When do you consider you’re no longer ‘a beginner’?

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    Just interested really but I just noticed on another thread somebody describing herself as a beginner and, when I looked at her profile it turns out she has been playing for four years – that sounds quite experienced to me! With hindsight, when was the point you started to think of yourself as a ‘real’ harper, not just a learner. It’s my opinion that if something is worth doing then you never really stop learning but I’d love to know how long others played before they felt they were players rather than learners.


    I think it depends on how intensely you’ve been playing and learning in those 4 years or however long. Some people don’t have a teacher and are learning at a slower pace. For me, the first 7 years all I did was take lessons and practice and play, play, play. But between then and now there have been years when I didn’t play as much due to other life issues taking precedence over my music. Divorce (that stopped me dead in my tracks for two years!), moving to another country, workload increasing, etc. So even though I’ve been playing for 15 years that doesn’t mean that I have 15 intensive years of playing and learning experience. But those first 7-10 were amazing!


    I think I started to think of myself as a real harper at the end of those 7 years or so. But I *always* think of myself as a learner, too!


    Interesting question Lyn. I’ve been taking lessons for 11 years now and don’t intend to stop anytime soon. So, in that respect I still am a student . . . Now as far as beginner, well I think that there are different levels of all the different stages of playing so that too would make it difficult to classify a beginner, intermediate, and advanced player. I just try not to put myself in catagories just for that reason I guess. In each stage, there are hurdles to over come and you reach different goals at each stage. I just don’t think it’s a black and white beginner, intermediate, advanced sort of situation.



    Like Andee, I’ve had interruptions. Also, I have to share the time with guitar and banjo.


    Like Jessica, I have / am shared / sharing the time with fiddle.

    Angela Biggs

    For me, there was a distinct line between what I considered beginner and intermediate.
    I found that I started thinking of myself differently when I was able to smoothly play the first full-length (3-minute) piece that had a lot of seven- and eight-fingered chords. That was about 1.75 years in, early last summer. Then I spent several months preparing for Christmas 2012, and somewhere during the course of the four to six preparatory performances and the three major ones, I realized I had hit a new level of confidence. Suddenly I found that I had reached a point where I was comfortable calling myself a harper and charging for a performance.

    One thing I noticed about hitting the intermediate level is that I found I could easily sightread early-beginner (lever) music, and just about sightread late-beginner music. Six months later, I’m just about sightreading some easier early-intermediate stuff. I think that’s going to be my marker from now on — my current level defined by my ability to read music at a lower level. When I can sightread music I’m now spending a few months on, I’ll consider myself “advanced.”


    I’ve been playing for over 20 years and I still consider myself a beginner. When I have the skill to play anything I want I will re-evaluate.


    She has been playing for four years, but in what capacity? I have been playing since 2009. But during those years, I didn’t practice every single day, unfortunately. My work and life make it a challenge. I make a true effort, I really do:) I can finally read music (not sight read, though).

    I have improved, I understand harmony and the g clef, I have an understanding of sharps and flats. As to my playing however, it’s still a slow process. I can’t automatically look at a piece and start playing, even if it is a simple piece. I have to cherry pick first just to hear it. I’m getting better, in that I make sure to recognize the notes and patterns, then make my finger placements. If I don’t my teacher goes “WHAAAAT”

    I guess you know when your advanced, when you are able to do more complicated pieces and that your knowledge of what to do with a piece comes natural. Not that the struggle ends, because there’s always analysis of a piece that is done. But the ability to do it with knowledge, I think that’s where it’s at…..maybe?


    I am so glad to read this discussion! I have been taking lessons for 3 years and have become so frustrated, because I believe I should be beyond the beginner stage by now. (Never mind that in those 3 years I’ve still had work, family, and many other obligations to attend to…… has been 3 YEARS and I’m an intelligent adult who is accomplished at other pursuits, why not this in a whole 3 years)! Then I have people in my life who have known music since childhood…..well it just seems hopeless that I will ever be out of this beginner stage! I should just relax and enjoy the process I’ve been told, but that is a little tough when I want to make music so badly.
    So, it is great to read of where other folk are in their pursuit of the harp……in terms of years studying. Gives me some reference points.
    Please keep the posts coming!

    Sherj DeSantis

    And I am either 9 or 10 years, I can’t remember. I still believe I am a beginner, but maybe easing my way into intermediate. When I can pick up a piece of music, sight read and hit most of the right notes, get the rhythm correct, and be happy with the way I played it, maybe then I will confirm that I am intermediate. I am glad my teacher pushed me out of some books, and into a broader spectrum of music. I found that I didn’t need to read music to play a particular series, and consequently, wasn’t learning very much. The music was too predictable. I think that helped push me further along more than anything else has. I still classify myself as a beginner, and will continue in lessons as long as I can. There is just so much out there to learn…..


    Just posting to say that it’s absolutely great to know there’s another harpist who plays the banjo; that’s too cool:)

    Allison Stevick

    I’ve been playing for about 5 years now, though with some interruptions like several others have mentioned (when I was pregnant with my first child, my harp actually triggered morning sickness! It was very strange and kind of sad…). I think I started to think of myself as a real harper once I could play smoothly and come up with variations on the tunes. It was also a confidence thing for me. Once I discovered I could play for others musically and without stopping, and effectively cover mistakes (well, most of the time…) I felt like I had finally “arrived.” That being said, it depends on to whom I compare myself how much I feel like a beginner at any given moment. I love to watch/listen to musicians with lots of experience because I am reminded of how much farther there is to go. It makes me feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface of the harp world, but I think that’s good because it inspires me to keep working.

    I get to play for a banquet in our local events center next week (background music) and I’m very excited. 🙂 It will be my biggest “audience” yet! (I know, background music isn’t the same as a concert, so maybe its not really an *audience* but I’m glad about that fact, and looking forward to the event!)


    What a wonderful response – I had no idea this would touch so many nerves! Although I’m way behind all of you (only about 16 months of lessons and intensive practice) it’s both a little disturbing to know how long I will be a beginner and also reassuring to know I won’t be alone. At least I’m one of the lucky ones who is able to practise pretty much every day (and for a reasonable length of time too) but my sight-reading is still very slow and extremely hesitant.

    Some particularly interesting comments – Allison, I do so agree that the more there is to learn the more the urge to keep going; that’s what keeps things really interesting! Good luck with your banquet – to me, I guess, once you can play in front of other people who are prepared to pay for the experience you are a ‘real’ player.

    Susan – I feel your pain, I really do! I love learning anything new and am a long-term fan of all kinds of study and, when I think of other things I have accomplished in a relatively short time, harp-playing begins to look like a real marathon (though it’s also much more enjoyable than any of those other things too). I guess my problem is with other people who say “You’ve been having lessons for a long time time now – let’s hear you play” and seem to expect something wonderful. I’m going to start telling myself that just displays their own ignorance.

    Elizabeth – You were the culprit(!) It was in one of your recent posts that you called yourself a beginner and I thought ‘Yippee! Another newbie!” then I checked your profile and discovered you are still several years ahead of me. Life has such an annoying way of scuppering things, doesn’t it? I actually got my first harp (Sharpsicle) about 6 years ago but the death of my mother plus my inability to find a tutor stopped me in my tracks almost immediately and it’s only recently that I’ve been able to give my playing the attention it deserved. At least now I feel it’s not quite so easy to put me off. Despite being in the middle of a major family crisis right now, I’m more determined than ever to keep going and put aside my daily practice time as my own relaxation therapy. I know there will be odd days when I can’t practise but I’m giving the harp a lot higher priority this time around.

    Angela – Thank you for such a precise description of what you had to do to feel like a ‘proper’ harper and how long it took you. That really does give me something to aim for in the next 6 months or so. I know comparisons are odious but I do find them very useful for keeping track of my own progress!

    Thank you everyone for your comments. Please keep them coming!

    Allison Stevick

    …I guess my problem is with other people who say You’ve been having lessons for a long time time now – let’s hear you play” and seem to expect something wonderful…”

    AMEN, Lyn!!! I feel like I spent the first couple years of my harping trying to lower everyone’s expectations of me and my playing all the time! I felt like I needed to say, “Well I’m not very good, please ignore my mistakes, I’ve only known this one for a little while, I haven’t had lessons, I don’t play classical pieces, somebody else could play it better, ” etc. I know they meant well, but I felt so much pressure to be “great” when I knew I wasn’t.
    I think a lot of it was that they were enchanted by the instrument itself and didn’t mind that I was plucking out these rudimentary little melodies. It was enough for them to hear me play at all, and it didn’t have to be complex. Even though I’ve gained confidence since then, I still have to remind myself of that each time I play for someone else! I think it is a gift both to and from the harper to play for someone who wants to hear. 🙂

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