Posted In: Amateur Harpists

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    Anonymous on #156601

    Hello, I’m new to these forums (my name’s Ben, I’m 20 years-old, it’s nice to meet you), and also fairly new to the harp, though I played a little bit of piano as a kid as well. I’ve been playing harp for about 10 months now. Anyway, I’d like to start developing my improvisational skills, because I think it would be really fun, and also a handy trick to be able to pull out when people are like, “Play for me, play for me!” 😛

    Does anybody have suggestions on how to begin learning to improvise?

    rod-c on #156602

    Hi Ben:


    michael-rockowitz on #156603

    Welcome to this group.

    Angela Biggs on #156604

    Hi Ben,

    I just want to add two cents: whether they are composed on the fly or on paper, two useful techniques in both melody and harmony are repetition and sequence. In the harmony, this might mean setting up a left-hand pattern and using it for all or most of the chords in a section. In the melody, the judicious use of repetition and sequencing of motives helps to a create a line that is more comfortable for the listener, and easier to make up as you go along.

    I play harp in a part of the world where apparently nobody cares to hear it; even charities won’t let me play for free! But when I’m visiting family, I find it easiest to respond to the “play for me” request with a short memorized piece that I know cold. It takes some of the pressure off. Music composed for harp therapy is very good for this – short, sweet-sounding, and easy to remember.

    kay-lister on #156605

    OH MY Angela

    tony-morosco on #156606

    Some excellent information already.

    To add some:

    Learn some music theory. Ultimately to improvise means to play a melody you make up off the top of your head over the chord progression of the piece you are playing. Your melody notes have to harmonize with the chords, and you

    onita-sanders on #156607


    The very best information about this subject that I received, esp. since you have a piano background, is to train with a jazz pianist who can guide you without the use of the harp to understand how to take you through the basics when it come to this subject. Then I would listen, listen, listen to jazz guitarist and other instrumentalist and adapt what you are learning and where you are technique wise to the harp.

    I would also listen to harpists who specialize in this through cds or youtube,etc. so you can get a feel of what is out there in relationship to what you are trying to accomplish. All the above information is great but it can be very,very overwhelming when you are working with a new instrument and new concepts.

    Onita Sanders

    Anonymous on #156608

    Thanks, everyone, for the great answers! Now I know where to start.

    Someone mentioned that I didn’t say what kind of harp I play – right now I’m on a 26-string lever harp, but I’m hopefully moving up to 36 strings soon; my teacher is letting me try one of her old Troubadours (III) out, and if I like it, she said that I can buy it from her.

    Angela Biggs on #156609

    Claremont, NH. I know. I’m floored every time! They either refuse the service without hearing me (so I know it’s not my playing!) or just never call me back. It’s done such things to my confidence and willingness to play that my husband has started talking about acting as a manager for me, like Troy does for Sara Groves. 🙂

    But there is very, very little music here in general. People actually get married to the sound of CDs on a boom-box, and they are buried in silence. It’s extremely sad. . .

    roger-day on #156610

    People tend to like familiar melodies, but a bit of improvising between songs can be helpful, even between verses of a song. I think that the music of Debussy is helpful in that area, because his music tended change continously.

    niina on #156611

    Hi Ben
    There has been some very good advice in response to your question. I would particularly agree with advice about talking to Jazz musicians. The Jazz musicians at my school are really impressive when they improvise.
    As regard to Harps, I think the best improvisers are Paraguayan Harpists.
    Have a look at this video of Martin Portillo and Marcelo Rojas (both of whom I intend to study with for six months in 2013).
    I know there are some on Harpcolumn, perhaps they can give you some advice.

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