Harp FAQs

Harp FAQs

Sylvia Woods Answers Your Frequently Asked Harp Questions (FAQs)

How hard is it to learn to play the harp?

Because of the beautiful sound of the harp, it is a very forgiving instrument for beginners. Just running your fingers over the strings sounds pleasing. Unlike some instruments, such as the violin, the harp sounds lovely even when you're playing "baby" pieces such as Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star. And so, learning the harp is a beautiful and joyful experience.

Of course, like any instrument, it does take time and practice to become proficient at the harp. People who have piano background tend to pick up the harp quickly since they are used to reading the two clefs and playing different things with each hand. But piano background is not a prerequisite for learning to play the harp. I've personally taught dozens of people with no previous musical training how to play the harp . . . and I've had hundreds of letters from others who have learned to play. If you want to play the harp . . . YOU CAN LEARN! Don't let anyone tell you that you're too old, or too musically deficient to play. I can't say it too many times: If you want to play the harp . . . YOU CAN LEARN! And you'll have a great time doing it! (If you don't believe me, read some of the Testimonials from our customers.)

Am I too old to learn the harp?

This is one of the questions I get asked most often. Many people think that if they didn't start playing the harp by the age of 7, there's no hope. Well, I suppose it is true that if you're 75 and just taking up the harp, the chances that you'll get a job with a major Philharmonic Orchestra are extremely slim (or non-existent). However, most people just want to play the harp FOR FUN and for their own PERSONAL ENJOYMENT. And so, YOU'RE NEVER TOO OLD TO LEARN TO PLAY THE HARP.

My favorite story about this was a phone conversation I once had with a customer. She said that she had always wanted to play the harp (which is a sentence we hear every day), but that everyone told her she was too old. When I asked her how old she was, she said TWELVE! Boy, someone got to her really early to squash her dreams! I told her that she was definitely not too old, (I personally didn't start learning the harp until I was in college) and that she should follow her dream. The happy ending to this story is that her parents bought her a harp and she loves it!

I have taught the harp for many years. The AVERAGE age of my students has been about 40. Yes, 40! And I have taught several students who were in their 90s when they started . . . and some had never played any instruments before taking up the harp! So don't let ANYONE tell you that you are too old! You're just the perfect age!

If you're still skeptical, read some of our customers Testimonials written by people of all ages who are enjoying playing the harp.

What if I don't know how to read music?

Reading music is important for playing the harp. If you don't know how to read music, it is something that you can definitely learn. My Teach Yourself To Play The Folk Harp book starts with the assumption that you don't know anything about the harp or how to read music. It teaches you, step by step, everything you'll need to know. It begins with basic musical concepts, such as note values and names, and the treble clef. Once you get through Lesson 4 you should be proficient at reading the treble clef, and so you are introduced to the bass clef.

Don't let anyone tell you that you can't learn to read music. Just like learning the harp . . . if it is something you want to do . . . YOU CAN DO IT.

There are wonderful apps that you can buy for your iPhone or tablet to help you learn to read music. You can read about some of them in our Useful Music Apps category.

What if I have no musical talent?

During all my years of teaching, I have never found ANYONE who couldn't learn to play the harp if they really wanted to learn. As I've mentioned before: If you want to play the harp . . . YOU CAN LEARN! Don't let anyone tell you that you're too old, or too musically deficient to play. I will admit that some students learn much more quickly than others, and some play with more musicality than others . . . but that's the same as any other endeavor. The most important aspect of playing is "are you having fun and enjoying it?" If the answer is "YES," then it doesn't matter if you're a virtuoso or a finger-tied beginner. If you love the harp, you'll love to play it.

Do I have to tune my own harp?

Yes, harps need to be tuned often . . . generally every time you sit down to play. However, due to the wonders of electronic tuners, you can easily learn to tune your harp. Even if you think you're tone-deaf, you can do it!

Be sure to watch our informative videos on how to tune your harp. They explain everything you'll need to know to become an expert!

With a chromatic tuner, you can accurately tune your harp or any other instrument. It is a great way to train your ear and become more proficient at tuning since it will tell you when the note is exactly in tune. Every harp comes with a tuning key that you use to adjust each string. When you pluck a string with your finger, the electronic tuner will tell you whether that string is flat (too low in pitch), sharp (too high), or just right. You then use your tuning key to adjust the string until the tuner says that it is in tune.

You'll find our electronic tuners and other tuning accessories on our Tuning Accessories page. You can also use a tuning app on your phone or iPad, instead of an electronic tuner. Read about some tuning apps in our Useful Music Apps category.

The first time you try to tune your harp, it will take you quite a while. However, with practice, you'll be able to tune your harp in just a few minutes.

By the way, the electronic tuners that we sell can be used with any instrument . . . they're not just for harps! They are also wonderful for instrumentalists who want to check their tuning and intonation.

What about harp strings?

All harps come fully strung. Usually, when they are shipped, the strings are loosened a bit to lower the tension on the harp. So, when you get your harp, the strings will probably all be a bit flat (too low in pitch).

Harp strings break when they feel like it . . . often in the middle of the night when you're asleep. They are highly susceptible to changes in humidity and temperature. That's why we always suggest that you keep an extra set of strings for your harp. There's nothing worse than finally having some time to sit down to practice, and finding you're missing a crucial string . . . and you don't have a spare!

You usually can't buy strings at your local music store . . . you will have to get them from us, or directly from the harpmaker. Every harp is strung differently, and it is extremely important that you put the correct strings on your harp. Using the wrong strings can void the warranty on your harp. (Broken strings are a common occurrence, so they are not included in any warranty.)

Strings are not returnable, so order carefully!

We are no longer selling individual strings. We only carry complete sets for the harps we currently sell.

For more information on strings, check out our Harp Strings section.

I have also created several informative videos on how to change harp strings, including how to tie the special harp string knot.

How do I decide which harp to buy?

The simplest answer to this question is that you should buy the harp with the most number of strings you can afford. However, this answer needs a lot of clarification. The following questions, answers, and resources can help you make your decision.

Do you want a Lever or a Pedal harp?

First, you need to decide whether you are interested in a lever harp (also called a folk harp, Celtic harp, Irish harp, or non-pedal harp), or whether you want a pedal harp (also called an orchestra harp or a concert harp). Here are some comparisons to help you decide.

Lever harps are more affordable, easier to transport, and easier to learn to play than the pedal harps. As you'll see from the hundreds of lever harp books and PDFs on our site, there is a lot of music that you can play on a lever harp, especially folk music (such as Celtic, Jewish, and music from many countries), some pop music, and some classical music. However, the repertoire is limited by the fact that the accidentals in the music (the sharps and flats) must be set by hand using the sharping levers. Therefore, not all music is playable on these harps.

Pedal harps are a bit more of a challenge in many ways. They are more difficult to learn to play, are more awkward to transport, and cost more money. However, the extra effort is worth it if you're interested in playing a wide variety of pop, jazz, or classical music. If you want to play in an orchestra, a pedal harp is essential.

Many people, however, end up playing both types of harps. Hundreds of pedal harpists have discovered the fun and portability of the lever harps. And folk harp players often appreciate the additional versatility of the pedal harps. So, be warned: you may end up owning more than one type of harp!

If you've decided on a lever harp then you should get a harp with the most number of strings you can afford. A harp with 34 or 36 strings (giving you 2 full octaves below middle C) is your best choice because it will give you the full range you'll need to play any of the music we sell. If this is more than you want to spend, we recommend that you get at least 26 strings.

If you'll be flying with your harp, the 26-string Harpsicle, Sharpsicle, Flatsicle, Fullsicle, and Special Edition Fullsicle models by the Harpsicle Harp Company are the only harps we sell that will fit under an airplane seat, or in the overhead bin. These Harpsicle Harps are easily affordable, portable, and great for beginners or players of all levels.

Other very portable harps are the 26-string harps by Dusty Strings: the Allegro, Ravenna 26, and FH26 models. Although you generally can't carry them with you on the airplane, they are extremely easy to move around. We've sold lots of these harps to retired folks who travel the country in their motor home (it fits under the bed, or in the bathtub!), to grammar school kids who carry their harp back and forth to school every day, and to people who play for patients in hospitals, hospices, and convalescent homes. But remember, if you get a small harp for easy transport, you'll also want a bigger harp at home so you can play the full range of repertoire.

Once you've narrowed your decision down to a few models, give us a call and we can discuss their various advantages, and also their availability and delivery times.

Why should I buy from the Sylvia Woods Harp Center?

Here are some of the reasons why you should buy your harp and other products from the Sylvia Woods Harp Center:

Now that I've moved to Hawaii, I personally handle EVERY order . . . whether it is for a book or for a harp. I have over 40 years of experience selling harps and harp related products. This is significantly longer than most people selling harps. I specialize in harps. I don't divide my time or energies selling banjos, guitars, or pianos. I just sell harps. So if you're interested in purchasing a harp, you'll be speaking with Sylvia Woods herself!

I personally select every item that we sell in our catalog, offering only the best in each category. I stand behind everything that I sell, and offer a full money-back guarantee if you're not satisfied.

Our harps are shipped to you directly from the harp maker. They will not be shipped to Hawaii, and then re-routed to you.

With our Harp Essentials program, you can save 20% on select harp accessories when you purchase a harp from us. Click here for more information on this money-saving program!

I LOVE harps, and love to introduce new people to the joys of the harp!

Where can I find a teacher?

Harp lessons are very useful, and extremely important for beginning harp players. Even though my beginning book is called Teach Yourself to Play the Folk Harp, it is strongly recommended that you get lessons as soon as possible after you get your harp. I often hear from pianists who say "I'll make it all the way through your beginning book, and then get a couple of lessons." This isn't a very good idea, because the chances are good that you've created (and reinforced) some bad habits on your own. The best time to get lessons is as soon as you get your harp, before you create any bad habits.

Check out our Harp Teacher List to find a teacher in your area. Also, many teachers are now using Skype, FaceTime, Zoom, and other on-line formats for their lessons. So your teacher can be ANYWHERE! For example, I teach through FaceTime and Skype and have taught students in Japan, Singapore, Australia, Brazil, England, France, the United Arab Emirates, Canada, and throughout the USA.

If you will not be taking lessons, I strongly suggest that you buy the DVD that goes along with my Teach Yourself to Play the Folk Harp book, and follow it, step by step. It can help you start with good harp habits that will make you a better player.

Can harp music be played on other instruments?

Even if you don't play the harp, you can still play the music in harp books. Harp music looks like piano music with treble and bass clefs. If you play a keyboard, read the music as written; just ignore the fingerings. If you play a melody instrument, play the melody line (or the top note). Many of the books I've written contain guitar chord symbols. I've heard from Irish bands who use the 40 O'Carolan Tunes and the Irish Dance Tunes books to play from in their gigs! Don't let the word "harp" scare you. Music is music!

What are the parts of a harp called?

parts of a lever harp

parts of a pedalharp