Teaching youngsters to tune.

Posted In: Teaching the Harp

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    Alison on #232290

    How do you teach youngsters to tune in a way that is accessible and which future proofs their habits ? Really the question is which key should I ask youngsters to tune to – Eb with an electronic tuner and the levers off ( so they grapple with the true sharps being displayed), or in C with the levers on ? Should I take them through the 4ths and 5ths method or just say best to start at middle C (levers on) – tune downwards sequentially first and then upwards from middle D.

    To future proof them for orchestra do they still need to start at 3rd A, or can that come later ? You see I’ll always start at 3rd A (Ab) with a pedal harp in order to tune in C (Cb) major. On lever harps I use the same method from 3rd C to tune in Eb major (levers down), but actually my tuning is also viable by ear as the steps are in 4ths and 5ths, having grown up without an electronic tuner and in fact I often tune by ear anyway as it’s quicker.

    Tacye on #232452

    Tuning with the levers off is slightly better for the strings and levers, as well as giving better results (assuming the harp is well regulated). So I think this is very important. Teaching care for the instrument and all that. My tuner shows Bb and Eb, and I imagine there are tuning apps which can be set to show flats rather than sharps.

    I see no great advantage to starting at 3rd A – I usually don’t when using a tuner. If I know the A isn’t going to be at 440 I will calibrate the tuner to it and then tune sequentially.

    I doubt that tuning by tuner and later learning tuning by ear with different note order as a separate skill would cause confusion. A full tune by ear is a rare lifesaver in my playing – and I don’t think I ever taught it to anyone I would class as a youngster. But a rapid check on tuning or a tweak of a string or two by ear are much more common for me and I suggest worth teaching separately.

    Saul Davis Zlatkovski on #233000

    I think tuning forks are the way to start, a B and an E or C and F. That way you can teach about fifths and overtones.

    evolene_t on #233125

    Hi Alison,

    Answering from the perspective of a student here. During my first class, my teacher taught me that the harp was tuned in Eb, and then I had to sharp the levers myself. Like Tacye said, it is better to tune the harp with all levers down to prevent an added tension in the small segment of string between the lever and the tuning peg.
    To be honest, during those first few lessons, I just accepted that tuning as is, because I wanted to play the harp, not spend hours understanding music theory.

    That understanding came a little bit later : a few months in, perhaps. Having the correct tuning right away made it so much easier to understand!
    I’ll admit, it wasn’t a straightforward process. At first, I played songs in C major, then got to think “Irish songs tend to be played with C and F levers up and not down”, and only later did I delve into theory, modes, intervals and such.

    This video makes it very easy for beginners to understand (and can be sped up easily) : Learn about Key Signatures and Scales for Lever Harp

    Concerning the 4ths and 5ths method, I haven’t tried learning that way so I don’t know if it’s easier. It does help the student to connect to a sound, and not just a letter on an electronic tuner.

    harpingdude on #241095

    I just taught my 10yo student to tune her 34 string Voyager lever harp.

    I start with the 3rd A and tune down the scale because she’s in orchestra. This harp has nylon strings and metal in the bass so I’m not to worried about wear and tear on the strings.

    I use the Pano tuner app on my phone it shows a nice segment of green when the string is in tune.

    I have the student practice tuning in my presence. It usually takes up to 30 minutes sometimes more. With follow ups in ensuing lessons.

    The Voyager is a tall Instrument for a ten year old And the metal string tuning pins are difficult to turn, so I teach the parents as well.

    The Pano tuner app uses flats instead of sharps as the semitone. That may be confusing to new students.

    I try to save the theory for more advanced students because students are so easily confused in the beginning. There’s so much that is new that it’s easier if you just go with the basics.

    Children and adults are alike in this respect. Adult learner’s want to do it all right now!!! But they are easily frustrated if you throw too much at them. So you have to pace them for their own good.

    It’s better to tune their harps for them until they ask to be taught. It’s usually within the first few weeks of lessons.

    An important 1st lesson to learn is if the note doesn’t change you’re probably on the wrong tuning pin. Also teach them to go flat and then raise the pitch to prevent broken strings(especially if they are on the wrong tuning pin.
    That’s my 2 cents.

    Barbara on #257341

    Looks Ike I’m the odd man out here, but I’d recommend teaching her to tune her harp in C with the levers down. (And don’t forget that a hand should always be on the tuning key when it’s on the harp!) However, find what works best for you and the student. 😀

    I tend to teach students to tune in a circle of fiths…that also has the benefit of reinforcing a little theory. If you do decide to go the levers down, key of Eb route, I have a video & cheat sheet up for tuning a lever harp up that might help : https://www.fischarper.com/smp-review/.

    In my own practice, I often tune starting on A(b), go down and then go back to the A and up.

    Phew, I just gave you a really long-winded response. 🥳

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