Hello – I'm learning the harp

Posted In: Coffee Break

  • Participant
    Beginner Sarah on #191683

    Hello Everyone,

    I’ve just joined ‘Harpcolumn’! I’m a beginner harpist who has started learning to play the harp as part of an experiment in learning an instrument from scratch using only Open Education Resources (ie. free resources on the internet). The experiment is part of a university course I’m doing about teaching and learning online. I’m a clarinet and sax teacher so this is a real leap into the unknown for me.

    I’ve only been learning for three weeks but I’m already falling in love with the instrument. I can only play a few simple Christmas Carols and ‘Loch Lomond’ but I’m really enjoying learning by ear (I’m usually pretty wedded to music) and fascinated how that learning in this way gives you amazing opportunities to improvise.

    It would be really interesting to hear from other harp players who have learned using only (or predominantly) online resources. Obviously, as a clarinet and sax teacher, I’m aware of all the advantages of learning face to face but I’m realising there are some advantages in the online method too! For example, I’m finding being able to go over lessons ad nauseam is very helpful.

    I realise that some harp teachers offer lessons via skype and this is something I might explore in the future but the terms of my experiment means that I must use only free resources for the next six weeks!

    I look forward to learning from all the posts in the Harpcolumn fora.

    Best Wishes,

    Sarah

    Participant
    wil-weten on #191684

    Hi Sarah,
    You may like to have a look at Josh Layne’s ‘Harp Tuesdays’ and ‘Slow Motion Mondays’ on Youtube.

    Participant
    Beginner Sarah on #191685

    Hi wil-weten,

    I’ve been using Josh Layne’s ‘Harp Tuesdays’ but I’ve not tried the ‘Slow Motion Mondays’. Thank you for the idea – I’ll go and explore!

    Sarah

    Participant
    Sylvia on #191686

    What kind of harp do you have? How big is it, and does it have levers or pedals?

    Participant
    Beginner Sarah on #191687

    Hi Sylvia,

    I’ve got a 34 string Pilgrim Clarsach. It is a lever harp. I got it second-hand from Pilgrim. It is elderly but quite sprightly!

    Thanks for your interest.

    Sarah

    Participant
    wil-weten on #191689

    Also great: the instructional video’s of Ray Pool. You ‘ll vind them through: http://raypool.com/video.html

    Participant
    Biagio on #191693

    Sarah, that’s a wonderful experiment and I wish you good fortune. You will however discover that beyond some point personal instruction is needed. Learning good hand position, posture and technique is absolutely essential if one is to progress beyond basic tunes.

    Everyone’s hands and body are different and the harp’s playing technique does not feel “natural”. Trying to unlearn poor technique takes much longer than learning good technique in the first place. This I know from sad experience:-)

    With that discouraging statement out of the way, I’d suggest that you also join one or two other online groups, both Yahoo!: The Virtual Harp Circle, and the Harp List. The former was specifically started for beginners, the latter is much larger and has been around much longer.

    There are also several excellent books, CDs and DVDs that will let you go over lessons “ad nauseum” and while they are not of course free you might find them worth considering. Here are a few: Pamela Bruner “Play the Harp Beautifully”, Laurie Riley ” You Can Teach Yourself the Lever Harp” and “Basic Harp for Beginners”, Sylvia Woods “Teach Yourself to Play the Lever Harp”, Alfredo Ortiz “The Easy Video Harp Method Vol. 1”.

    Best wishes,
    Biagio

    Biagio

    Participant
    Tacye on #191696

    Have you found Eleri Turner’s tutorials on youtube for Telynau Teifi? There are also huge resources of older scanned music if they count, including the aptly named ‘The First Six Weeks’ by Bochsa.

    Participant
    Beginner Sarah on #191697

    Hi wil-weten,

    I’ve just checked out Ray Pool’s video – exactly the kind of thing I’m looking for.

    Thank you so much,

    Sarah

    Participant
    Beginner Sarah on #191698

    Thank you for your reply, Biagio.

    I’ll have a look at the online groups you suggest. Apart from Harp Column, I’ve also explored the Viva Harp forum run by the Associated Board in the UK but it’s good to have other options.

    I completely understand what you are saying about the importance of a teacher. As a clarinet and sax teacher, I fully appreciated what you are saying about good technique. Do you feel this advice is particularly true of the harp? I’m thinking about my husband, who is a professional electric guitarist/bassist and has never had a lesson in his life. The first (and only) guitar exam he sat was his teacher’s diploma!

    I tend to assume, as you do, that one can’t do without a teacher’s support (even if lessons are intermittent), but I can think of lots of examples of musicians who have learned independently. I’ve got so many questions about this – eg. is the harp particularly difficult without a teacher?, is it classical musicians who presume lessons are an essential? etc.

    Thank you also for the list of books – I’ve got a couple on my shelves already but further recommendations are always useful. Of course, I’m forcing myself NOT to look at them until the period the experiment is complete.

    Thanks again for all your help,

    Sarah

    Participant
    Beginner Sarah on #191699

    Hello Tayce,

    Thank you for directing me to ‘The First Six Weeks’. It definitely counts as an OER! I’ll explore IMSLP further…

    I had come across Eleri Turner’s tutorials but haven’t used them yet. So far, I’ve used Harp Tuesday and I’ve had a look at Chris Caswell’s tutorials on Youtube but I haven’t actually used them yet.

    Thank you,

    Sarah

    Participant
    Biagio on #191700

    Hi Sarah,

    In answer to your questions – yes, I do think that a person needs some guidance for the harp more than many other instruments, and no I don’t think that it is mainly classical musicians who would say this. My teacher is a very well known multi instrument musician and had been playing professionally for 20 years before she took up the lever harp. She often relates how she hit a brick wall when she wanted to go beyond simple tunes.

    Laurie, of course, wished to play harp professionally, so it was important to her to develop her technique beyond what she could teach herself. Others may not have that objective in mind. Another friend played classical guitar “pre-harp” and relates the same story.

    I started to learn the harp after almost ten years of designing and building stringed instruments. I thought harp would be easy – boy was I wrong. One must also ask, what kind of harp? I make and play three: lever harp, wire strung harp and double strung. Watching beginning lessons on a concert harp could get me started on all of those, but not much further. I had to unlearn a number of ingrained habits after a few years:-(

    I can think of many fine musicians who are self taught on a number of instruments (including violin and guitar) but I can only think of one on the harp.

    But please don’t let this view that discourage your endeavor! By all means, study what you can find online and if you are an exception, that will be terrific. I certainly don’t want to throw cold water on anyone who wants to play this wonderful instrument!

    Best wishes,
    Biagio

    Participant
    carl-swanson on #191702

    If I may, I’d like to tell you, from a teacher’s standpoint, why it is so important to work with a teacher from the beginning. First, Biagio is right: unlearning bad habits is so much more time consuming than learning the right ones in the first place.

    But what constitutes “good” and “bad” technique? I always tell students, and I say this again in my Bochsa Revisited publication, that in the early stages of learning an instrument, when the melodies are simple and slow, you can get away with murder as far as technique is concerned. Your hands can roll all over the place, your fingers can move in odd and inconsistent ways, your hands and arms can reposition in a different way for each finger you use, and because the music is so slow, there is time to recover and continue on. But as the music becomes faster and more difficult, there simply is no time for inefficient movement. Without a stable and consistent way of using the fingers, hands, and arms, progression into more difficult pieces becomes impossible. At that point, the player either gives up the instrument, or looks for a teacher to help. And the first task of the teacher is to take inventory of what the student is doing and spend months changing bad technique into good.

    I personally don’t see how it is possible to teach a lesson over Skype. I need to see the student’s hands from different angles, and need to be able to touch the student’s fingers, hands, or arms as needed to make corrections. I also need to be able to sit at the harp to demonstrate a point for the student, and the student needs to see that from different angles. In addition, a Skype lesson means you are hearing a recording of the sound, not the sound the student is making. So how do you work on sound production when you are not hearing what the student is actually doing? How can you hear the variations in sound production, or a weak finger, by listening to a recorded sound?

    So the takeaway here is: get a teacher as soon as possible!

    Participant
    Biagio on #191703

    I forgot – oops. This is not only a fascinating documentary but also has a lot of good video on a large variety of harps, from ancient to very modern. Hope it is helpful!

    Biagio

    Participant
    Biagio on #191704

    I’ll buy that about Skype Carl! Studying (for about a year) with Laurie via Skype was certainly better than winging it, but in person lessons accelerated progression enormously.

    Skype lessons were good for such things as posture, placement, and raises but technique did not really get better until we could sit down side by side.

    I think this all depends somewhat on the student’s objectives and the kind of harp as well. I don’t use the same technique on my high tension harps as on the lighter tension double and of course wire is very different! Nor do I want to be a performer, but all the same Skype was not cutting the mustard:-)

    I’ve been an auto-didact in many things and when my first teacher passed away after only a few months I studied assiduously from products by Woods, Bruner, Riley, Grossi, Kondonassis, and Friou. So I’d like to think that my technique was not completely rotten once I finally moved to where lessons were again possible.

    Nevertheless, it took about a year of working with Laurie, going to retreats and workshops, etc. before the kinks alone were mostly worked out.

    Plucking along,
    Biago

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