Here are some questions and answers that I’m frequently asked about playing and learning to play the harp.
Is harp more difficult than piano?
About the same, maybe a little easier.
Piano uses all 10 fingers, and harp only uses 8. On piano, you have to understand more theory about when to use the black keys than you do on harp, which uses levers or pedals that often don’t change through an entire song.
Both instruments require you to use two hands to play two sets of notes. Usually your right hand is the melody and your left hand the accompaniment. This is a different concept from using one hand to place notes and the other to play them, like in guitar or violin, or both hands to place notes while your breath plays them, like flute or clarinet.
A better question might be “Is it more difficult than flute or violin?” To that, initially, the answer is “No,” because you will instantly sound good on harp, whereas violin or flute are not so welcoming.
How easy you think it is to use both hands to play notes is something we can find out.
Do I have to learn piano before I can play harp?
If you’ve played piano before, then you have experience playing notes with both hands and reading the grand staff. That will give you a leg up, but is certainly not required for starting harp.
Will I get calluses?
I got some small calluses when I was playing pedal harp, which has strings that are generally more tense to pull on than lever harp strings, causing more abrasion. Those calluses were barely noticeable.
Since playing lever harp, I have not developed any calluses.
Do you have to get someone to tune it?
You tune it yourself.
Strings go out of tune if the temperature changes, when they’re new, when the harp is new, or if the harp is not well made.
You probably won’t have to tune it every time you play.
How long will it take until I’m any good?
Somewhere between immediately and never.
I can show you in one lesson how to impress your friends—after all, you’ve picked an impressive instrument.
But usually when people are looking to be “any good,” they want to be a virtuoso. And sometimes even virtuosos still aren’t “good enough” in their opinion.
I will help you pick music that you like and that is easy enough for you to play well. I will help you overcome any stage fright. I will teach you to maximize your practice time. I will give you techniques for working through trouble spots and to improvise through a memory block.
Adults usually think they should progress much faster than they will because, as an adult, you feel that you should be able to do things, well, faster. Learning an instrument is a new skill. How long before you were “any good” at penmanship, skiing, or cooking? You didn’t start out perfectly, but you got by, and eventually you became “good enough.”
Do I have to learn theory/read music/memorize songs?
I’m a big fan of knowing why you are learning what your teacher wants to teach you. I do not teach things just because they are in some method, or because my teacher taught me that way. I teach what you need to reach the goals you have.
If you don’t have any goals that can be reached by learning theory, or how to read music, or memorizing, then I will not make you learn those.
Find out more about setting your music goals.
Do I have to buy/rent a harp?
You have to be able to practice.
I don’t demand that you practice a lot. Try for 5 minutes a day. If you don’t have a harp available to you, this becomes difficult. The harder it is for you to get to the harp, the less likely it is that you will practice today. Instead, you will put it off until tomorrow. Suddenly tomorrow is the lesson, and you have not practiced.
It is easier than you think to rent. Find out more about renting or buying a harp.
Do I have to cut my nails?
The technique that I use and that I know how to teach utilizes the pads of your fingers, which can only be reached if you cut your nails all the way down. If you do not want to cut your nails, you have two choices for learning to play with nails: make it up as we go along, or learn from a teacher who teaches the technique of playing with nails.
Nails are used on the Paraguayan harp (right hand), in wire-strung technique, and in some Celtic and Early music technique. If you stick with me, I will do my best to help you maintain a comfortable hand position, but I do not have experience teaching or playing with nails.
Is a double-strung harp like a double-strung guitar?
A double-strung guitar has each string that a normal guitar has, paired with those same notes an octave higher. A double-strung harp has exactly the same strings on both sides.
On a double-strung guitar, when you play “the G string,” you strike both the regular and higher octave at the same time. On a double-strung harp, you use a different hand on each row of strings, sometimes playing the exact same note on both sides, sometimes not.
Learn more about the double-strung harp.