Anyone here play the harp? How hard is it to learn?
I've read that it's very difficult, but I've always wanted to learn. I play the piano already, so will that help me?
Just went to a Christmas concert yesterday and the harp was featured in several of the pieces. I love it, but want to be realistic. If you're already musical is that an advantage in learning another instrument, or is the harp in a category all by itself in terms of difficulty, as I've heard.
I have a friend who plays the harp, and my niece is learning. Like any instrument, it requires practice. The nice thing is that the octaves are marked with red, and so once you get your hand placement under control, you've won part of the battle!
Don't tell me about what you can't do. That's boring. Show me what you can do. - Mom
I do, kinda--I used to, and have a harp, but it's sat untouched for almost four years now. I just stopped practicing and haven't picked it up again. I am supposed to go to a Christmas party this weekend that involves bringing an instrument, so I am going to force myself to try practicing again this week so I can bring it and at least play some chords and glissandos and stuff. (:
It is so-so on difficulty, I think. Building up the muscle memory for fingering is the hardest part, along with the coordination between left and right hands. So I think piano experience would probably help a lot with that. The advantage is that *anything* sounds pretty on a harp, so even when you're screwing up it's still pleasant. I brought my harp in for my students once when they were writing Irish poetry, and let them take turns "playing" background accompaniment while they read their poems aloud.
Good harps are pretty expensive, especially to have a good quality sound, good sharping levers, etc. I am only experienced with Celtic/lever harps as opposed to pedal/concert harps, which are even more expensive, I assume. I have a 26- or 28-string (can't remember without going upstairs to check, told you it's been a while since I practiced...) lap harp (kind of a misnomer because it actually sits on a stool, too big for the lap), which is about as small as you can really go and still have a tolerable range; that was around $900 or so for the basic harp, plus upgrades--spruce soundboard, Truitt levers, etc., which added another couple hundred. However, there are cheap starter harps out there--the ones you see most often are Pakistani harps from Mid-East Manufacturing; you'll recognize them from the painted knotwork on the column and the carved soundbox. My first harp was a Mid-East 22-string harp and it's a decent way to get started. It has a laminate sound board (poorer/quieter sound quality) and the sharping levers are crappy, but at least it has levers (without levers you have to adjust the tuning for different keys) and it's a good way to try it out. Plus, they're decorative if you don't end up sticking with it. (; Those can usually be found for $200 or so. 22 strings is really the absolute minimum to learn on, anything smaller than that isn't going to have enough range for most songs.
It really is an awesome instrument--and as I said, it's hard for it to not sound great right from the start! And now I have some motivation to go practice again...
Everything you wanted to know about harp but didn't know you wanted to know
I picked up the harp at the end of my 8th grade year, after my beloved flute teacher moved away and I decided I whould play two instruments. I thought it was super easy to pick up, aside from learning bass clef, but as a pianist, you're already ahead of me there. Maybe I just clicked better with harp (although I just took the plunge and hung my shingle as a flute teacher), but once I learned bass clef, harp just made sense, and to this day I learn music faster and play it with more emotion on harp than on flute. Really, I could go on for hours on how amazing I think harp is, and how I really encourage anyone with even the slightest interest to try it.
The first thing you have to decide if you want to learn harp, is what kind of harp you want to play.
There's pedal harps (classical and jazz music mainly): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GArbUV_yv2k This piece really showcases what a pedal harp can do, and the kind of music its designed to play. Just keep watching past the first 30 seconds. Pedal harps for adults generaly have 46 (semi-grand) or 47 (concert grand) strings, stand about 6' tall, and have a higher (tighter) string tension with slightly wider spacing than celtic harps. Pedal harps are tuned in C-flat major and have a series of disks on each string connected to pedals allowing you to change keys. There are pedal tension/spacing lever harps (I have one, a Lyon and Healy Troubador V) that allow you to play pedal harp type music, and are great for the pedal oriented student to learn on until they get to the point of needing pedals for music. Lever harps like this also run much cheaper and are much easier to transport than a lever harp. There are two main styles of playing the pedal harp, depending upon the conformation of your hands and they can make a huge difference in your ease of playing, but I can go into that in more detail if you're interested.
There's celtic harps like SarahandSam was talking about: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0-6bgq9DdC0 Celtic harps can run anywhere from a 22 string lap harp to a 36 string floor harp. Unless you're intentionally looking for something highly portable, I wouldn't get anything less than 26 strings I have an antique 22 string lap harp, and have a heck of a time finding music for it (and often end up playing a left hand basso continuo line with my flute sheet music for melody). There is a huge variety of celtic harps out there, depending on your price rance, stylistic choices, and prefered sound. SarahandSam explained levers really well, and I wanted to add that if you go the celtic harp route, you can alway add levers later. I had a set of 3 levers/octave (B, C, and F) added to my harp, and will add more as I feel the need. There is a harp called a Harpsicle that is a surprisingly good harp that's really affordable and a great first harp, they just lack the pretty traditional look of most other harps.
And then there's wire strung harps: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wXacfur-R4Y Unlike celtic or pedal harps, wire strung harps are played entirely with the fingernails (celtic and pedal harps are played with the pads of the finger, except in certain instances for a sound effect). There are a lot less wire strung harp players or teachers, but I'm really hoping people keep studying it, because I think they sound amazing!
Sorry for being so long-winded, harps are one of my great passions. Seriously, I could talk to (or at ) people about harp all day long. If you want any information about finding teacher or renting/buying harps (both celtic and pedal), PM me, I keep a lot of resources at hand from when I used to gig occaisionaly for anyone who might be interested. I don't know where the idea that harp is so difficult came from, I honestly think it was fairly easy to learn (although difficult to master, as most instruments are). Having a background in piano, the harp should be a breeze for you, you can already read the music and are used to coordinating your hands. Drink the kool-aid, we're a friendly, welcoming bunch!
Last edited by Sacred_Petra; Dec. 17, 2012 at 08:44 PM.
Reason: Thought of more things to add!
I looove wire strung harps... they have such a gorgeous sound.
I had never heard of Harpsicles before... good to know there are other cheap options out there!
Agree that you don't need a lot of levers right away... a good start to save money would be to just get C and F (most common sharps) and then B and E (most common flats, so you sharp those two strings, tune to standard C major scale, then can "flat" them easily by putting the lever down). That's all I have on mine and it's enough for most harp music.
I actually dug out my harp and music and tuning key last night and am resolved to play today. (;
OP, you might want to check out the Sylvia Woods website: https://www.harpcenter.com/ Lots of useful information there, and they have good teaching books and materials.