Which style is the better?

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    I am recently new to learning the harp. I am also doing a research paper on the different techniques of learning the harp. I personally have a lever harp and at odds if I should research only celtic, welsh, irish and see what people think is the preferred teaching style overall. I also was thinking of the salzedo versus french style. I don’t have a strong footing on which particular style I prefer but tend to lean towards salzedo but wanted experts advice on which particular harp teaching style is the best and more important tell me why.


    Well, I can’t help you with Salzedo vs French, but I can say that I took Irish harp lessons for 10 years and learned by ear. I also took numerous workshops over that period of time with Grainne Hambly, Janet Harbison, and Michael Rooney (and others) and they all teach by ear. I can read music and have used written music to help sometimes, but I do firmly believe that learning by ear is the best way (it;s also the traditional way) to learn traditional Irish music.


    I’d have to say that ‘better’ is meaningless here. Everyone is different and different people benefit from different styles of learning – they also have different preferences when it comes to playing styles. Some people learn better when they have a tutor, others are better at self-teaching, and this doesn’t only apply to harp-playing but to almost everything you can ever learn, from languages to art. The best way for you is the way that gives you the most enjoyment and best progress but it won’t necessarily be the best way for someone else.

    Sherri Matthew

    Hi Laura Ann,
    I agree with Lyn on this one. It’s a very individual thing.

    By the way, it’s interesting to me that you’re writing a research paper on harp , because that’s how I came to the harp… doing an independent study on the history of them (pedal, lever, etc.) but not yet actually playing one. In the course of my research I listened to streaming harp music on the web and I heard a wire harp for the first time… just fell in love with the sound of it immediately. After I got done with my writing segment for the evening, I started to really look into wire harps and just knew I had to have one eventually, after graduation, when there would be more money and time to invest in it. (That actually occurred two years later, after studying the basics on a nylon-strung harp.) But doing the research paper was enormously helpful to me that way, in discovering my path. That was in fall 2006.

    Maybe it will work out the same way for you! Try to do a lot of listening as you do your reading and investigating. You might find some aspect of the harp world that really speaks to you and then you’ll know, that’s the right way to go.

    And please do let me know how your paper comes out! 🙂


    Maybe you could go on Youtube and watch and listen to people playing the different styles.


    Thank you Andee for your response. How impressive to learn by ear, especially the traditional way of Irish Harp. I am learning the idea of learning by ear with Stephanie Bennett and it is so wonderful. I often feel that pull to the freedom of that learning style for various of reasons. One you memorize everything. Two you have less paperwork. Three a music stand isn’t required. Four the countless reassigning scores to fit/fix it for performances sake. So thank you Andee!
    Lyn Thank you delightfully for pointing out the diversity in the learning process. Not everyone is created equal! Oh a wonderful thing isn’t that.
    Sherri, That is an incredible story and thank you for sharing it here! I will keep you posted about the paper too.
    I guess I needed to ask if there are any Pedal Harpists who are classically trained in the French Method Technique and if they would not mind sharing their opinions as to why they chose that technique over Salzedo.

    Gretchen Cover

    I doubt beginning harpists ask themselves if they should learn Salzedo technique or Grandjany. I would be willing to bet their mothers found a harp teacher and that is why the harpist uses a certain technique. The instructor I had when I started to play in college taught the Salzedo method. I had no idea there was any other way – of course, this was pre-internet, etc. Anyhow, it worked for me. If you go through earlier Harp Column posts or do a keyword search on the internet, you will find this is a much-discussed topic.


    What Gretchen said. (Hi, Gretchen!)


    Excellent point there from Gretchen but please bear in mind also that some of us don’t start learning until much later in life – my mother wouldn’t have been much use in finding me a tutor because she’d been dead for two years before I took up learning properly. I’d also like to add here that I think anyone who has the choice of tutors teaching in different styles should count themsleves very lucky – where I live it took me six years to find anyone to teach me at all. I was also extrememly fortunate in that, when I did find someone (almost by accident) she turned out to be absolutely perfect for me but if that hadn’t been the case I’d probably still be looking now. I don’t know nearly enough yet about harping or the various styles to be able to comment on their different advantages or disadvantages but I do know that I was far too keen to get started to wait around until I found a teacher who could fulfill every possible requirement. Good luck to all beginners everywhere!

    Gretchen Cover


    Re-read what I wrote. I did not start playing harp until I was 19 so I did start playing later. Even so, who was I to know about different teaching methods? Particularly when this was pre-internet days. Like you, I was lucky to find an instructor at all.


    Can’t resist chiming in with the answer I usually give when this topic comes up! I feel strongly that all the good techniques share more common principles than differences: high thumbs, keeping a steady hand, and closing. All good techniques emphasize those three basic concepts, as will a good teacher. That’s my opinion anyway!


    What Kimberly said. They really are more alike than different.

    Think about what a technique is supposed to do for you. It is supposed to allow you to play everything you want to play without hurting yourself.

    All the main techniques allow you to do this with enough study and practice, so none are superior.

    Like others mentioned, I knew nothing about different techniques when I started playing. I found a teacher and started taking lessons. She mentioned at one point that her teacher was this guy named Salzedo, but that meant nothing to me at the time. It wasn’t until a fair bit of time later that I learned that I was being taught a specific style of playing, and that this Salzedo guy was fairly well known and developed this style.

    And that still didn’t mean all that much to me. All I knew was I was learning to play the music I wanted.

    So don’t worry about style. If you want to take lessons from a teacher (and I highly recommend you do) worry about finding a teacher who knows how to teach well, regardless of what style they teach.

    Because in the end you will either be able to play or you won’t and if you can or can’t will have far less to do with the technique you learn than with your dedication and discipline to study and practice.

    And just on a side note, there is a difference between playing technique and method of learning new music. They can mix and match.

    Yes, since many people who use the French or Salzedo techniques focus on classical music they often rely on sheet music, but that is because of the genre of music they are learning and not because of anything inherent in the techniques.

    I can play from sheet music. I can also memorize sheet music so after a while I don’t need it. I can also learn by ear. That I play with the Salzedo technique has little to do with that other than my teacher did insist that I learn to sight read, which no matter what method of learning you want to rely on primarily is still always a valuable skill for any musician. I play primarily jazz and pop, and so I generally sight read from lead sheets, or simply memorize the basic structure of music, and then improvise a lot. I learned that from my teacher who was not only a student of Salzedo and Lawrence but who also happened to be one of the pioneer of jazz harp. Her technique was not in any way a problem for her more Jazz like approach to music.

    Being a Salzedo player, or a French player, or a Russian player doesn’t limit you to learning music in only one proscribed way. It doesn’t prevent you from playing any genre of music you want. It really doesn’t mean anything at all other than when you use one of these techniques you are using a technique that has been tried and tested by many people over a fair bit of time to ensure that it actually works. Of the established techinques they all work, so I recommend anyone wanting to learn to not worry about the name of the technique they will learn and worry more about finding a competent teacher regardless of style.

    Gretchen Cover

    Laura, you might want to reconsider the topic of your research paper. Personally, I would write how harp technique has evolved along with harps. Clearly, the two methods, Salzedo and Grandjany (correct me if this should be called “French”) methods would not have been developed nor stayed around to be taught for 100 years if they didn’t work for harpists. Both methods are based on ergonomics. I would have to say I prefer the Salzedo method – but that is not based in fact. It’s just the way I was taught. I think most people stick with what they learn and know and feel comfortable.


    All harpists are different. Sometimes I think the only thing we have in common is some kind of harp, so it’s a case of whatever works for you. I think you’re right that most people stick with whatever they are taught, but I didn’t. I was taught Salzedo, but after I was out on my own, I just played music and forgot about it. When someone asked me what method I was using, I said, Salzedo, and she said, no, it’s not. I hadn’t noticed. I just concentrated on the music and got comfortable…which I was not when I was a student. I always felt I was in forced positions, not natural. My teacher was a Salzedo student, and he said the guy was very charismatic. My teacher actually bought a Salzedo harp, even tho he didn’t like them, because Salzedo was still alive at the time.


    I learned the Salzedo method, then much later studied with a French-method teacher. One significant difference is the type of repertoire emphasized by teachers who represent the different schools. I appreciated having a whole new area of the repertoire opened up to me and making those wonderful discoveries. The French teacher never tried to change or modify my hand position or technique. For me it was wonderfully expansive to experience both.
    A minor problem I had with the Salzedo method is that many of his compositions are taught by adherents of his method. I don’t like most of Salzedo’s work, with a few exceptions; there are many other more worthwhile pieces to be working on (my opinion only).
    I do love playing “Scintillation” though.

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