Start composing your own music—here's how
One of the oldest and at the same time most beautiful instruments—which still plays an important role in contemporary music—is the harp. It is therefore all the more beautiful to still find motivated musicians who dedicate themselves to the harp and its special sounds. In order to learn the harp, the most important thing is consistent practice, as it is one of the most demanding instruments. But how exactly can the harp be played, how did it become known and what should you as a musician pay attention to when practicing?
The history of this classic instrument goes far back in time, and is closely connected with the cultural history of mankind. The first references to harps can be found in Egyptian wall paintings from the 4th millennium BC. There they were depicted as instruments of the gods and kings. Over the millennia, the harp spread to Europe via the Middle East and was thus further developed in various cultures into the instrument we know today.
In the Middle Ages and the Renaissance the harp enjoyed a high status in Europe and was especially appreciated by nobles and royalty. Later, however, it also became popular in bourgeois music, especially in the 19th century, when it was used in Romanticism as a symbol of a transfigured nature and longing. Today, the harp has found its place in many different musical styles - from classical music to folk, pop, rock and film music. With its wide range of expressive forms, it is a powerful instrument that enchants in many styles.
The harp consists of a soundbox as well as many strings. The soundbox of the harp can be made of wood or other materials such as carbon fiber or plastic, and usually has a triangle-like shape. The strings are attached to the top of the soundbox and pass over a bridge at the bottom before extending to the tuning pipes on the neck of the harp. To change their pitch, they are hooked to the tuning pipes and tensioned or released through the use of pedals or levers.
One factor that distinguishes the various types of harps is the number of strings. On that note, fewer strings means easier practice, which can be helpful for beginners in particular. Thus, harps for beginners sometimes have only 22 strings. Large concert harps, on the other hand, are equipped with up to 47 strings, which are sorted and arranged according to their pitch. Depending on the size of the instrument, it is therefore a long way from the lowest string on the left end to the highest string on the right. For starters, we therefore recommend a smaller model.
You can't go wrong with the Celtic Ashwood Harp—a great beginner model with 22 strings. The range is from A1 - A4 (a''' - a), the body is made of ash, and it comes with a tuning key and a bag.
If you are more advanced and want to play directly with 36 strings, the Celtic Harp Ashwood 36 Str. is a good match for you.
Tip: Don't forget to pack a new matching set of strings. Fresh strings are smoother, easier on the fingers, and hold the tone better.
You should start by taking a close look at the basics and practicing them in a regular, structured manner so that you can quickly dedicate yourself to your first pieces on the harp. This includes hand positions and movements, tone production, and the technique of plucking and striking the strings. Tuning the harp is also an important part of the learning process. To get started, it is recommended to begin with simple melodies and chords and steadily build on them. Using online lessons or visiting a music school can also be useful to get feedback for playing at the beginning. To reach the desired notes quickly and easily, the hand position is crucial.
Here's our recommendation for a cool sheet music and song collection for beginner to advanced harpists. Give it a try!
Otherwise you can find here a great textbook for the harp by Monika Mandelartz in the German language. This is playable with small harp (from 19 strings) and best suited for beginners.
Learning to play the harp can be a rewarding and satisfying experience. Here are 10 useful tips to help you get started learning the harp:
With an instrument like the harp, not everything will meet your expectations from the start. For example, your fingers usually have to get used to contact with the strings, which often leads to sore fingertips. Over time, however, you will build up the necessary calluses on your fingers so that you can master the strings skillfully.
Even if you're highly motivated, you should be careful to not overdo it when practicing the harp— especially at the beginning. Many beginners complain about blisters on their hands when learning the harp, which will quickly lead to irritation and pain when playing. If you also experience this, it's time for a break. Do not play with aching hands, but instead give your hand the time it needs to calm down. Only after complete healing should you start playing again.
Basically, you should decide on a suitable form of practice. Especially with instruments like the harp, it is very difficult to educate yourself with the help of internet sources and to digitally measure the quality of your own practice progress. If you want to progress quickly, we recommend private lessons for learning the harp. In most cases, the harp is a bit too exotic for a typical music school. If you know a music school that supports you in learning the harp, this should of course always be the first port of call.
The harp is a fascinating instrument with a long history and an exceedingly wide range of applications in today's music. In order to successfully play the harp, it is important to have a clear approach to learning and to master the basics of hand and finger position. We are happy to help you achieve this goal with mukken. If you are also interested in other instruments such as the flute or the accordion, please take a look at our other articles in the mukken blog.What does "plucking" on the harp mean? Plucking (also called picking) is the most basic playing technique on the harp. It involves plucking the string with your fingers to produce notes. To do this, you place the first four fingers of your hand (thumb, index finger, middle finger, and ring finger) on the strings and then pull them slightly inward, gripping the strings between your fingernail and fingertip. As you do this, pull the thumb up and the other fingers down to produce a clear tone. Be careful not to use the pinky finger. How is "picking" different from "plucking" on the harp? In this context, picking differs from plucking in that it is a technique of striking several strings simultaneously or in rapid succession to play chords or fast passages. Plucking can be done with the fingers as well as with the fingernails, depending on the desired timbre and volume. With this technique, it is important to keep the hand loose and relaxed to allow for fluid playing. What is meant by "damping" on the harp and how does it work? Damping on the harp is an important technique used to stop unwanted resonance from the harp strings to allow for clean playing. Damping can be used deliberately to create musical effects or to control notes that continue to sound after a string is played. Here's how damping works on the harp: Manual damping: to damp a string manually, place the heel of your hand, a finger or several fingers on the vibrating string to stop its vibrations. Be careful not to press too hard, as this can affect the sound or damage the string. Manual damping requires good hand-eye coordination and timing to achieve the desired effect. Damping by placement: Another method of damping strings on the harp is placement. This involves placing the fingers of your left or right hand on the strings before playing them with your other hand. This technique allows you to sound only certain notes while leaving others muted. Selective Damping: This technique uses a combination of playing and damping strings simultaneously or in rapid succession to emphasize certain notes or soften other notes. This requires good finger control and can help achieve clean, precise playing. Natural Damping: In this technique, the harpist uses the natural damping of the strings that occurs when the fingers return to the strings to play the next note. By skillfully placing the fingers on the strings, the harpist can control the sound of the harp and keep it clean.
Originally published on March 29, 2023, updated on March 29, 2023
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