June 14, 2010

How to be a Harpy - an introduction to folk harp in the SCA

This past weekend, at Atlantia's Summer University, I taught a new class on beginning harp.  It included information on harps through history, the differences between period and modern harps and basic beginning technique.  You can see the handout for the course by downloading this here PDF.  Check out the resource section in the back for more information, and if anything's unclear feel free to email me!


  1. Very nice .pdf! You must have had a really great teacher, to know so much about good practicing.
    : D

    I would add this about blisters... and I learned it the hard way:
    Blisters make it difficult to play well. Yes, it hurts, and it's hard to control your sound with floppy, swollen fingers. Get in the habit of keeping your hands as dry as possible: wear rubber gloves when you're doing wet work, and don't go nuts with hand-washing.

    Here's a way to prevent blisters from over-practicing. When you start getting sore fingers, stop practicing. If you don't have good calluses already, you have to practice softly and for short periods of time. Build up your practice volume and time very gradually over a few weeks. I mean it! Toughing it out and practicing even though it hurts will make your performance worse instead of better, because by the time you're in front of an audience, your fingers will be bleeding and peeling, and you will be crying. You can't relax and play well like that.

    Do yourself a favor, and face the reality that it takes a lot longer to learn music on the harp than most instruments. Start your new music many weeks ahead of your performance, and if your calluses need building-up, start months before your performance.

    But you know all this already.
    : P

  2. Regarding calluses and blisters, I must add:

    While everything that Pentalia says is true, I find it to be not so bad on a folk harp (I happen to know that Pentalia plays a pedal harp). I've never had blisters that I couldn't play through on a folk harp (they didn't get gross or make me miserable), and playing through them actually made the calluses come on faster. And this is during a period of *lots* of practicing. And I tend to play louder and more aggressively than a lot of small harp players.

    Folk harps really don't rip your fingers to shreds like concert harps do. If the blisters really are making you miserable when you play, then yeah, don't push too hard. But if you feel a blister coming on, my advice is to keep playing and don't sweat it. It will almost certainly not get too bad before the callus comes on.

    Of course, as usual, if you're playing a wire-strung folk harp, none of what I have to say applies. :-)

  3. Yeah, okay... maybe playing a pedal harp is tougher on the fingers. But here's the thing. Since you, dear Sasha, are practically a clone of your mother. you are blessed with fairly dry, resiliant skin. Harpers and harpists who have baby-soft, moist skin (most people, including your father), get blisters much more easily and their calluses peel off regularly.

    Go us.

  4. Hi! I'm wondering if that pdf is still available. Thank you!