Are you new to the harp? Wondering how to find the harp that is right for you? The world of the harp offers a wide range of instrument options and musical genres to explore and an opportunity to join an enthusiastic community of like-minded individuals. The American Harp Society is here to help you learn more about the harp, the harp community, and the resources and opportunities you can access to deepen your understanding of the instrument.
There are three main types of harps:
All of these harps can be acoustic, electric, or acoustic/electric. Harps are found in every culture, for example, the African Kora, the Irish/Scottish Clàrsach or Celtic harp, the Chinese Konghou, South American folk harps, the European concert harp, and many more. Knowing the type of music, you want to play will factor into the type of harp you choose. Each one is versatile to be sure, but not every harp can effectively produce every type of music.
Explore these topics below to begin your exciting harp journey:
Lever and Pedal Harp Characteristics (Size, Number of Strings)
If you are a beginner, think about what you see yourself doing with the harp. For example, you may want to participate in orchestra, band, choral and/or mixed instrumental chamber music groups, as well as harp ensembles. Or you may aspire to be a soloist. You may opt to adapt folk and/or popular music to the harp. Many harpists bring music from their cultures to the harp. Some share therapeutic music in healthcare settings and communities. And others may choose to play the harp solely for personal pleasure. Considering your goals will help you determine where to start in choosing the harp and instruction that is right for you.
You are in a good place to begin your search for harps and harpists! Your greatest resources for learning about the harp are human connections. Start locally and broaden your scope as you learn more about the options.
Begin here on the AHS website by searching for an AHS chapter in your area. Contact the chapter officers and ask to attend a meeting or chapter event to learn more about the harp. When you hear a harpist perform in your community, talk with them. Ask for referrals to hear other harpists, or perhaps to teachers, or request the opportunity to observe a harp lesson. Find ways to engage at the local or regional levels.
Once you have a sense of the resources that are near you, start to explore online sources. The American Harp Society is, again, a good place to find curated information about the harp and harpists. Expand your search for harpists by contacting the American String Teachers Association, or the local chapter of the Music Teachers National Association in your state. Contact harpists through local orchestras or college music programs. Harpists are often reviewed on Yelp and other online review sites--just remember that in most cases commercial resources focus on promoting specific goods and/or services.
If you have already made the decision to start learning the harp, you are ready to read on! Not quite ready to commit? Take some time, pursue the options above, get to know harpists in your area, and continue to educate yourself about the harp. When the time comes to get started, you’ll be prepared! Stay in touch with us and let us know how the AHS can help you become a part of the harp community.
Choosing a harp presents many options. For the purposes of this introduction
to the harp let’s focus on the modern lever and pedal harps described above.
These are the most used harps in contemporary performance settings around the globe.
Harps are measured by height, width, number of strings, and weight. Consider the size of the instrument relative to the harpist, transportation, or space constraints you may have, and the age of the beginning player. If the harpist is very young or petite, a smaller harp may prove to be more accessible and provide more enjoyment along the way.
NUMBER OF STRINGS
The number of strings on a harp influences the breadth of repertoire options for the player. Harps can have as few as 11 strings. Most concert grand pedal harps have 47 strings. A lever harp, which commonly has between 24 and 36 strings, can provide a very satisfying entry into the world of the harp. The most petite pedal harps generally have 40 strings. As the number of strings increases, the frame size, weight, and portability are impacted as well.
Beginning harpists may choose to rent a harp before committing to the purchase of an instrument. Harps may be rented from teachers, harp dealers, and other harpists. Check around your community and online to find
availability for harps to rent. In some cases, you may be able to find a new harp to rent or a “rent to own” program sponsored through harp manufacturers and/or harp dealers.
When the time comes to purchase a harp, you’ll likely want to choose between a new instrument and one that is previously owned. For new harps, most harp manufacturers offer a factory warranty of at least one year, providing a level of confidence and security for anyone new to purchasing a harp.
Buying a used harp is easier than ever before with the proliferation of harp dealerships and reliable online advertising resources. As in the purchase of anything used, it will be important to know the age of the harp, and to be able to evaluate or have a trusted harpist assess the condition of the harp before purchasing. A good quality used harp can provide years of service and enjoyment for a reasonable price.
One of the most important factors to consider in an acoustic instrument is the quality of the sound. Listen to sound clips and watch videos online of different types of harps. Wherever possible, go to hear harps played live.
When it comes time to look for a harp, test out different models in person. Most reliable harp dealers either play the harp themselves or have on-staff harpists who can demonstrate the sound of each instrument. If absolutely necessary, you can hire a harpist to go with you to play the harps and give an opinion on their sound.
While it’s important to have a working knowledge of what to look for when you are buying a harp, all the research in the world may prove irrelevant if you come upon an instrument, whether for sale or rent, that is affordable, that works for you, and that you love.
Again, you will be your own best advocate when it comes to finding a teacher. Be sure to read the suggestions above for Connecting with the Harp Community. While you may happily experiment with your harp in the beginning and access several online resources, eventually you are going to want to find a teacher who can work with you in person. In music, as in many other learning pursuits, there are advantages to hands-on training.
Consider the variables when you start your search for a teacher, including:
Pursue conversations with more than one teacher before you commit to lessons. If possible, ask to sit in and observe a lesson, join in a group class, or attend a harp ensemble rehearsal with the teacher. This is an important decision. Take your time and enjoy the process!
Congratulations! You’ve found yourself a harp and a teacher. Once you’ve learned the basics and begun to experience the joy of playing the harp, many new possibilities will open for you. Your musical environment will offer a community of harpists and musicians who share your enthusiasm for the harp; lifelong friendships are often forged in our shared love of this instrument! We hope you have a wonderful time adding the harp to your life and joining our cherished community of harpists.