First Time Teacher

Posted In: Teaching the Harp

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    Kelsi Swensen on #224822

    Hello everyone

    I’ve been playing the harp for almost twenty years and am looking to start a studio so I can bring in some income. Does anyone have advice for me? I don’t really know where to begin… It’s been about ten years since I was taking lessons myself. I have “Fun from the First” and the Salzedo conditioning exercise book from when I first learned. What would be most helpful is if I had like a comprehensive list of things that need to be taught! Is there a book or resource specifically on how to teach the harp for beginner students?


    wil-weten on #224825

    Hi Kelsi,

    I’ve been playing the harp for more than 25 years now, under several, mostly qualified harp teachers, with interludes of several years.

    My first teacher, however, was not qualified for teaching the harp but for playing another musical instrument. Yet, she could play the harp very nicely.

    I am very sorry to say, but I developed a lot of bad habits while learning to play the harp with this teacher, as she had no idea how to help me play the harp in a way that was healthy for my body, nor how to get a really good sound of the harp. I guess, she didn’t even know she wasn’t fit for teaching me, and neither did I…

    Even now, I am still struggling…

    Please, think how you could prevent that your students would ever develop the same negative feelings about you as I do about my first harp teacher.

    So you’d like to start a studio on order to generate some income. Frankly, I think there should be quicker ways to generate some income.
    Apparently, you believe can play the harp at a sufficient high level to teach beginners. Frankly, I think absolute beginners on the harp need a teacher who is able to teach advanced students as well.

    The big question is, how to get a solid basis in music pedagogy as well as all the things you really need to know in order to prevent students developing chronical injuries and prevent bad habits.

    This thesis of on effective harp pedagogy at: may get you started. You will at least get an idea of all the techniques you may need to further develop before it has any sense to start a harp studio.

    Here: you find the ABRSM-subforum for music teachers. Here you will find all kinds of topics that may be interesting to music teachers in general.

    There are several books with great information on how to get started on the harp, like Pamela Bruner’s Play the Harp Beautifully (Vol !-III). These are basically books for self-teaching.

    Kelsi Swensen on #224841

    There’s no need to be condescending. I’m not questioning my skill as a teacher, or the fact that I possess the knowledge and experience necessary to teach an advanced student (I’ve had several potential students reach out to me and they all have no experience with the harp, hence my specification of their beginner level). The question I asked is if there are resources or, more importantly, firsthand advice on how to best relay information to students. I will look into the book you recommended, but what I am looking for specifically was more along the lines of *helpful* advice.

    Biagio on #224924

    Afraid I don’t know of any books along those lines, Kelsi, and am unsure if any would be all that useful. I’ve been fortunate to have had several excellent teachers but have to say that each approached conveying instruction in different ways.

    One was all hands on, insisted that her students learn not only technique but the harp’s unique design as well; she regularly took students to concerts/recitals and had them take notes of the players’ posture, technique and so on.

    Another was quite the opposite, concentrating on musical expression, rhythm development etc. A third started out with a thorough introduction to music theory with the harp used to demonstrate those principles (e.g. how does a third sound different from a fifth and why – with the added benefit of learning hand position wile finding out!).

    So i guess it is a matter of your own personality and style. I’ve been asked a number of times but declined, not feeling prepared or sufficiently advanced. I did agree to get them started though – demonstrating posture, hand position, the “harpist fist” using a metronome, and lent them a harp along with certain selected books.

    Those included the Beginning Harpist series by Stephanie Curcio, 1,2,3 – Play by Ray Pool, Play the Harp Beautifully by Pam Bruner, Metoda Arpa by Maria Grossi, On Playing the Harp by Yolanda Kondonassis, The Harper’s Manual by Laurie Riley, Trouble Shooting Your Lever Harp (if that’s what they had) by David Kolacny). Grossi and Kondonassis in particular follow a logical instruction protocol. Riley has a chapter that may help as well: “So You Want to be a Teacher”.

    If I may toot my particular ideas: I’ve noticed that even some excellent harpists understand very little about harp design – some even totally lacking in understanding string theory (not the modern theoretical physics but in the older sense of of Brook Taylor) or harp construction. I can’t tell you how often I’ve been asked such basic questions as “Can I substitute gut for nylon?” (or vice versa). Not saying one must be a harp maker, of course! But being prepared to guide a student in selecting their own instrument with more than “this is a model I personally like” (and what to avoid) seems like a good idea!

    For the practical business aspects – Anne Roos writes a regular column in the Folk Harp Journal (The Harper in Business) which often covers such matters as business software, scheduling tips, dealing with parents and so on.

    Hope that’s helpful and best wishes,

    • This reply was modified 2 years, 5 months ago by Biagio.
    Kelsi Swensen on #224931

    Thanks Biago!

    Gretchen Cover on #225011

    You may want to join the Facebook Group called Harp Strategies. Also check

    Kelsi Swensen on #225021

    Thanks Gretchen!

    Gretchen Cover on #225024

    Also you may want to look at the Harp Olympic series by Susann McDonald/Linda Wood Rollo, music by Kathryn Cater and Suzuki harp books.

    carl-swanson on #225046

    Kelsi- Stick to the basics. If you are starting beginners who have never studied a musical instrument before-children or adults, it doesn’t matter-then you have two things that you will have to teach: 1) how to play the instrument, and 2) how to read music. Treat them as separate issues, even though they will overlap a bit.

    Concerning playing the instrument, find material to work with that you like, err on the side of it being too easy rather than too hard, and focus on getting the student to develop the right technique(hand and arm position, finger motion, etc.) immediately. With the right technique established from the very beginning, the student will be able to advance into harder repertoire. If you let a lot of things slide at the beginning, you (or someone else) will have to fix a lot of problems later on. Teach the student how to practice. Most of the time, they don’t know how. Don’t assume they will figure it out. They won’t. Set little goals that the student can meet for the next lesson. That way you and the student will establish a track record of success. Don’t assign too much material. Assign less, then teach the student how to learn it, and let them know what you expect when they bring it back next week. As soon as you can, get them to play performances( in church or school, or just for family). That is a huge positive lift for a student just starting out. You can have little recitals once or twice a year in which everyone plays, including you. As soon as is possible, include a set of etudes in the plan. That is by far and away the best way to develop technique. Students who regularly play etudes learn music faster and more securely. Etudes will be good for both learning to play the harp AND learning to read music.

    Saul Davis Zlatkovski on #226367

    If your teacher didn’t teach you how to teach, either by knowledge or example, then you need to study with a teacher specifically for how to teach, assuming you can find one with a gift for it. The pedagogy is of the utmost importance, if you should get a talented student. Technique should be taught from the very start as if they will become professional. There is plethora of music. I do not recommend Fun From the First, but I’m not sure what replaces it at that level. The Salzedo pedagogy begins with ABC of Harp Playing, Pathfinder Studies, Sketches for Harpist Beginners and Tiny Tales, the transcriptions by Marie Miller, and on into the solos. I enjoy Betty Paret’s first book. That said, it can be very difficult to get students, but for some people it just seems to happen.

    cheryl grohn on #252747

    I have been teaching lever harp for 10+ years. I used several really excellent resources to get me started: “The Art of Teaching The Harp” by Suzanne Balderston and “Teaching the Lever Harp” by Joyce Rice. I too find the Harp Olympics series and the Play the Harp Beautifully series to work for almost every beginning student except young children, then I use one of the series designed for children.
    I have developed a harp lesson book I print out and give to each new student. The contents include:
    1. A review of my studio policies including need to give more than 24 hours notice or the student will be charged for the missed lesson.
    2. A goal page, including questions for the student to answer like “what are your goals for for the next year with your harp lessons?” “As you picture yourself a year from now, what would you like to be able to play on the harp?” “What steps will you take to achieve your goals?” Then I review the goals, adding and subtracting as lessons progress, regularly, usually ever 6 months.
    3. Harp posture checklist, plus simple stretches for harp players.
    4. Basics at the harp including posture, height of chair and harp, arm positions.
    5. Harp practice tips
    6. A section for assignments, where I write each lesson’s assignments in detail, including a) music theory b) songs c) exercises d) notes
    7. Some beginner exercises I’ve found on free sites or developed on my own
    8. Introductory music theory information such as note types, time signatures, repeats, rests (I remove this section for those who can read music)
    9. Songs: I use copies from free sites such as as introductory songs.
    Each student gets a 3 ring binder with this information, and we add/subtract materials at each lesson. I’ve found this method to keep both me and my students on track and clear on assignments, what is next, and what progress is being made.

    Hope this helps.

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