Other instruments for harp players

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    lyn-boundy on #196770

    I have been playing the lever harp for around 6-7 years now and it’s still my favourite instrument but I sometimes wonder about trying something else where my harping experience will be an advantage.  What other (stringed) instruments would people suggest where the things I have learned will be helpful.  I have no real desire to learn the pedal harp as my roots are more in folk and pop than in classical music and I’m no singer so it needs to be something that doesn’t need a vocal accompaniment.  Any suggestions?

    wil-weten on #196771

    To my mind main idea of learning to play any musical instrument is to learn how to play music. So, when thinking of another musical instrument, the question is, which one do you love to hear? Perhaps the flute or the clarinet? These wind blown instruments are relatively easy when it comes to chromatic playing and they are very easy to transport… :-))) So, perhaps nice complemental instruments to the harp?

    Biagio on #196772

    Other than the lyre and kora , I can’t think of any stringed instrument with similar technique (and not really that similar come to think of it).  However there are several instruments that sound very nice with the harp.  Winds, as Wil suggests in particular (to my ear) recorders and flutes.  Cello or violin is always great – or consider the fairly new bowed dulcimers by Nic Hambas and Ken Bloom.

    If you want to stay in the “harpish” realm however consider the  wire, double, or cross strungs.



    randal on #196773


    Zithers of all manner around the world – have similiar design and playing technique – (kora not so much as it’s all thumbs).  My favorite is the Chinese guzheng which I feel is the world’s most expressive plucked stringed instrument.  I improvise on mine and have used it in hospice setting where its pentatonic tuning is particularly efficacious.  You can get traditional metal – strung guzheng or modern nylon – strung..  Traditionally fingerpicks are employed, but as a wire harper (and flamenco guitarist prior to that), I simply use fingernails (although I’m good either way as I’ve picked a lot with fngrpks too.. .and you do need them for some of the techne..)

    Tried to post the link but unable for some reason.  Google – “bei bei live at the psalm.”  (*edit* I guess I was able to post the link there at the top -)

    Other than strringed – instruments (which Lyn stated was the article of interest), I could make a number of additional suggestions..

    Another stringed – instrument, depending on your predilections: many of the technical elements can transfer easily to guitar.  There are many folk-related styles of gtr using minimal technical and harmonic complexity ; various tunings and simply a slide in the fingering/fingerboard hand, for example, are not complicated nor particularly technically demanding – so many of the skills in your treble/falseta hand can transfer readily…banjo, too – most of it is in the “picking” hand : folk idioms are often dance-music forms, rhythm-based, etc., so the primacy of techne is mainly in the ‘dominant’/rhythm-generating hand (as opposed to the fingerboard/fingering/harmony hand) – what is typically your treble hand on harp (but of course, not always, or necessarily – given our many diverse approaches/traditions, etc..)

    Another is hammered dulcimer : much of what you ‘know’ – mentally – can be rather directly applied.  I played harp tunes, irish/scottish trad, etc. on HD for years before getting into harping, and play pretty much the same repertoire on each.  It’s a fun instrument, particularly if you like to play percussion instruments..

    And of course piano and keyboard instruments are all similar..

    I really like to play accordians/melodeons/concertina (free reeds).  These are really fun.  Like harp, they’re wonderfully capable of solo expression with their polyphonic (and rhythmic!) capacity.  And portable!, and loud – great for entertaining.  And easier to keep in tune than a wire harp!  😉  Reeds/wind instruments are just wonderful.  I was really lucky to have learned woodwinds in elem school – just nothing like wind on a reed.. . but you don’t need a group with an accordian … it’s cheating really 😉

    But, as wil-weten mentioned – what music do you want to play?

    lyn-boundy on #196789

    Well, thank you all, there are some wonderful suggestions here.  I’ve often wondered about some or other kind of dulcimer and I’d like to find out more about those.  I’m very interested too in the guzheng, which is an instrument I’ve never heard of before, though it clearly bears some resemblance to zithers etc.  I like the idea of something I can hold in my lap to play and also that isn’t too heavy or cumbersome (due to disability).  Though I would dearly love to play the flute or clarinet I’ve never had a lot of ‘puff’ and I suspect I’m destined just to enjoy listening to those.  You’ve all given me food for thought hear and helped to direct my research so many thanks for that!


    randal on #196790

    “Guzheng…though it clearly bears some resemblance to zithers…”

    Yes, the zheng is a Chinese zither.  Many cultures have various zithers in their traditions.  You can get zithers in about any shape or size, with anywhere between just a few strings to 100+ strings, with or without combination courses, fingerboards, etc.  All manner.

    Our (USA) “mountain” or lap style dulcimer is one such zither -(deriving from trad folk instruments throughout Europe), not to be confused with the “hammered dulcimer” which is a totally different instrument (they happen to share a name, which is itself a term of little specific distinction, through colloquial means, etc., not due to any commonalities among the instruments themselves – other than strings of fixed pitch parallel to the soundboard –  … kind of like, many people think you’re referring to a harmonica when you say “harp”), yet both are zithers (another term of very general distinction).

    I’m also fond of the Scandinavian kantele and gusli (zithers) ..

    Woodwind instruments (as well as orchestral strings) require a great deal of practice – simply to attain, and maintain, basic playing proficiency.

    Biagio on #196791

    Well, wrt the “dulcimer” that name is given to two totally different instruments so to be clearer:

    The hammer dulcimer is a zither played with (as it’s name suggests) hammers.  Many consider it a forerunner to the piano. Typically 3-5 octaves (chromatic) and strung with bronze or brass; it is usually played on a table. A good one will cost from $500 up.

    The lap or mountain dulcimer today is a uniquely American instrument, although some suggest that it has a precursor in several Old World instruments, in particular the German scheitholt. Unlike the hammer dulcimer it is a modal instrument – typical open tuning would we DAD or CGC, sometimes the root is doubled in the treble. These are about $200 up for good ones, and played on your lap. You can get pretty fancy but a very traditional style is pretty simple (since it is modal).

    Very recently two excellent musicians – Nic Hambas and Ken Bloom – got the idea of adding an arched bridge to a lap dulcimer, giving it a deeper body, and playing with a violin bow.  It’s like having a pocket cello!

    If a lap dulcimer interests you I have one for sale (but that is not why I suggested it ha ha).




    charles-nix on #196792

    I wonder if both the hardest part and most transferable skill in learning to play any first instrument is reading music–especially for those instruments like harp that play many notes at once from a grand staff.

    From that perspective: what about piano or organ?  Both are widely used for folk and pop. Neither generally expect to have the player singing along.  Many technical details are similar, though you do have to learn a different fingering pattern for each major and minor key.


    Charles Nix

    Allison Stevick on #196797

    I know this probably isn’t quite what you’re asking for, but I have totally fallen in love with the sansula. You can get heavenly sounds with very little effort, so it’s really relaxing. Mine is tuned in A minor pentatonic. Anyway, it’s a fun little instrument, and I suggest it to lots of people. 🙂


    randal on #196826

    I enjoy m’bira/kalimba too.  A colleague had brought two back from Zaire that were spectacular – these were quite large, approximately 12″.  But even the small ones are wonderful – I sometimes bring one to play while on a long hike.  I always wanted a kora, but the m’bira is essentially the same thing – even playing technique is essentially the same – albeit, with different materials.

    Something else simple yet dulcet is the steel drum –

    Another small, portable (stringed) instrument I like to bring on outdoor excursions is charango – just pitched into a rucksack with the food…  i used to play a lot of mandolin, ukulele, banjo (which are also good for rustic/pastoral occasions :-).  These all can make a very nice sound without a lot of technical preparation (study, practice) as the instruments are resonant and can be tuned any which way.  But charango/ronroco, tiple, quatro…many simple Latin instruments – are particularly suited to a peripatetic style.

    lyn-boundy on #196868

    Alison and Randal – actually these are just the kind of instruments I think would suit me perfectly. I definitely like the idea of something portable.  I’ve obviously got lots of research to do!  Thank you all.

    randal on #196988


    randal on #196989


    lyn-boundy on #196990

    Wow!  Those kanteles are gorgeous.  In the end, though, I decided I wanted something portable and easy to play while lying down (I’m a chronic pain/fibromyalgia sufferer and spend quite a bit of time in that position!)  Anyway, I took the plunge and ordered a 17 note hugh Tracey kalimba which arrived a few days ago.  What a little gem!  So very intuitive and great for playing by ear and improv.  Maybe more important, though, is that it is small enough for me to take it on holidays or trips away from home (never that easy with a harp, as I’m sure we’ll all agree!)  I’m completely in love with this little beauty and have barely put it down since it arrived.  Thank you all for your suggestions, especially those that led me down this path.

    Christian Finnigan on #224459

    Other musical instruments with strings that could be the best to play with good vocals are guitars and mandolins. I always try to search some geographical and traditional musical instruments. Here, I am going to share a few of them with you:

    Sarangi: This short-necked strings based music instrument belongs to Asia and was common to play among folk singers of India, Nepal and Pakistan.


    Kemenche: This is a common name that is being used for various kind of string-based musical instruments. Here, you can read more about Kemenche https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kemenche


    Diddley bow: Yeah! how I can forget American instrument Diddley bow. It is best if you are looking to produce blue sound. Most singers prefer to manufacture it at home.

    Diddley Bow

    You didn’t ask about other instruments, but I am also a big fan of mouth harps and planning to get a new harmonica this spring. I am looking reviews here https://bestazy.com/best-harmonicas/ I know younger generation don’t know the charm of old musical instruments but these still matter if you want to make soul touching music.

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