Hi all. I played (pedal) harp at a fairly high level as a teenager and was preparing for college auditions and one day I found I just couldn’t play. I was so absolutely sick of it. I went on to college, didn’t study music and I have a career in another field. I own a little 26-string harp now and part of me wants to play again. But I have some kind of mental block with it — I don’t want to make mistakes or sound bad (which I know is crazy). I played a few carols for my family at Christmas, but I struggled with feeling like a terrible musician and like I don’t know how to play the harp anymore. It’s true that my sightreading isn’t so great anymore and I’ve lost some speed and accuracy in my hands, because it’s been a good ten years since I’ve played regularly. I don’t really know what to play, either — most of my music is pedal harp repertoire. Any advice/suggestions of what to play would be welcome.
I love Suzanne Goldiman’s books for lapharp. My absolutely favorite book is her Pastime with Good Company: Elisabethan Songs and Dances,
They are relatively simple, but sound really nice. They could help to give your back your confidence.
Here: https://www.folkharp.com/33-19-26-strings you find a list with 138 books for lap harp. Of course, depending on where you live, you may like to order them from elsewhere.
Go to YouTube and listen to clips to find music you like. With a couple months of practice, you will be exactly where you were when you stopped playing.
I would suggest you look into taking one of Deborah Henson-Conant’s on-line classes, http://www.hipharp.com. Her speciality is getting harpists to free themselves from themselves and learn to become less inhibited. Also, you will learn that it is ok to make mistakes.
As for your hands, I find playing downward arpeggios works wonders. Recently someone suggested watching on YouTube Greg Irwin’s Finger Fitness videos. I started doing them and cannot say enough how much those exercises have helped me,
“The pain is in the resistance.” Your topic is apropos – I always encounter this issue after concentrating for several weeks on a new design, or playing the wire harp instead of the lever ones. For me at least the issue is not burn-out but frustration. Where did it all go? Darn, I quit!
Here are a few more suggestions that work for me:
Keep your harp tuned and in place to play – just pulling it out of a corner enforces resistance.
From time to time just sit down and improvise even if only for a few minutes.
Go paperless and keep the harmony simple. Play very slowly, concentrating on producing a beautiful sound rather than a more complex one.
When I start to get frustrated – stop and come back after a while.
As my hands and mind recall the beauty of this instrument the incentive to improve grows again.
Consider signing up for the free “Virtual Harp Summit” at <span id=”yui_3_15_0_1_1488220257261_1636″>http://virtualharpsummit.com/</span>
For a modest fee you may access the previous summit and return later to the current one. Past presenters included the organizer Dr. Diana Rowan, Sunita Stanislow, Harper Tasche, Deborah Henson-Conant, and many others.
With respect to scores and exercises, allow me to suggest Salzedo for warming up, Friou for exercises, and “Tunes to Go” by Shelhart – 400 tunes in lead sheet format. On that latter note (ha ha) just playing around with chord progressions keeps it fun. Well, more fun than trying to get sight reading up to speed.
Some CDs and DVDs for listening – I’m clearly biased but I like “Holy Wood” by Caswell, “Keepsake” by Tasche, and “Celtic Harpestry” a mix of artists from the gathering at Lismore Castle.
- This reply was modified 4 years, 3 months ago by Biagio.
Would it help to explore areas of music you haven’t played before? There’s a long and fascinating folk tradition, and modal music can take you in very different directions from the traditional classical repertoire. Looking at what wire harpers play might give you some ideas. Ditto medieval music.
As for playing carols for your family and feeling anxious about making mistakes, possibly the solution is not to play for your family? In my experience, that attitude towards music is one you pick up from your parents. I’ve got it too, and I watch my partner improvise and mess around on an instrument without worrying about failure, and make huge progress. You might find there are friends you’d do well playing with, and playing with other people is such a joy.
Thank you all for so many helpful suggestions!
Sounds like I need to modify my expectations of myself. This fear of “failure” is keeping me from enjoying an instrument that I truly do love. Getting away from classical repertoire is such a good suggestion; I was so focused on audition/orchestral pieces when I was younger that I never really played anything else. It’s a good idea to look for inspiration from others on Youtube or other sites. And considering who’s in my audience would probably help with nerves 🙂
I think I pushed and was pushed sufficiently that I don’t really know how to have fun with the harp. I want to work on rediscovering it, actually enjoying it — to where it’s not about achievement or success, making a good return on the pedal harp investment or making parents/teacher proud. I want to really love it, like I did when I was six. Thanks all.
Oh, good, that sounds like a plan, then! Hang around, get to know us and tell us what music you find.
So tell us more about this 26 string. Which maker is it?
I’m also a harpist in recovery from pushy parents, though a new harpist as I grew up on piano instead, and very much need to get over the fear of playing wrong and learn how to improvise. Right now I’ve got a 34 string lever harp, which I’m using for classical repertoire such as Andres and Bach. I’m determined to play those beautiful lute suites if the lever changes kill me. But I’m having fun with it, and it’s a new thing. Mind you, I rebelled all the way through music at school too. My mother wanted Mozart and Beethoven, so I spent my teens playing the modernists instead.
<span style=”font-size: 16px;”>A friend is hopefully building me a very lightweight unlevered 23 string harp for playing in bed, as I’m disabled and want something for when I’m bedbound, and I’m determined to use that for different repertoire. Medieval and folk, probably, and I will learn to play by ear and to improvise, damnit!</span>
Knowing that you have a passion for the harp will give motivation to release your inner musician and find your musical path to follow. As an adult, you now musically only need to answer to and please yourself. You are free to play any music you like and however you think it sounds best to you. You are now the performer, instructor, audience, and critic. And, as you get back into this and realize that your lessons and hard work made you a good harpist and musician, you will appreciate what you achieved when you were a student.
Have you thought about reading from a fake book or something similar? I enjoy the books with the melody line written out and the chords on top. 🙂
I’d say give yourself time and be easy on yourself. Maybe lay out some goals (do you want to play for fun, play at nursing homes, play in an orchestra, etc?).
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