Learn to play the harp (The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide)

The harp is a beautiful, elegant instrument that is associated with luxury and class. The soothing, wondrous sounds that echo from the strings bring to mind the presence of heaven. 

It is often why, when we see pictures or productions that involve the scene of heaven, there are harps being played. The sounds of the harp put all who hear them at ease.

But what about playing the harp? 

It is an elegant instrument and one that takes skill to play. Then again, there are very few instruments where one can simply pick it up and play it flawlessly. 

Like anything, practice makes perfect and it can take a long time before one has a sufficient grasp on playing it well.

For beginners in particular, there are steps to take to learn to play the harp. 

You may not be able to take part in a symphony and likely won’t be able to repeat some of the master works that are out there, but you will display a proficiency for the instrument that was not there previously.

When you want to learn to play the harp, there are steps to take towards that goal that will not leave you feeling overwhelmed or lost.

Knowing the difference between the types of harps

The first step towards beginners learning to play the harp is knowing about the different kinds of harps that are available to learn on. 

There are two basic kinds: lever harps and pedal harps. 

The former is the most common type of harp — also referred to as Celtic harps — and are the ones you may see typically played on television, movies or in concert.

Pedal harps are much more complex. They use the aforementioned pedals to institute quick key changes and accidentals. 

This is more common in orchestral playing and these harps are substantially heavier, larger, and more expensive.

Best of all, the versatility provided by the lever harp is nearly endless. 

Play Celtic tunes, classical, folk traditions, jazz, pop songs, hymns, original compositions, therapeutic music, and improvisations. 

If you have the goal of ultimately playing in an orchestra, a lever harp is a great way to start out until you feel more comfortable taking on the complexities of a pedal harp.

Beginners will likely want to focus on lever harps when they are just starting out as they can help to avoid further confusion that can come with learning a new instrument.

Understanding the levers of the harp

After you’ve selected a lever harp for your learning, it is important to know what the levers do. 

You can raise or lower the pitch of individual strings this way, this allows you to tune on the go, as opposed to harps with no levers that would need a tuning wrench and would require re-tuning several strings to find the right sound.

Much like the strings on a guitar or bass, these levers allow you to tune your harp to a particular sound without having to get out the tools that may have been needed in the past.

Taking the first steps

The first step is to find a harp that best fits your needs. 

There are harp dealers around the country that specialize in the instrument and you may be able to find or rent a harp from your local music store depending upon the size of the store and the demand for the instrument.

Learning the basic steps

After you have acquired the instrument itself, the next step is learning the basics. Learning to hold the harp is the most important beginning step. 

Find a chair that is comfortable but that will not rock or move. Seat yourself so that your arms are around a 90 degree angle from your body so that you can easily play the middle harp strings.

The next step is to tilt the harp and lean it onto your right shoulder, feeling for the right balance and even angle it a bit sideways so that you can see the strings a bit more clearly.

Next comes hand positioning

There is no one technique that is agreed upon as “right” for harpers and harpists, but your hands should be around the middle of the strings to begin with. 

Try to remember to relax your hands and not stay too tense as you could risk injuring your hand and/or wrist if there is too much tension as you play.

Find an instructor if possible

Learning to play an instrument on your own is incredibly difficult. 

You don’t know what to look for, the questions to ask, or the places to find answers when you have the right questions. 

With an instructor, they know the steps to take to walk you through the process and can not only answer questions that you may have, but correct you as you go so that you do not develop bad habits.

Additionally, your knowledge base will only grow more exponentially with the aid of a teacher or instructor. It may take some time before you are able to play whole songs on the harp, instead focusing on the important things like tuning your harp or learning specific keys and notes.

Though this may seem slow, it is imperative to the learning process. 

You wouldn’t run before you walk and you certainly can’t play songs before you know the proper keys and notes. 

Learning these will provide you with a feel that will allow you to hear notes and play them back after you’ve gained experience.

Teach yourself how to play

Finding the right information is key if you’re going to teach yourself how to play the harp and in a decent amount of time. You can spend a very long time trying to find random answers to your questions on the internet.

There are multiple reasons why someone would want to teach themselves rather than a teacher hand holding you. 

Maybe there aren’t any harp teachers in your area or maybe you get embarrassed when you mess up in front of people (We’ve all been there) or you want to save some of your hard earned money. 

It may give you the benefit of trying things out for yourself that you may have otherwise been too embarrassed to try or maybe not even thought of because you have a teacher telling you to do only these things and nothing else and may actually help you learn faster. 

Because you have the free will to explore on your own terms.

How to get started

First you need to decide what way you’re going. The free way or the paid way?

No matter which one you decide you will do both but in the beginning picking just one way and sticking to it gives you a great way to buckle down and focus on just one resource.

Watching YouTube videos and searching the internet is all free and a great way to learn anything. And is totally doable no need to pay for anything but if you really want to learn it super quick and definitely more quickly than scanning the internet trying to find answers that may not be readily available you can pay.

Instead if you pay for a course or private coaching over Skype it will give you is the thing you don’t get with free stuff online and that’s structure.

We recommend this training by Sylvia Woods that’s around $30 on Amazon

Searching for specific questions online will provide so many answers to your questions but you will get overwhelmed.

You may get too overwhelmed and just give up.

If you choose to buy a course they will have modules and a structure to them.

But you can construct your own lessons from free information online.


Starting out on the harp takes time and patience. 

It is a tough instrument to learn and will take a bit of learning and a lot of practice to move past the rank of beginner. 

But when you begin to get the basics, playing the harp will become more fun than you could have imagined.

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