach the highest and lowest strings with no strain. Still another thing, since the harp has those four short legs: On the top of that supporting object: Add extra “stops”, glued or screwed in where the four legs will now rest so that if ever you must leave the harp for even a moment, it will be secure and not fall. Of course it is much better to quickly set it on its own on the floor
    instead. When you play, the two back feet (near you) must still be firm and not slide anywhere, while the two front feet are raised. Try to find pictures of other small harp players to see how they manage this “in-between” size harp. You will enjoy this learning journey with this beautiful harp instrument.There are several beginning books sold with DVDs these days by harpists Schlomovitz, Bruner, Woods and others, that could help you reach good playing ability sooner, in-between Skype or live lessons from a teacher which if course is always the ideal situation.

    Allison Stevick on #187014

    Welcome to harping! The others have already left some great advice, so I wont repeat. I do want to say, though, that I started on a 22-string harp, and it worked really well for me for a couple years. I always propped it up on a small table, ottoman, or stool so it was the right height to play and I didn’t have to try balancing on my lap. I think you can absolutely learn on 26 strings. Enjoy!

    SkyeNotes on #187080

    Olá, bom dia, Filipa!
    Parabéns pela sua harpa nova! Tenho certeza que vai se divertir.
    A minha língua portuguesa não é muito bom mas estou a aprender e quero tentar. Para os últimos quinze anos, tenho sido a tocar uma harpa pequena (igual a 26 cordas) em 350-400 concertos por ano. Sou cantora. Não sou professora da harpa ou voz. O meu marido e eu visitar Portugal duas vezes por ano. Talvez podemos encontrar lá e falamos sobre as harpas. Posso ser contatado através do meu website:
    Em harmonia.


    jilly06 on #187382

    Welcome to harping Filipa! I too am learning on a 26 string lap harp. I have been taking lessons for 7 months now. I don’t have much to add but wanted to say “have fun with your harp!”

    czenzilee on #187416

    I have a 26 string harp and am managing to learn just fine so far. My tips since I am in a similar position to you are these: If you can’t afford or find a teacher, buy a few books and see which one is clearest and best for you. Then, refer to the others periodically. Some have clear pictures of hand positions, others are better at explaining concepts.

    Watch good harpists play on Youtube videos too. That helps with sound, timing and seeing how the hands work.

    Buy an extra set of strings early. You never know, and it isn’t fun waiting for a week for an order to ship before you can play. (Changing strings is not too bad, btw).

    Sit properly and secure the harp with a stand, harp stick, guitar strap or something. I do not have the best posture naturally, but the harp is seriously making me focus on it ‘coz I’ve noticed how much it changes the sound and my tension level when playing.

    Most beginner books have a few notes that are a little out of range on a 26 harp, but it’s actually quite fun to figure out new “arrangements” based on the lessons in whatever books you choose. This is not nearly as daunting as I thought it would be and is helping me to learn what sounds good.

    Also, you have full levers! This makes your little harp much more versatile in the long run!

    I am a beginner, so I am sure other people here can give more qualified advice, but this is what I’ve seen Have fun!

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