Thursday, December 14, 2017

How to Play the HARP in All Styles of Music and Expand Your Musical Expertise

English: modern celtic harp Français : harpe c...
Modern Celtic Harp
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There is a certain freedom in allowing oneself to delve into any kind of style of music regardless of your background and choice of instrument. One of my favorite instruments is the harp and its versatility. I play a Woldsong levered harp made by Paul Culotta (RIP, dear one) with 39 strings. It's made of Walnut wood with a Spruce soundboard.

The range of notes on my harp is from a G below great C to the C an octave above High C. This is a wonderful range for a Folk or Celtic Harp. Paul chose to use metal on the bottom 8 strings, which gives a rich, full sound to the bass.

When I say it is a levered harp, that means it has a lever per string close up to the bridge pin which, when engaged, will sharp the string a half step. Most folk or Celtic harps you see in the world have the flip-up lever. My harp has brass blade levers, as opposed to flip-up levers. These are rare levers, however, I prefer them because they are really fast and able to do an excellent pull-off or hammer-on as you would do on a guitar. I use these techniques primarily when I play blues and difficult classical pieces on my harp.

Blues harp, you say? Yes, the original in my opinion.

Have you ever heard a song and just wanted to play it and the sheet music is just not out there? Well, what I do is listen very carefully to the song and find the tonic or 'Do,' if you will. I work out the melody and find the chords to go underneath. If you can hear the distance between notes in the melody (the intervals and how they move), and do the same with the bass, you can usually fill in the rest fairly easily.

When I'm taking a song, for example, 'Wonderful World' and working it out on the harp, I use mainly octaves and 5ths on the bass lines with arpeggio chords, and embellish the melody with inversions on the right hand with rolled or block chords. Many times I will dampen the strings to create a stop-like feel for effect.

When I use the hammer-on or pull-off technique, I will pluck the strings of the harp with my right hand and turn the lever with my left hand, creating a semi-tone movement up and down. With blade levers, there is no stop sound--the lever being disengaged and making a loud click sound on the mechanism. Blade levers turn 45% towards the harpist and touch the string, tightening it just enough for a semi-tone ascension. There is no mechanism attached to the blade.

When you are working out a song, whatever the style, listen carefully to the rhythms, and figure out what works with your harp playing. In Reggae, you will use a lot of dampening stops with back-beat rhythms, and the same goes with blues and rock songs. In some songs, your bass lines will be more complex. In Celtic and Traditional music, you will use more of a light touch on the harp strings, perhaps with a bit more speed and lilt of rhythm. You will find more grace notes, trills, and rolling, continuous bass lines in the Celtic and Irish harp music.

In Classical music, you will challenge your scale skills and your modulation skills with a levered harp. I love playing Fur Elise on my Celtic harp and it's definitely not a harp song. I've worked out all of the sections very carefully. When using a levered harp, you have to choose the voicing of your chords with care because you are flipping your levers in order to modulate into the next key or passage.

I encourage you to expand your horizons of thought with the harp and how it can be played. If you play the harp, try something new! If you don't, try listening to eclectic versions of songs played on the harp. There is a lifetime of music from wonderful harpists out there. Go and enjoy yourself!

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