This page is all about harps and the info I have collected to share with those new to harp or interested in finding a harp. I have always played harps from a company called Triplett harps located in central California. Although there are several fine harp makers, these are my favorites, for many reasons. The sound, the beauty, the durability because my lifestyle would challenge any instruments, and they are the nicest people in the world. They ship harps all over the world but if your ever passing by San Luis Obispo in central California you can visit the shop where the harps are made, take a little tour. If you’d just like to call and find out more about harps, whats available, financing or anything just give them a call and Debbie Triplett will be happy to answer your questions. Here is their website.
This is an overview of harps, with some history and some common questions answered, and links where you can find out more as well as my recommendations for harps in various price ranges.
What is a harp?
by Joyce Rice, Deb Seymour and the Harp Spectrum website.
What is a harp? Is it the instrument played by angels floating on clouds? Or is it that tall, golden thing in the symphony orchestra? Maybe its that small wooden instrument in an Irish band or the stringed instrument accompanying an African storyteller.
The harp, in fact, is all those things. It can be played as a solo instrument, accompany a voice, a flute, or be played in a band or a symphony orchestra. It can be a simple instrument carved from a single piece of wood, or a fancy golden harp with lots of parts inside. But no matter what kind, or how its played, the harp remains one of the most beautiful and fascinating instruments in the world.
Although harps come in a huge variety of shapes, sizes, and weights. They can cost anywhere from $300.00 for the most inexpensive lap harp, to $1,500 to $4,000 for a full size Irish harp, or $8,000 and up for an orchestra pedal harp. Smaller harps may sit on your lap, but larger ones usually rest on the floor.
Harps are found, in one form or another, throughout the world, in more sizes and shapes than almost any other instrument. The harp is one of the oldest instruments, known to have flourished in ancient Egypt, and one of the newest, as with the electric harp. The harp also occupies a colorful place in history and is the symbol of the Irish flag.
The Magic and Ease of the Harp
Why has the harp survived for thousands of years? There is something enchanting about the sound of a harp that seems to penetrate into the human soul. Every single time we take the harps out to an event we hear someone say, “I’ve always wanted to play the harp” or see a tear of emotion coming from the eye of a listener as the strings are set into delicate motion. Even when the strings are silent the enchantment of the instrument standing in a room seems to draw people to it. There is a magic.
The Harp is Easy to Learn
Within the spectrum of stringed instruments, the harp is listed as one of the easiest to play. Meanwhile, the guitar and violin are ranked among the most difficult. Even so, people have the misconception that the harp is very demanding. Think about this, for literally thousands of years people have been playing the harp. Ancient civilizations developed and played simple, formative instruments. The harp was among these. In the Middle East, Ireland, South America and Mexico you can find harps being played by the well to do, well educated and the common person alike. Harps have not been mastered in these places because all these people have time to spend in their music rooms practicing and the money to afford lessons. Harps have survived because they are accessible and generous to even the most basic beginner. Through time and across civilizations, how have people learned to play? They either taught themselves or learned from the village harper. The beauty of the harp is that the music can be as simple as you want and the harp sounds beautiful or you can make it as complex as you want and the harp sounds beautiful.
The strings of a harp are color coded with the C’s being red and the F’s being blue or green. This way you don’t lose your place. When we do shows, we are able to teach people with no musical training to play “Joy To The World” in about 1-2 minutes time. The hard part is prying them away from the harp so other people can try it. Pianists find the harp especially easy because they already read treble and bass clef and the fingering is fairly similar. Like the piano, the lead or melody line on a harp is played with the right hand and the chords and bass with the left hand. Also, like the piano, the harp is not handed, both left and right handed persons play the same instrument in the same way. Pianists find harp music especially easy because, due to the inherent resonance of a harp, there are fewer notes per bar than is generally written for piano score.
If this is going to be the first musical instrument you’ve ever played, you will find the harp to be very friendly. People with a piano background find it to be much like the piano and are usually plucking two handed tunes the first night home with their harp. Guitar players find there is no fretting of the strings or awkward hand positions, no hammer-ons, no pick-offs and the technique is much simpler.
Can I Teach Myself?
The majority of harp players that we meet are self-taught or have had a few lessons to get themselves started. Some people need a more regimented plan in their lives or learn better when somebody is showing them directly, so a harp teacher may be the path to take.
The two most popular self-teaching methods are Sylvia Woods’ Teach Yourself to Play the Folk Harp and Laurie Riley’s Basic Harp for Beginners. The Sylvia Woods book also has accompanying audio and video tapes available. There are other self-teaching books out there and we welcome the opportunity to become familiar with them as well. Please let us know what you have found.
Selecting a Harp Teacher
Selecting a harp teacher is very important. The harp teacher must have an understanding that different types of harps require different playing techniques, just as in the violin family. You don’t teach someone to play the double bass and then teach them to use the same technique to play a violin – they are different instruments though they look similar. Pedal harps, lever or traditional harps, double, triple and cross harps, Paraguayan harps and wire string harps are different instruments and require different techniques. Select a teacher that is familiar with the techniques of the type of harp you wish to play.
There are a few warning signs to watch for when selecting a teacher. I have heard of a harp teacher telling a student, after several months of lessons, that she had taught her everything she could do on a lever harp and the student needed to “move up to a pedal harp”. If you ever hear your harp teacher say something of this nature to you, you don’t need a new harp, you need a new harp teacher. Lindsey Samahon recently toured accompanying an eighty voice choir through Israel with her 22-string lap harp. There were some unknowing people that said to her, “What could you possibly play on such a small harp?” Her response was, “Name the piece,” and she would play it. Her lap harp has only three octaves, just as does the violin and you don’t hear violinists complaining about a lack of range. Kim Robertson and Laurie Riley have dedicated their lives and wide-ranging careers to the traditional lever harp. Cheryl Ann Fulton, the internationally well-known harpist, started on the pedal harp and then moved on to the double, triple and medieval harps. To hear a teacher say that a lever harp is “too limiting” evidences only the limitations of the teacher. A pedal harp, for that matter, is limited compared to the abilities of a chromatic cross harp but that is not the point. Each type of harp has its place, music, style, technique and following.
If a harp teacher refers to “standard string spacing” or “standard string tension,” be leery. (See our articles on Harp Myths) If a teacher says that the harp is only played with the flesh of the fingers and you’ll have to cut your nails, be leery. Wire string harps are played with the nails. Paraguayan harps are played with both flesh and nails and sometimes picks. Diana Stork is a fine harper who plays a nylon-strung traditional harp. She has blissful CD’s and the clean, light, bell tone of her harp comes from playing with her nails. The point is that there are many “right” ways to play the harp. When selecting a harp teacher, educate yourself with some good harp articles from this web site and other journals, then ask leading questions that are important to you and select the harp teacher that fits your needs. The Folk Harp Journal has a listing of teachers and we have also developed a listing of harp teachers across the United States. We will be happy to send out the list for you area upon request. Good Hunting!
More info about harps, compiled by Lisa Lynne
The Sylvia Woods Harp Center Online catalog
915. N. Glendale Ave, Glendale, California – Harps, books, recordings, free introductory workshops, concerts, harp rentals, lessons and a listing of harp teachers nationwide.
The Harp Mall
Everything you’ve ever wanted to know about the Celtic Harp.
The Folk Harp Society
Magazine published quarterly for all harpers from the novice to professional. (832) 249-7885
Online Chat group for all Harp related topics
Lisa Lynne plays Triplett harps. They are considered one of the top quality Celtic harp makers. You can see their harps displayed at Sylvia Woods Harp Center, or visit their workshop in San Luis Obispo in Central California. For a free brochure (805) 544-2777 They can let you know your closest dealer anywhere in the country.
A good alternative for smaller budgets. 1-800-398-HARP.
Harpsicle Harp Co
The lowest priced lap harp. This is the only harp at this price range that is tune-able and playable. (812) 438 -3032
Laurie has created a series of learning videos for beginners and advanced players in several styles and techniques. I highly recommend them.