Harp Healing for Depression

Posted In: Amateur Harpists

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    susan-b on #156448

    I’m a writer who suffers from seasonal depression, and I’m considering learning how to play the harp to “cure” myself. For the last few years I have tried using a zither (an Autoharp without chords). It’s extraordinarily soothing, and I’ve been noodling music with my right hand, but now I’m thinking I want to play songs as well. I place the zither on my heart and the top rests against my head. I think part of the “healing” is due to the vibration. But, I also love the sound.

    My first effort towards my goal (last year) was to buy a very cheap lap harp, but I could never find the right position for it, and the sound wasn’t satisfying (I have a very good ear). Conceptually, I’m hoping that if I had a bigger and better harp, it might work for me.

    FYI…I’ve done a lot of research. I’ve skimmed Christina Tourin’s book, seen a video on what Dr. Ken Price is doing with people who have multiple sclerosis, read two of Laurie Riley’s books and tried a few of her songs (I can sort of play the melody on my quasi-zither), and have seen the use of the harp in hospitals and hospices etc. I’ve read about music therapy, and vibroacoustical therapy. Quite honestly, much of what I’ve read is too new-age for me.

    My questions: Does anyone have any inspirational stories or thoughts to share? What size harp might I need? (I”m 5’6″)? Should I look for a harp with levers? Does my goal seem realistic? In advance of your responses, thank you.

    jennifer-buehler on #156449

    I would recommend finding a teacher and he or she can help guide you to the harp that is right for you or even have one to rent until you can find one.

    My harp came to me at a time when we were testing my son for behavior problems (later diagnosed with autism), my kids kept passing around the crud, my in-laws were dealing with serious medical issues, my husband was working a stressful second job

    mary-savard on #156450

    Hi Susan:

    sherry-lenox on #156451

    My mother was a feisty independent powerhouse until she was almost ninety, when two weeks after 9-11, she fell and broke her hip.

    At the same time, I was working a hard, unpleasant, unforgiving job and had lost a social and spiritual connection that I valued deeply.

    Practically overnight, my life was upended by my Mother’s injury, and this was the beginning of a five year stretch of nursing homes, paperwork, a new job, physical problems caused by seemingly endless stress, and fatigue, fatigue, and more fatigue.

    Toward the end of her long life I had started to look for some simple tricks to soothe my mother as the dementia caused her to become more and more restless and anxious. I had always been fascinated by the use of music therapy and its scientifically researched outcomes, and while reading about music topics, I ran across the use of live music to increase
    the comfort level of bed borne seniors.

    I immediately began my search for information about harps as a conduit to
    better health, and almost as soon as I began, I was able to connect with a
    dynamic teacher and start the search for a harp.

    My mother passed away peacefully before my first lesson, but I quickly realized that the harp was an immediate spirits lifter for me.

    As Jennifer said, I was also probably depressed. With everything that was whirling around i didn’t ha e time to think about that. Playing the harp allows you to turn off the depressed part of your thoughts, if only for a moment or two, but after while you begin to find that you’re able to go to
    your harping zone more and more, while you play and when you have a minute or two to be thinking about number of strings, styles of harp music,
    Practice time, etc. Etc. Etc……….

    I don’t jump for some of the aspects of playing that I too think of as “new age”, but there’s so much about harps there’s something that will pluck the strings of every heart, believe me! If you are anywhere near any of the harp stores on the advertiser’s list, go and see their harps. If possible, rent a harp with at least 30 strings and ,levers. Look for a teacher. It’s all part of the experience.

    To begin, let your goal be enjoying what you do and seeing where it takes you. Although I have hit a bump or two along the way, I get more and more excited about what i’m doing after four and a half years, and I won’t stop playing until someone has to pry my gnarled hands off the strings.

    Of course you’ll play songs!

    My mother

    susan-b on #156452

    Dear Jennifer,
    I can’t even imagine how difficult your life must have been at that time, and I really appreciate your willingness to share. If the harp lifted you “out of yourself” during a period of so much stress, then I feel confident it should help me as well.

    susan-b on #156453

    Dear Sherry,

    All great advice. I actually took up the Autoharp when my mother went into an assisted living facility because she had fallen and also had dementia. I played there once a week for the entire time she was there. And, when she was dying, I played in her room. It was this extraordinary gift to be able to share with her.

    But, oddly enough, the Autoharp (perhaps because of the chords) doesn’t affect me personally the same way the harp does, and I can’t play it when I’m down.

    Anyway, good advice about harp rental, and there is a place not so far away that rents harps. Also, it sounds like having a teacher is important. I’m self-taught on some other instruments, but I can see the value.

    I’m glad you’ll still loving your harp after more than four years, and I like the visual image of being old and fighting to keep your harp:-.

    susan-b on #156454

    Dear Mary,

    Thanks for mentioning it. Actually, I’ve researched it as well. And, that was my inspiration to convert an Autoharp into a zither. I didn’t use the pentatonic scale, but it’s still a lovely sound. However, I saw the YouTube video about the Reverie Harp, and also spent a long time on Musicmaker’s site. Great minds think alike! And, thanks for your encouragement!


    deb-l on #156455

    hi Susan, I also found some of the info too new-agey for me, but whenever there is a major stressor or heartbreak in my life I need a harp.

    susan-b on #156456

    Dear Deb,
    It seems like we have a lot in common. Whenever I buy a new instrument, I always rent at least a few different ones until I find the one I like. But renting 8 harps truly makes me smile.

    I’m glad to hear that you’re picky about tone. It makes me feel better. Since I know very little about harps, I haven’t yet thought about the strings and the tension…but it’s something I’ll keep in mind. FYI…My Autoharp has steel strings, and yet I find it very soothing. And, the tension is fairly tight. I play it for seniors, and they, too, like the bright sound! While I realize it’s a completely different instrument, your post has given me a lot to think about. Thanks so much!

    P.S. I had to laugh about your reconciling your choice of gut with being a vegan! Love your sense of humor!

    jane on #156457

    Hi, Susan~welcome to harplust 🙂

    I have pretty chronic depression, which I’m taking meds and occasionally seeing a shrink for, and I started taking harp lessons a little over two years ago. At the time I wasn’t thinking of it as therapy–just getting old, and I already have a sports car :)–but I noticed that practicing for more than 30 minutes or so seemed to make me feel better. Since then I’ve read some

    susan-b on #156458

    Dear Jane,
    Thanks so much for writing. I’ve experienced much of what you’ve written about in terms of repetitive hand motions. Although, I must admit that the harp hasn’t worked out for me, I’m back to my Autoharp, and it’s doing the same stuff. It’s much easier for me to play, and since I enjoy performing for seniors, it’s just a better instrument for me. However, you’re right about practicing. When I’m feeling blue, practicing is what makes me feel better! Weeding also works!

    Again, thanks!


    jessica-wolff on #156459

    For me, it doesn’t have to be the harp–guitar and banjo will do it as well. Even–you’ll think this is crazy–listening to someone else play blues will take me out of the blues.

    susan-b on #156460

    Dear Jessica,

    Sorry it took me so long to respond. Thanks for writing. I don’t think that any type of healing is “crazy.” If it works for you, then that’s great!


    Saul Davis Zlatkovski on #156461

    I don’t think the harp will have a great effect compared to taking vitamin D. It will be soothing, comforting and give you something interesting to do, all of which are good, but the only things I know of that affect SAD are bright light and vitamin D.

    susan-b on #156462


    Thanks for writing. Actually, I’ve tried Vitamin D and everything else. While I’m back to my Autoharp (which I’ve doctored so that there are no chords, and no sharps and flats), actually, strumming individual strings and plucking is very comforting for me, and can switch my mood faster than anything else!


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