From the blog

Start with harp

Around September, with the start of the new school year, many people start a new hobby. This can be anything from salsa dancing to drawing, but in my case I mostly meet the harpists-to-be.
A new hobby means you need materials to work with. For harp lessons you should count on needing:
– a harp
a chromatic tuner
– a music stand
– a stool with the right height
– a music book (or two) to start learning with
– a notebook for taking notes, writing down homework and your own questions for the teacher

A tuner, music stand and stool can usually be found quite easily. You could go to a standard music store for those. Your teacher will usually recommend a music book to buy, every teacher has a method he/she prefers using. In my experience most people who have never played the harp before find it hard to pick out the right instrument.
In the Netherlands we are quite lucky to have a few good harp stores that give excellent advice on buying a harp. I prefer going to de Zingende Snaar, and much of the knowledge I write in this blog-series I have learned from Jeanette, the owner of said store.

What can you expect when you go looking for a harp?
In short there are 3 big groups of harps:
– lever harps with 27 or less strings: these are smaller models meant to be used as lap/therapy/travel harp and for smaller children
– lever harps with 34 strings (or more), these models are what most teachers recommend starting with and they are played by professional folk harpists like Rachel Hair
– pedal harps: these are the instruments you will see in the orchestra.

In the Netherlands it is unusual to start with the pedal harp, so for now I will not consider these as starting instruments.
Both other categories can be interesting to the beginning harpist, depending on your needs.
Most often I will recommend buying a harp with 34 strings or more. Why?
Most sheet music for lever harp is written for these harps and you can play a long time on these (in Scotland/Ireland/Brittany you can even het a conservatory degree with these).
Why would you want a harp with less strings?
There are a few good reasons to consider buying a smaller model harp:
– younger children are not tall enough to fit comfortably behind a bigger model, and they are too heavy for them to play to the best of their abilities; in this case a smaller harp is what is needed
– when you know you want to use your harp for therapeutic music and you want to be able to play it while standing and walking around
– when you want a harp for travel
– when you simply don’t have the finances to buy a bigger model (although I would recommend looking at possibilities for financing your harp or looking for a used harp).

When you go to buy/rent a harp, check the store’s website first, you can usually see the models they carry and the prices. It can be good to mention your budget when you first make contact with the store, so they show you the models that fit the budget and you won’t be tempted to buy a nicer (read: more expensive) harp.
Also ask you future teacher for their recommendations. As a teacher I don’t have a specific preference for the harp my students get, but I know there are teachers who want you to buy a model with gut strings, or prefer if you buy a harp of a specific brand/type.

In my next blog I will write more about the choices of strings and types of wood available to you. If in the mean time you would like to know more, you are welcome to come to de Zingende Snaar on Saturday September 17th (2016) for the Start&Harp day.

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