Looking for support on adult learning and on buying a harp

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    Prajna on #191020

    Hello everyone,

    I am 37 years old and finally taking the steps to start learning the harp. I’ve thought of it for so long now, and am excited at this new adventure.

    I’m also a little nervous about it. I have never had any musical training, and I keep reading online that it is possible to start learning it later in life, but not as easy, especially if one can’t read music.
    It seems to me that most people started learning when they were children, and knew other instruments before.
    This is all making me nervous, and worried that after investing money on classes, and rentals, etc, it is something that is just too hard for a non musical adult.

    Is there anyone here that started playing in similar situations as mine?

    Or for the very experiences harpists/teachers, could you shed some light on this for me?

    My second question is about which harp to pick. I know this is probably a personal choice, but I thought I’d ask for some advice.

    I am lucky enough to live very close to a harp showroom. They will have some harps for me to see and listen to: Troubadour VI, Ogden, Ravenna, and two more expensive ones: Prelude and FH36.
    I will probably stay away from the more expensive ones, in case I want to buy it in the future, so it leaves me with the Troubadour, Ogden and Ravenna.

    I love the idea of having a Troubadour, as Loreena Mckennitt plays one, and she is my main inspiration in many levels, and huge reason why I’m taking up the harp.

    Could you all shed some light on these three harps for me. I am so new to this that I don’t even know what questions to ask!! 🙂

    Thank you very much!!


    wil-weten on #191021

    Hi Prajna, don’t worry about your age. Some people take up the harp in their eighties and have a great time with it! So, when your ambition is to play nice harp music for yourself and/or your local community, I think learning to play the harp is a great idea!

    What kind of music do you like? When you love classical music, you may prefer another kind of lever harp, then when you love Irish music. Or perhaps you are looking for a harp which is more or less suitable for all kinds of music.

    Some harpshops sell well revised second hand harps with a guarantee. These may be interesting to you.

    How great that you live in the neighbourhood of a great harp showroom. In your case, I would make an appointment and tell you are brand new to the harp. Then in the shop, you let the shop assistant play for you. And you go and sit behind the harp and do some simple exercises. This helps you to get an idea of the ‘feel’ of the harp. Some harps may ‘feel’ nicer to you than others.

    When you think you know what you want, ask a harp teacher to come with you and help you to select the harp that fits you best. Yes, if you do want to play a harp, it really is best to choose for learning the harp from a harp teacher.

    patricia-jaeger on #191022

    Hello, Prajna. As an adult beginner on harp myself, after many years’ study since before age four on another instrument, I would suggest first renting an instrument rather than buying. Those three models you mention are very good and well made; just try each for size, portability, and the sound you prefer made by each, when played by a competent harp player at the showroom. Then, supplement any weekly lesson with music theory for the harp,teaching the signs and symbols of music so that you can navigate the printed pages of music and you will progress faster. Decide whether you prefer folk or classical music or another genre and let your teacher know. It can also enhance your learning curve by first having several months of lessons at a piano or keyboard as most harp players need that knowledge of the black and white keys on those instruments built in half-steps before proceeding to harps with strings placed evenly apart and so any half-steps are “invisible” to the eye. Plan on slow, careful work with almost daily practice between lessons. Your passion for learning harp is admirable and I hope it will be well rewarded, after giving up some other pursuits to make the time in your life to make beautiful music with harp.

    Prajna on #191023

    Hi will-weten. Thank you for writing!

    I do just want to learn it for myself and maybe to bring it to the community. I am a healer, and would like to possibly incorporate it into hospital work in the future.

    I think I am looking for a harp that could take me to both classical and celtic. I love celtic music very much, but would also like to be able to play more classical songs. If I were to pick two songs I would like to learn first, they would be Dante’s Prayer by Loreena Mckennitt and also Greensleeves.

    I contacted a teacher and she will be going with me to my appt at the showroom on Monday.

    She was the one that suggested I asked to see the ogden, the Ravenna, the prelude and I want to see the Troubadour. If you know any of those harps, which ones would you say are more versatile for both classical and celtic? I’m trying to have as much information as I can before Monday, so I am not super overwhelmed. But I am also looking forward to hearing them and seeing how they feel to me.

    Thank you again very much!

    Prajna on #191024

    Hi Patricia,

    Thank you for writing and for your suggestions.

    I will definitely rent the harp first. The showroom has a rent to own program, but the rental money is only applied to that very harp that one rents, so hopefully I’ll pick one that I like, so that when I am ready and able to buy it, that money can count towards it.

    Thank you for suggesting studying music theory for harp in between lessons. I will search for material on that.
    I truly have no idea what my preferred style of music is. I love celtic, but I don’t want to stay just with that, and would like to learn more classical pieces as well.

    It’s exciting to feel this becoming more of a reality. I think I always felt that playing the harp was this unattainable feat, only for some chosen few. To see that it can also become a part of my life is very exciting.

    And I was happy to hear that you started learning as an adult as well. It makes it feel more real.

    And thank you for mentioning the slow, constant practice. And for also mentioning making space for it with other things in my life. It’s important to remember that, so that it doesn’t get lost in between other commitments.

    Thank you.

    wil-weten on #191025

    As to a real nice book to learn ‘everything’ from the very beginning: have a look at Pamela Bruner’s series Play the Harp Beautifully 1-3: http://pamelabrunermusic.com/harp_books.php

    Biagio on #191026

    Hi Prajna,

    I’d have to say that the Troubadour is better for both classical and “celtic”; on the other hand, if you intend to take the harp with you a lot, especially in hospital situations, go for the lighter and less expensive Ravenna. Nothing wrong with the Ogden, but it sort of bridges the gap between the other two: lighter tension than the Troub, more expensive than the Ravenna.


    carl-swanson on #191027

    Patricia- That is absolutely stellar advice. I wish everyone starting the harp would follow it. To anyone who is thinking of starting the harp at whatever age, I say: Find the teacher first and have a long talk with him/her about what you want to do, what you should get for an instrument, and then rent for a while to see if everything is going to work out as you had hoped.

    duckspeaks on #191029

    Dear Prajna,

    Welcome. I started in the tender young age of 50. Yes reality is what you make it. I had been mugging around with music though. I started with the self assuring step of commitment (buying) but trust me ones taste changes once U got started. Renting does NOT mean U are less committed, just that U approach it with agility! Experiencing different instruments, even diff copies of the same model is good. Renting is a good way to start….. from a guy who started by buying!

    I hope you will enjoy the wonderful journey!

    Prajna on #191030

    Hi Biago. Thank you for the input on the different models. I know I’ll want to see how they all feel, listen to what the teacher has to say, etc… but it is great to have some more information on the different harps before I go, so that it is less overwhelming.

    Hi duckspeaks. How great to hear from another person that starter later in life! This really gives me more enthusiasm. I will definitely rent first. So thank you for the reassurance on that, even though you bought yours right away.

    I am excited about this journey.

    As far as lessons go, what would you all recommend? Is once a week the best option, and necessary? Or would once every two weeks be enough? I am sure this depends on the student, skills, etc… It’s just a lot to try and wrap my head around financially. I would like to find a balance on doing what I can afford, but also the best for my growing with the instrument.

    will-weten: Thank you for the book recommendation. I will look at it next week once I am set with the harp and teacher arrangements. Thank you.

    Thank you all for your time and information!

    Anonymous on #191031

    Hi Prajna,

    I just wanted to let you know that I too started much later in life, in playing the harp. And I didn’t read music. I previously learned music by ear. But today I do read music, because of the harp. I still keep up playing by ear, for ear training 😀. And it’s wonderful. It’s not as difficult as you think. Loreena McKennitt is totally awesome. She has sheet music for most of her songs, and are mostly written for the harp. I have a few and are looking to get more. She has them available on her website. Your going to enjoy playing the harp, it’s the best ever!!!😀😉😄 Welcome to the harp world.

    Angela Biggs on #191032

    Hi Prajna,

    I teach adult novices, and I would say that a weekly lesson is necessary in the beginning. Of course there are variables such as motivation and background, but you might be surprised how much can go wrong with your understanding and usage in six days when you’re just starting out. And if things get too jumbled between lessons, you then have to unlearn the wrong stuff at your next lesson before you can move forward again. Talk to your teacher about your financial concerns. It won’t be anything new to him, and he’ll have strategies for addressing it — perhaps his students usually need to see him weekly for six months, and then they’re okay to move to bi-weekly lessons. Bi-weekly means you’ll have to adjust your expectations, though; you’ll progress slower than half-speed. It is a rare person who can keep himself motivated every day with a consistent two-week deadline!

    As a person who taught herself to play harp from books, I can say that without guidance I missed steps along the way, so I ran into a wall, which led to burnout. A good teacher is WORTH IT. Work the cost of lessons into what you’re willing to spend on the harp. If you have a teacher available to you in any kind of reasonable way, but the expense of a particular harp means you can’t afford the lessons, then I’d go so far as to say you can’t afford that particular harp.

    Since you’re an adult beginner with no music experience, the very basics of harp plus music theory will take you anywhere from 8 months to 2 years. You’re on the younger side, so depending on your motivation and how packed your life is, maybe the shorter end of that. During that time you can absolutely get away with a Harpsicle, and you can often find those used or with coupons at someplace like musiciansfriend.com or music123.com (those places seem to have the same stock, but their coupons vary). If the cheapest of playable harps is what it takes to be able to afford a teacher, then go with it. You can sell and upgrade later.

    I hope you’re having fun with this process! Please let us know when you pick a harp!

    Alyson Webber on #191033

    I started when I was 33, and have been playing for 3 years now. I do have considerable music background, but I played a wind instrument, so the mechanics were way different.

    I think the benefit for starting later in life is it is YOUR choice how much time or money you want to spend on your new hobby(/obsession). You aren’t influenced by what your parents (who would be paying for your childhood lessons) want. Also, we have the benefit of knowing how to learn, and knowing our bodies. Sure, we may be a little slower, we may have to spend a little more time memorizing, but we are doing it for all the right reasons.

    As for the harp selection, as long as you get one that sounds nice to you, I wouldn’t worry about it being your “forever harp.” Any of those models will have a great resale value. Once you know yourself and the kind of music and the kind of portability you want, you can sell it and get the one that fits you best.

    Prajna on #191041

    Wow, I am so grateful for all of you that have taken the time to write to me, and be of such support. It really is wonderful to feel it, and receive it. Thank you.

    Angela, thank you so much for your suggestions, and also explanation of your experience with adult learners. Hearing how much time you see it taking people to learn the theory really helped, as it puts things more into perspective for me.
    And also learning about the spacing in between classes, commitment, being careful with not acquiring bad habits, etc. This is so very helpful. Thank you for taking the time to write.

    Elizabeth, thank you for the welcome! It’s great to see other adult learners finding their way too. Although it sounds like you have a natural gift for music, with learning it by ear!
    And so great that you also love LM, and have learned some of her music. I would love to learn Dante’s Prayer as my first full piece. I’m hoping they have that set for harp on their music sheets!

    Alyson, your observations about people doing it at their pace, and for the right reasons, when they start as adults, is wonderful! Thank you. This actually made me smile. I am going to look at it this way from now on…

    Thank you all for being so supportive and welcoming. I’ve been feeling very alone with this process, since I don’t know anyone in my life that plays the harp, and have actually been feeling shy to share it with anyone, especially since it is an expensive commitment. So receiving this support ere has been wonderful.

    I am truly enjoying this process more and more. I have an appointment on Monday afternoon to pick a harp to rent. That is when I’ll be meeting my teacher for the first time too. I’m excited!!

    Biagio on #191042

    Just to add to the chorus…..

    Some things a motivated person can learn on their own such as notation and music theory, but putting that knowledge into use is an entirely different issue. The harp is seductive in that you can make pretty sounds from the first without any formal training but I could not go much beyond that with the best of motivation and self-teaching material.

    I actually got into harping around age 55 after some years making stringed instruments (but not playing any of them!). So I did have a pretty good grounding in some theory. Finally decided I’d better learn and the harp seduced me.

    My first teacher passed away after the first year and I was self-teaching for the next three. Plugging along, until moving and starting weekly lessons – boy were there a lot of habits that needed correcting: starting with posture for goodness’ sakes. After a year or so I went to bi-weekly lessons (supplemented with workshops and harp circles). Only now after three years of that have I gone back to solo and only for two reasons:

    1) I want to work on areas that don’t benefit all that much from regular lessons – improvisation, ear training, some unusual techniques

    2) Have “graduated” to the wire strung harp, which has it’s own peculiarities, many of which are not amenable to gut/nylon playing methods.

    At the now tender age of 65 I have no interest in becoming a great performer or even a particularly adequate one. Never the less I’ll be taking lessons again soon enough:-)


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