Practicing without a harp

Posted In: How To Play

  • Participant
    GlissBliss on #196872

    Hello! Beginner player here with collectively 6 months to a year of lazy practice under my belt. I’m very slow to read music, but I’m handling that with an iPhone app that quizzes me like flash cards. I would say the thing that slows my progress with new pieces is getting my hands to do what I want them to do. Rather, converting what I see on paper to how to place my hands. I take it measure by measure and eventually get it, but I never feel like the process is becoming more intuitive. I’m in a position where I won’t be able to purchase or rent a harp for about 6 months. Do you have any suggestions on how I can keep improving in the meantime? I’m considering buying a keyboard so I can keep learning music and keep the old stuff in my brain. Will this cause muscle memory confusion down the road or will it translate fine to the harp?

    Elizabeth Volpé Bligh on #196874

    If you will not have a harp to practise on for six months, it will be almost impossible to keep improving. You can try to visualize, but there will be no way to build muscle memory. Is there any way you can rent even a very small harp? Practising your music on a keyboard would at least get the notes in your ears. A lot of people play multiple instruments and they don’t get confused. Best of luck!

    Gretchen Cover on #196876

    Are you planning to take harp lessons (I hope you are because most people do not do very well self-taught)?  You could look around for a harp instructor and perhaps rent a harp while you wait to get one.  You could also consider Skype lessons although it is preferable to have an instructor by your side. I think using a keyboard would be very helpful. The more about notes, clefs, time signatures,  etc. you can learn now makes playing any instrument easier.

    If harp lessons and buying a harp are not affordable or a harp instructor is not available, you make want to consider taking piano lessons for a year and then start playing harp.  I started with piano, and I think it helped. By the time I moved to harp I could concentrate just on technique.

    GlissBliss on #196877

    Thank you both for your responses. I won’t be able to have a harp due to my job. I fully intend to purchase a harp and find a teacher when I’m settled in 6 months.


    Do either of you find it tedious to learn new music? Will I ever get better at this? It just seems like I don’t digest the music as quickly as I should.

    Alison on #196878

    One of my pupils needs an APP like that and her father found some, but how do we make it relevant to the harp and correctly locating and moving hands to the correct location, her reading has improved but she is often out by an octave and I can’t seem to quash that.  It means she can’t really develop a piece on her own. What APP in particular ?

    Gretchen Cover on #196879

    Finding it “tedious” to learn new music:  If you love what you are doing,  it is not tedious.  Frustrating at times. Yes.  The more you practice and play, the better you get. The better you get, the easier it becomes to learn new music. I cannot emphasize enough how important developing good technique from the start will help you in your overall music development.  Also, when you start to play, learn a very simple piece(s) you can play for others. Add a few glissandos for effect.  Instant gratification is a good motivator and will give you confidence.

    Meantime, go to Sylvia Woods harp website and read her newsletter about music apps. You should continue to work on note reading and look at rhythm apps.  Learn what the notes mean.  This will save you months of lessons to learn the music basics.  Watch tutorials on youtube, too.  You may want to set aside a certain block of time to do this. Then when you get your harp, you already have a set practice time.

    Walden on #200133

    I am a novice harpist, taking weekly 1 hour lessons for 5 months now.

    Knowing what I know now, if I were in your situation where I would be stripped access for an extended period. One of many things I would do to continue to improve would be to follow the finger independence and fitness techniques developed by Greg Irwin.

    The following link has a 1 minute performance and all of his exercises. He is not the coolest cat, but his teachings will help your finger independence, strength, endurance. Still there is no substitute for a real harp.

    I am no pro but I think any harpist could benefit from these exercises, especially if they wish to get better while they do not have access to an instrument. While traveling, at work, or watching TV.

    Best wishes

    Walden on #200134

    In addition to the finger fitness I would recommend 3 other ways to to improve.

    1) like previously mentioned get a digital keyboard (~$90) and one of the many basic musicianship/theory books/workbooks available. Your ear training and music reading app will help in this area too.

    2) practice reading and sight reading music. It’s not a fun with out the pitches there, but just look at a lot of sheet music and read the note names ALOUD, if you do this a lot reading music will be easier once you regain access to an instrument.

    3) listen to a lot of music. Figure out what songs you want to learn how to play, listen to them repeatedly, so the tempo, volume, accents, notes, and rhythm become ingrained in your head, that way it will be easier to reproduce and recall, once you regain acess to a harp.

    Hope that helps

    carl-swanson on #200143

    Dearest GlissBliss,

    What you are describing is exactly what all beginner harpists go through. You are having the problems you describe because you have no muscle memory for the various patterns that come up in even the simplest pieces of music. The result is that you have to hunt for every note you play, and you have to do it each time you play the same piece.

    The answer is to play exercises and etudes that will repeat patterns enough times to form muscle memory patterns that are the basis of technique. Go to the 30 day challenge and go down to Day 2. There is a reference to an article I wrote for the Harp Column in 2008 about using etudes to build technique. It appears on page 36 of that magazine.  Read that article. It will explain everything you are dealing with. I would suggest, when you do get a harp and start learning the instrument, that you use LaRivierre, which is primarily exercises, and my Bochsa Revisited, published by Carl Fischer Music. The two of those will put you on the right track.

    When anyone wants to learn a musical instrument, the teacher has to deal with teaching the student two different things: 1) How to play the instrument, and 2) How to read music.  If the student already knows how to read music, then that’s a huge advantage. So if you won’t have a harp to practice on for several months, then use that time to learn to read music. Find a teacher, preferably a solfege teacher, who can teach you music theory and reading lines and spaces efficiently. You don’t need a harp to do that. You don’t need any musical instrument. The better you can read music, the easier it will be to learn to play the harp.

    • This reply was modified 2 years, 4 months ago by  carl-swanson.

    hearpe on #200279

    Well it’s been over 4 months since the OP.  I wonder how it’s going?

    I too think that SOME kind of small harp would help even a 19 Pixie harp- or a keyboard- generally had new on ebay for $50 or 60 these days and 61 keys and lots of voices- usually harp- or for $50 on Craigslist used.  Amazing what one can get for under $100 these days.

    Beyond making rudimentary musical progress there- a great resource for our time is of course youtube- and a lot can be earned simply by watching- not just instruction- but performances.  If you eventually have a small harp , some crude imitation of performance videos can go a long way- especially if you have some concept of notes and keys and triads and chords and the like.

    Live recitals at university music schools are an interesting and enjoyable way to spend ones time if you have access to them, and the recitals are often open and attendance is encouraged among students and the public to help the aspiring musician.  A dozen years ago I was fortunate to be living near my alma mater Indiana University where I was able to occasionally attend a recital or performance by students and even the International Harp Competition held every few years there.  Really nice.

    Someone mentioned etudes- I was thinking last week that I wished I had some exercises equivalent to the Guiliani Exercises I use on classical guitar and I looked on this forum and searched etudes and I see there is a very thorough book of exercises out there for $35.  Personally I’m not ready to spend the 35 right now- also practicing guitar and piano and violin and having invested much on books with many books around my crowded living space.

    Then I realized that the “etudes” were really the same thing as piano arpeggio exercises- which helped me tremendously gain there a year or so ago- the few exercises in Sylvia Woods book are identical to the piano arpeggios that got me more flowing up and down the keys- More pointedly they are often OPEN CHORDS that go on up or down across several octaves and you try to play the in rhythm or in musical flow.

    so I highly recommend some etude/piano arpeggio practice on keyboard or a harp- and the piano exercse books are many and can be had for more like $10-15 before you may want to get the definitive Harp etudes for $35.

    Good luck and keep harping


    • This reply was modified 2 years, 4 months ago by  hearpe.

    patricia-jaeger on #200601

    This free interactive site could help you with music theory for harp or many otherinstruments:

    Barbara on #201640

    GlissBliss – Congrats on picking up the harp and sticking to it even when you don’t have an instrument! I believe that it’s absolutely possible to practice away from the harp. You can analyze the piece, practice it on another instrument(s), practice the fingerings, and even practice saying/singing the notes (letter names, scale degrees, or solfège…or even humming).

    You could also practice some away-from-the-harp strength exercises (I think there are some in one of the threads about older students…but I think they could be beneficial for any age!), and use something like this note of the week activity to keep you brushed up on harp and note-reading.

    I agree that adding glisses to songs is a great way to “harp” it up! I second that is also a great (free!) resource. I’m actually working on a bass clef note reading ecourse. If you (or any reader!) would like to try it out for free as a beta tester, just send me an email at barbara AT fischarper DOT com.

    Keep up your great work, and make sure to have fun! Please keep us updated on your harp journey!

    Elettaria on #201711

    Hopefully by now you have a harp, but just in case, I wanted to encourage learning to sing.  You don’t have to buy an instrument, but you get to learn the musicality, and can focus on getting past the basics of learning to read.  I was put into a choir at the age of nine, one which sang challenging twentieth century music, and the benefits have been incalculable.  Being a good sight-reader opened up so much music to me.

    Jennifer Davies on #205446

    I find visualisation a really great exercise if I’m trying to learn/remember a piece. If you’re not able actually play a harp for a long time that might be harder but you can still work on your ear training/sight reading without an instrument.



    Andelin on #205956
    1. Just for some perspective, it took me years, not months, to get really good at sight reading. Make sure your expectations for yourself are reasonable. :).   It’s ok if it doesn’t come quickly and easily to you. It’s pretty normal!
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