Learning piano before harp

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    Pathsharasakon Po

    In your experience, in teaching young students (8-12 years of age).

    How important is it for students to learn piano before learning harp? Are there adventages to begining with harp?


    Well, if you’re asking about the advantages and disadvantages of starting one before the other, assuming you’ll play both, heres what I’ve seen.

    Many people complain that when learning crossing under in piano first, it carries over into harp, where when learning crossing over on the harp first, it doesn’t seem to cross over.

    Piano first will give a firmer sense of music theory (keys, chord structure, modulation, etc.) because of the presence of the black keys. Of course, the student still has to be taught these things, but its easier on piano. That’s why they use a piano in music theory courses and not a harp!

    Piano might help give the hand an overall benefit by strengthening the outer side of the hand.

    Personally, I began piano after nearly 7 years of harp. No technique problems (except occasionally my fingers would close into my palm) and exceptional progress. Learning the pinky isnt hard, in my opinion.



    I am a new harpist, but I’ve played the piano and taught for 40 years. The theory and note reading was easier for me having learned piano first, but the hand position and small muscle skills needed for harp vs. piano is much different. A year of daily Salzedo exercises helped tremendously!

    I donated my piano a few years ago, so I don’t switch back and forth between the two instruments.

    I really think that starting with just the harp is fine, although maybe a group piano lesson or a theory class later would help if the student is serious.



    If I had had to learn the piano first, I would have been permanently discouraged. I just plain don’t like the piano.


    I played the piano for 9 years before starting to learn the harp.

    Jessica A

    I agree with Jessica.


    I don’t think it is necessary at all to learn piano before harp. I know many harpists who don’t play piano at all.

    That said I think there are advantages to playing the piano either before or along with virtually any instrument. The main thing being that piano visually presents the relationships between notes and playing piano makes learning music theory much easier because of that, and I am a strong advocate of learning at least basic music theory for any musician.

    Katharine Conrad

    I honestly think it depends on the student.

    Stephen Conor

    From what my previous piano teaching service, they somehow recommend to learn piano first before harp or any string instrument. So I did take piano lessons first then had harp lessons.


    When learning any musical instrument, the teacher has to teach, and the student has to learn, two different things. 1) They have to learn to play the instrument. 2) they have to learn to read music. Many harp teachers really prefer students who have had some piano before starting harp so that they don’t have to teach the music theory and teach the student to read music. I don’t think too much of the hand coordination and muscle skills learned on piano carry over to harp. So if you want to study harp, then study harp. And help yourself and your teacher by taking a theory course or theory lessons with someone else so that your harp teacher can spend the whole lesson teaching you to play the instrument.

    Elizabeth L

    That’s why they use a piano in music theory courses and not a harp!


    Pianos may be more common, but honestly, even in books on music theory they almost always use the piano keyboard to demonstrate the relationships of the notes.


    I think the ideal is to begin with harp. Piano thinking is different. Piano playing is different. Some people cannot fully adopt harp playing and rid themselves of the piano playing. Some are too tight from too much muscle development of the wrong kind.


    I also think it is ideal to begin with harp. For the absolute beginner the harp can have an advantage of starting with the focused concept of playing with finger 2 alone to establish the open-close motion of the hand while learning to read notes and count rhythms. Pianists always start with five-finger patterns and so they have two sets of numbers, fingers and rhythms, which can cause confusion especially for young children. Starting with harp is a wonderful opportunity to clearly establish rhythm and counting right from the start.

    The role of the wrist is different, and so it takes more effort to stabilize the wrists on young harpists who have started on piano. It’s doable, but requires special attention or the wrist will curve out at times, and they will tend to release using the pianistic technique of leading with the wrist.The muscle development on harp is also different from piano and requires more control each individual joint in the hand.

    Another big issue is how the fingers are wired. On piano opposite fingers play together at the octave and their many, many five-finger exercises establish this strong-to-weak finger relationship. On the harp the fingers play in parallel. That reversal of fingering in the right hand can be disorienting for some beginners and is a fundamental difference. At some point this creates an issue that has to be reckoned with.

    The registers on the two instruments behave quite differently especially the low register. It takes constant effort for beginners to not overplay the left hand on the piano, and constant effort to bring it out clearly and cleanly on the harp.


    Just for a different perspective, I’ll add that from experience I can see a couple of reasons pianists could benefit from beginning on the harp, although it makes most sense to me to just start on the instrument you actually want to play. But for argument’s sake – it takes notable effort to get young pianist hands stabilized into their curved position and not collapsing outward onto fingers 4 and 5. They don’t have the musculature early on to maintain curved fingers. Finger 4 is strengthened quite nicely in harp technique along with every individual joint. Also the resonance of the harp directly into the body creates more natural awareness of tone for young children.

    I read through the thread and the comments on the benefits of the keyboard for music theory is something that does apply to the requirements of majoring in music. I do think that conceptually learning the layout of the keyboard is fairly direct for people with experience in music. The main pitfall is the requirement to play piano scales two octaves hand together for piano proficiency. That requires more than one semester of piano to accomplish, so if that is the goal it is important to get started before college, but not before harp. 🙂

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