What is intermediate level? What is advanced?

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    Diane- I always love your posts because they are always so well thought out. (There are many other people whose posts I love too, but I’m directing this at Diane right now).

    I asked the question about what comes after the beginner stuff exactly because of the response you gave. I think teachers are kind of stuck and end up moving the student much too fast into repertoire for which they have no technical foundation because there is not enough transitional material, or they are not familiar with it. And the end result is a student who struggles hopelessly, gets discouraged, and quits.

    Everyone who has responded to my original question has had some good answers, but I still feel that there is a gap between what the rank beginner is playing and most of the pieces that have been mentioned. I think Sam Pratts Little Fountain is a good one to give right after that beginner stage. There is also a short piece by Damase(the name escapes me right now) which is all three note chords in both hands. It’s easy, and very pretty. That is another one that might be added to the just-after-the-beginner phase.


    I wonder if it is possible to define the various early stages of harp playing, and then to come up with repertoire that fits each stage. I’m thinking that the early stages can be labeled: beginner, advanced beginner, low intermediate, intermediate, advanced intermediate. Tell me what you think.

    BEGINNER- Learning lines and spaces and related theory(note values, time signatures, etc.). Technically, playing one or two fingers at a time in either hand, but hands not playing together. No, or almost no connecting. Both hands play almost entirely in the 3rd and 4th octaves. Pieces less than a page long.

    ADVANCED BEGINNER- More lines and spaces(also ledger lines) and theory(more time signatures, more complicated rhythms, but still very basic). Range of pieces at this level extended to include 2nd through 5th octaves. Technically, using both hands together in arpeggios(The Little Fountain) or chords in one hand only while the other hand plays single notes or at most octaves(Bochsa 40 easy etudes, first 4 or 5 etudes). Using all four fingers of each hand, but little or no reconnecting. Pieces are no more than 2 pages long, maximum.

    LOW INTERMEDIATE-Both hands play together and, more importantly, reconnect to the strings. Both hands work independently and equally, but in very simple repertoire. Pieces would include Renie’s Invention in the old style as an example, or that Salzedo piece in 5/8, the name escapes me now. Range of pieces at this level includes 2nd through 6th octaves. Pieces are 2 to 3 pages long, maximum.

    INTERMEDIATE-The whole harp is used, and hands work independently in a more complicated way. Simpler Baroque transcriptions, first Arabersque, etc. Pieces are 5 to 6 pages long maximum.

    Now, my question to you is: Do these definitions accurately describe the student at each of these stages? Rewrite these definitions as you see fit. Let’s see if we can all come up with criteria for each of these early stages, AND THEN come up with appropriate repertoire, etudes, exercises, etc. for each of these stages. I find that more often than not, teachers take beginner students directly to the intermediate stage without going through the advanced beginner and low intermediate stage, and the result is a student who is constantly playing catch-up, has an unstable hand position, doesn’t use all of the fingers in the same way, has no dynamic control, etc.


    I knew you loved my posts, too. The Damase piece is called Vitrail, and is lovely and interesting. I also played solos from Milligan’s Medieval to Modern collections.

    I think it is a problem that you want to create a classification based on one set of criteria. What is so challenging here is that progress differs so much based on previous musical experience. A student with several years of piano and a couple of years of poor harp instruction who is 17 has been able to go from Pathfinder Studies to Salzedo’s Preludes for Beginners, Srebotnjak Prelude no. 1 and Durand Chaconne, to Ibert’s Fantaisie and we are about to start concerti. An adult student with piano background is working slowly through Tiny Tales and advancing more quickly with Bochsa etudes, and is very quick with the Conditioning Exercises.

    Nevertheless, I think music can be graded, more-or-less, and let the students move about as they need. Lyon & Healy’s old troubadour repertoire guide by Grace Follet and a partner is helpful. There are a lot of newer publications by harpists that are, to me, lacking in sufficient musical interest to be included. I find many piano collections are viable sources of material. If you can find the collections edited by Bernice Frost, for instance, I think they contain a lot of good material.

    Repertoire suggestions: Marie Miller/Bach Solfegietto

    Miller/Haydn, Miller/Schumann

    Salzedo: Solos from the Art of Modulating

    Grandjany: Pastorale

    that’s all I can think of for now. Compiling a comprehensive list will take several hours indeed.


    What is also important to consider when “levelling” music is the musical challenge. Form, sophistication, emotional requirements, style, period are considerations. You mentioned Salzedo’s “Quietude”. While it is the “easiest” of his Five Preludes, it has very wide reaches, is in a challenging meter, and is compositionally sophisticated. I would not assign that until after a student had learned his Preludes Intimes, Preludes for Beginners and beginning solos.

    I like to use the ABC of Harp Playing, and Betty Paret’s first book (lever harp), then introduce either Tiny Tales, Milligan material or something like a Dilling collection. Then, Lawrence’s French, English, German collections for beginners, Salzedo’s Art of Modulating, baroque and classical solos (Schuman, others, my own), then more advanced material by Salzedo, other qualified harpist-composers, good transcriptions, Solos for the Harp Player (Pavane-Corelli-Durand-Rameau-Debussy-Turina-etc.), Dussek Sonatinas, Handel Theme and Variations, Wagenaar, Ibert solos, Handel Concerto, Pierne I-C, Pescetti Sonata, bigger solos and Sonatas. That, more-or-less, would be one typical progression I would use.


    I agree that progress differs from student to student based on individual ability, past musical experience, etc. But I think it is possible and important to identify the skills needed to progress from one stage to the next. Each student will progress through these different levels at different speeds. And the wise teacher will use somewhat different pieces within a particular skill level on different students, depending on their needs. One student may need 5 or more pieces at one skill level to achieve a certain level of technical mastery, while another needs just one and then they are ready for the next level. But what bothers me is that so many teachers skip several levels of difficulty to advance the student.

    I think in most instances the teacher isn’t even aware that they have done this, probably because they have not taken inventory of what the student can do before moving on to the next level. So identifying in general terms the skills that are needed at one level before moving on might help teachers to advance the student in a more orderly manner.


    Yes, so I would suggest adding to your criteria: beginners: playing in 4/4, 2/4; advanced beginners: 3/4, 6/8; 2/2, 6/4, 9/8, 12/8; intermediate: 5/4, 5/8, 7/8; advanced intermediate: other meters, shifting meters.
    beginners: song form (aba), minuet and trio (aabbaa+c+aba), advanced beginners: rondeau form (aabbaaccaa), medieval forms; intermediate: sonata form, sonatina form, binary sonata form, fugues, inventions; advanced intermediate: full sonatas, theme and variations, fantasy, organic form
    beginners: simple melody and accompaniment figures (basic); advanced beginners: alberti bass, arpeggiated accompaniment, harmonics; intermediate: long melody, sustained notes and chords, interwoven figures and arpeggios, melodic arpeggios, cadenzas, ornaments, trills, bisbigliando, idiomatic effects;
    beginners: folk songs, simple classical pieces, simple early music; advanced beginners: short classical pieces, dance forms; intermediate: counterpoint, full-length classical pieces, elaborate arrangements of folk songs, medieval/renaissance pieces of all types, accessible modern and modal works, multi-voices (2-3); advanced: four voices, full counterpoint, modern music of all types, long forms (impromptus, ballades, fantasies, rhapsodies).


    I suggest that one of the difficulties is how music is published.


    There are companies that will track down and acquire copyright and put together custom compilations – usually this is done for a “course pack” in a college or university setting. I am guessing that most of us were in college 10, 20 or more years ago, when there was less attention paid to copyright law. Now that intellectual property rights are being more closely scrutinized, these course pack companies are springing up to help faculty


    There are many variations on this. My own publisher uses Safari (, but this sort of thing is really only economically feasible for those who sell many thousands of copies. The cost/income ratio is prohibitive for stuff like harp music where the margins are infitesimal. I’m pleased to have my tech books available this way, but it would sooo not be worth it for the music I publish, unfortunately, and I think that would be true for most harp music publishers. The market is just too small.

    BTW, these custom publications are only worthwhile for t students in the larger world when you’re talking about combining, say, a couple of chapters each from 6 textbooks that would have cost $150 apiece. A single book for $90 to 100 is a bargain then, but again, it’s kind of hard to find a workable model for sheet music, alas. Perhaps in time, as POD becomes more common.




    But back to my original question! What pieces do you use immediately after the rank-beginner level to get the student to the advanced beginner level? What pieces come after that? Ones that advance the student to the low-intermediate level. And what exercises or etudes are appropriate for each of these levels?


    All of them.



    Great question and great thread! I use a lot of what has already been mentioned. There are particular pieces in the Graded Recital Series by McDonald/Wood that I find very useful, such as “Processional” and “Two Guitars.” These seem to really appeal to people and are kind of “milestone” pieces with a lot of my students who hear them performed at recitals and want to advance to a new level. Also, there is a lot of wonderful material in Betty Paret’s Second Harp Book (too bad the title sounds so elementary) that really fits the level you’re describing. Most pieces are only a page long, but complicated enough to be a good challenge and teach a particular skill. I also like that this book includes snippets by Mozart and Bach so the student begins to assimilate some traditional music theory concepts and get a feel for music that isn’t just “harp music.” Grandjany’s Petite Suite Classique has been mentioned, and that’s a good one too and has the advantage of appearing like “real music” so students feel like they’re really moving into the standard repertoire. “Moorish Garden” from “Magic Road” is good, although the rest of the book is much simpler.

    For a big step I like “Minstrel’s Adieu” if the student is mature enough to handle such a large piece. The theme and variations style gives them a lot of individual challenges. Some of the variations are pretty challenging though–this isn’t right for everyone.

    Anyway, those are some of my favorites…..I’ll keep thinking…..anyone else?



    I’ve been stewing over this one for a while (boy, does that broadcast impending wordiness!).


    Diane- Another great reply. Thank you. One of the things I have noticed about students at the lower level is that, just because then can play ONE piece correctly at a certain level, they can’t necessarily play several other pieces at the same level without having technical problems. In other words, They may place correctly, close their fingers correctly, etc. on one piece(with of course a lot of help from the teacher), but change the piece, change the patterns, and you’re right back to square one. So it seems that the technique learned on one piece is for them relevant to that piece only. And this may be what leads many teachers to assume, after working hard with a student on one piece and getting it right, that they are now ready for something more difficult, when in fact the technique they just learned is not yet automatic, and therefore transferrable(automatically) to other pieces at the same level. This I think is the best arguement for giving the student 4,5, or more pieces at the same level before moving them up to the next technical level.

    I’ve noticed that you can give students exercises like LaRiviere, or etudes like Bochsa or Grossi or whatever, and then give them a piece that uses the same technical points, and much of what they learned in the exercise, etude, etc. doesn’t automatically transfer over.

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