In May, Jeanette (of harp store de Zingende Snaar) and I are organising the Int. Harp Friends Meeting; this year will see its fourth edition. We started the festival because we ourselves loved going to harp festivals and we wanted to promote the folk harp in the Netherlands.
Now it’s one of the highlights of our year. Although now we don’t have any spare time to follow the workshops ourselves, we love seeing how excited everyone is after taking a workshop. It’s so great how every time people get inspired and full of new ideas after taking a workshop. And it’s wonderful to see beginning and advanced players get together and play a session, everyone participating at their own comfort level. The world of folk music is one where people play together and enjoy one another’s music, and that makes a connection!
It’s why we ended up calling our festival the Harp FRIENDS Meeting: even though we might not know you (yet), music makes us friends.
One of the things I hear from people as to why they aren’t taking workshops is because most workshops are taught by ear. It’s a shame, because it is not as difficult as it might seem, especially because ‘by ear’ doesn’t mean that you use only your ears.
The harp is very well suited to learn by ear. Because you put all your levers in position before you play, there is no need to take sharps or flats into account when playing, they are already placed.
The teacher will play the melody a few times for the students to hear and get an idea of what the end result can sound like. After that, the melody is usually played in small increments, which the students repeat. It can differ a bit per teacher, but usually there will be some instructions on which fingering to use. Of course the teacher will play each bit, so you can also look at their fingers to see how the melody is played. It can also show you which strings to use (no ear needed for that). Sometimes a teacher will name which strings are used (and if not, you can always ask).
Some teachers will give a bit of time after each small part to practise it on your own, others will let the group play part of the melody and then play the next bit themselves. However the case, lots of repeats are done to make sure everyone gets time to learn the melody. How much time? That depends on the level of the group. In a beginners workshop there will be extra attention for fingering and repeats, while in an advanced workshop you might spend more time on ornamentation or playing an accompaniment.
At the end of a workshop there might be an opportunity to record the teacher playing the piece, so you can use this to practise at home (some teachers don’t mind if you record bits of the workshop but be sure to always ask in advance and not to publish recordings on the internet). It is also usual to get the sheet music for the tune, to help you remember at home.
During the Int. Harp Friends Meeting we aim to invite teachers of high standard with an international career and experience in teaching workshops. If you feel that after reading this you would like to try taking a workshop yourself but you are unsure of which level to take?
My advice is not to look at how long you’ve played the harp, but to look at your experience playing by ear. If you have never played anything by ear before, I would suggest starting out in a beginner workshop. Are you accustomed to playing by ear or playing by heart? Then taking and intermediate/advance workshop might be for you.
Have you taken any workshops? And if so, what are your experiences?
Are you afraid of playing by ear, or excited to try?
Let me know in a comment below, I’m always happy to hear about your experiences.