So you’ve decided to play the harp... now you need a harp!
Here is some general guidance to get you started.
If you would like to mostly play Classical music...
You will want a high-tension harp that has a warm, full sound. While you willeventually need a pedal harp to play advanced classical repertoire, you can start learning on either a lever or pedal harp. Generally speaking, lever harps are simple instruments with individual levers attached to each string. A string’s pitch can be raised half a step when the lever is manually raised. Pedal harps have an intricate mechanism with foot pedals to raise and lower strings’ pitches, and as a result, tend to be much larger and more expensive. Lever harps can accommodate early repertoire nicely because the music tends to not be very chromatic. As a student progresses and the repertoire becomes more chromatic, a pedal harp eventually becomes necessary. Lyon & Healy’s high tension lever harps can provide a cost-effective first instrument beginners, and also provide a smooth transition to pedal harps later because of their very similar feel, string tension, and string spacing across all of their models.
Recommended High Tension Lever Harps:
Recommended Pedal harps:
If you would like to play Celtic or Folk music...
These are low-tension harps that have a bright, folk sound that is beautiful in Celtic and Renaissance music. They are less desirable for students who want to play Classical music on a pedal harp down the road because they have lighter string tension and slightly different spacing than a pedal harp.
Recommended Low Tension Lever Harps:
If you would like to rent a harp:
Are you interested in a used harp?
Please take caution when purchasing used instruments. While many are excellent harps, you buy at your own risk and harps can have serious structural issues that can be expensive and time-consuming to repair. Many warranties from harp makers are non-transferable once the harp is resold to another party, so be sure to ask the maker directly if you have a question about it. You are encouraged to buy from reputable sellers, and receive outside advice from a harp technician or other knowledgeable person about the condition of specific instruments. If you'll be playing a harp for a long time, you may be better off purchasing a new harp rather than one that already has a lot of wear. Lyon & Healy used harps are a safe bet and cost a little more, whereas you can take a greater risk but get a better price with a classified listing.
Finding Your Harp
Choosing the right harp for you can seem daunting at first, but can be an exciting and fun process. Once you determine your larger goals in playing the harp, be honest with yourself about your budget, and then find the right model that fits both. Keep in mind that most harpists play multiple harps during the course of their harp playing as they progress, and your first harp doesn't need to be ready for Carnegie Hall-- it just needs to get you started in the right direction. If you have the opportunity to select a specific instrument among several similar harps, listen for a clean, even sound that is consistent in every register from top to bottom. Lastly, describe the sound with adjectives, perhaps as "bright," "warm," "round," or "full," and choose the one with the personality that speaks to you.
Remember to leave room in your budget for additional expenses, including:
- important accessories (including a transport case or cover set, an appropriate bench, and a music stand)
- a spare set of strings
- harp insurance (available through the American Harp Society, the American String Teacher's Association, or sometimes through your homeowner's policy)
- vehicle expenses (you will need a large vehicle that can haul your instrument if you will be moving it for rehearsals and performances)