Introduction to Autoharp Playing

by Cathy Britell


© 2012 Larkpoint Music, Seattle, WA 98139 http://www.larkpoint.com

ALL RIGHTS  RESERVED. MADE AND  PRINTED IN U.S.A.

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Welcome to the world of autoharp playing!

I’m sure this instrument will give you a great deal of pleasure--both in playing it and in using it as a means to share music with others.


 Photo: Jon Britell


Remember: the autoharp is a folk instrument--one that is meant to be played in an individual and original style. Others can help you get started and teach you new techniques, but you will actually learn to play the instrument by playing it. Give yourself the gift of some time each day to sit down, relax, put your ‘harp to your ear, and let it sing to you.



The Autoharp Is A Real Musical Instrument!

Perhaps one of the reasons you decided to learn to play the autoharp  is because it’s EASY. Well, that’s certainly true! Once you get it tuned, you can pick up the autoharp, make some pretty chords and strum along with your singing on simple songs after only a few minutes. If that’s all you want to do, don’t bother purchasing the eBook! The reason I wrote my book is that there’s SO MUCH MORE to autoharp playing that I want to share with you.  If you learn to play beautiful, clean melodies, use interesting  rhythms, and figure out stunning chord progressions, you’ll get SO much more out of your instrument, play more interesting  and fun music, become a credible performer  and accompanist,  become an asset to real musical ensembles, and have WAY MORE FUN!


To play really well takes some work.

Of course, like with playing any other real musical instrument, becoming a skilled autoharp player takes some work.  . The key is to play a little bit each day--maybe only 10 or 15 minutes. And to have fun!



Tuning

This is the first rule of autoharp  playing: KEEP YOUR INSTRUMENT IN TUNE! You must keep your autoharp  in tune if you’re going to enjoy it and if you’re going to play with or for anyone else. Probably the most inconsiderate thing you can do is to play for someone or come to an instrumental jam with your ‘harp out of tune. This will perpetuate a common  misunderstanding about autoharps,  and will make you an unwelcome guest at any musical gathering. In order to tune the ‘harp, you’ll need a tuning wrench. I find a “T” shaped wrench or a long-handled wrench (the kind often used to tune a hammered  dulcimer) easiest to use.




It  is possible to tune your instrument by ear with a pitch pipe or keyboard, if you have a lot of time and work hard at it. However, an electronic tuner (available for about $30- $60) will make tuning a snap and if you play (and therefore tune) often, you’ll find it a very good investment.



Another  handy tool is a tuning clip. This attaches to a tuning pin, and plugs into the tuner. It helps the tuner to “hear” the instrument better and will allow you to tune in noisy places.




These can be purchased in any music store. There are a number  of tuners available that clip on to the autoharp tuning pegs. The ‘’Snark” is one that works pretty well with the autoharp:




How often should you tune?

Whenever you need to. If the temperature and humidity are stable and you are not playing very hard, and your ‘harp tends to stay in tune fairly well, you may only need to tune it every 1-2 weeks. On the other hand, if you’re playing long and hard and taking your instrument into different physical conditions, you may have to re-tune it 2-3 times per day. Always check your tuning before playing with or for others.


Here’s how you tune.

If your ‘harp is quite out of tune, start with your highest note (usually C) and tune each Con the autoharp.  Then do each F, each G, each D. Then you can tune all the notes in between in any order. If you do it this way, rather than just chromatically going up or down the ‘harp, you will apply stress more evenly across your ‘harp, and will end up with the ‘harp more evenly and easily in tune and help it stay in tune better. If your ‘harp is pretty much in tune, you can just go from one end to the other and quickly tune up any offending strings. You may find that your tuner doesn’t register too well on the lower notes, and so you’ll need to tune those by ear. Once you have tuned all the individual strings on the ‘harp, slowly play all the chords you have, and make certain they are tuned to your ear. This will allow you to make fine adjustments and also to catch any mistakes you may have made by tuning a string to the wrong note (a frequent occurrence).  Remember to always use your ear as the final measure of whether the chords that the ‘harp produces are in tune.


Picks

In most cases, the autoharp cannot be played satisfactorily or comfortably with bare fingers. Most people use a pick on their thumb and index and middle fingers of the right hand.


Some also put picks on the ring and little fingers. The kind of picks you use are a matter of preference. I like to use a plastic thumb pick that is quite wide over the thumb and has a moderate amount  of ‘’give” to it. The orange Kelly Slick Pick is my favorite:


Metal thumb picks, in my experience, are too stiff and cause too harsh a sound as well as discomfort and fatigue in the thumb. The thumb pick must be tight so it stays in place and doesn’t rotate around  the thumb while playing. You need to try out a number of different thumb picks and decide which one works best for you.

Finger picks can be made from metal or various plastic or nylon materials. Many people prefer heavy gauge metal picks. These seem to keep their shape and stay on the best, and can be bent to really fit the fingers.


I also like either the plastic or heat-molding nylon finger picks.


It’s a good idea to try out both and decide which you like best.  There are some more costly picks out there, such as the “Perfect Touch” brand.   Some players find them to be VERY good and extremely comfortable, stying on very well.  I have not found them to be useful for my playing; but they may well be worth a try if picks are uncomfortable and keep falling off. 

Holding and Positioning The Autoharp

The ‘harp can be played either on your lap or holding it up to your body. The older “A” model harps were made to be played on the lap or on a table and strummed below the chord bars. The newer ‘harps are designed to be held upright against your body (which produces a much better sound on virtually all ‘harps), and so are awkward when played on the lap because of the necessity of crossing your hands. If you hold the ‘harp upright, you will need to support it in some way. Most people like a leather or nylon webbing strap to support  the ‘harp in such a way that the hands and arms need only be occupied by playing. You can use either guitar strap or a “Slider Strap” for your ‘harp. I personally prefer the “Slider”, since it seems to secure the ‘harp a bit better. Your ‘harp will need to have strap buttons on either side (see the illustrations).

   

The strap then hooks to the buttons and goes under the right arm across the back and over the left shoulder. Having to hold your harp in your arms and play at the same time can occasionally lead to shoulder, arm and hand discomfort. You need to position your ‘harp so that your right arm strums through  all the strings from the lowest to the highest naturally with a simple rotary motion of your elbow. Your hand should be in a loosely flexed position...like you’re holding a big orange, and wrists should be neutral or only slightly flexed. It’s a good idea to look in the mirror occasionally while playing to check that your body is straight, your head is balanced and not slouched forward, and that neither shoulder is hunching  up as you play. 

Buying an Autoharp

An autoharp is a fairly big investment,  and the instrument is unusual enough so that you don’t usually have the opportunity to do much comparison shopping in local music stores. Therefore, it’s good to go into this process with a bit of knowledge about your options and an idea of what you want. If you have a chance, it’s really helpful to attend a festival or gathering where autoharps are featured. There you can hear the sound of various kinds of ‘harps, talk to a number  of players and learn their preferences, and also perhaps have the opportunity to play a number  of different kinds of ‘harps.

One of the most obvious differences is the number  of chord bars and buttons  on the harp. The most common  chord bar setups are 15 bars and 21 bars. For strumming along with singing of simple songs in the most common  keys, some people find a 15-bar setup adequate. If one wants to play a lot of melodies, or chord along some classical music, jazz, and pop music, a 21-bar setup is essential. In my experience it’s a great deal easier to learn to play an autoharp with three rows of keys (21-bar ‘harp).  It’s possible to get 21-bar conversion kits for about $150 from many of the repair and supply people listed below, and some custom luthiers make and install better quality chord bar sets for a bit more. If at all possible, get a three-row setup on your ‘harp!

Another  distinction  in harps is the chromatic vs. the diatonic harp. Most of the ones we see are chromatic;  that is, the strings are tuned in half-steps (12 notes per octave). This gives the greatest flexibility in playing. Diatonic ‘harps, on the other hand, have their strings tuned in the whole steps (seven notes per octave) of 1, 2 or 3 scales. This allows some of the strings on the harp to be doubled, giving a brighter and more interesting sound. It may also make it possible to play a greater range of notes, and allows some special tuning a bit different from that of a piano. People who like playing only traditional tunes and those who like to playing fast fiddle tunes and lyrical tunes using open chording  often prefer diatonic ‘harps. You generally can’t buy a diatonic ‘harp in a music store, except for the Oscar Schmidt “Wildwood  Flower” model.

Things to look for in a used instrument.

There are many things to consider when buying a ‘harp.   First, how about used ‘harps? If you can find the right one, it can be a treasure.   Particularly a pre-1978 (American made) Oscar Schmidt 21-bar Appalachian  autoharp, will give you a lovely sound. These ‘harps will generally require some refurbishing, so you may want to add $150-$200 to the price you get them for as an estimate of the real cost. But if you do, this can yield an instrument much better than most new ones. 

There are a number  of things that can go wrong with autoharps over time, and so it’s a good idea to take an expert along on your shopping  expedition and/or look carefully at the following things:

1. Is the body straight and intact, without warping or cracks?

2. Are the tuning pins without rust?

3. Do the keys work easily and smoothly?

4. Are the tuning pins tight? (VERY important!)

5. Are the felts in good condition?

6. Are the strings shiny and without rust?

7. Do you like the sound when you play it and when you stand a few feet away while others play it?


If the felts have deep grooves in them, they will have to be replaced. This costs about $100 if you have it done, or $50-70  for parts and about 4-5 hours of work and some knowledge if you do it yourself. String sets cost about $50-60. It takes a three or four hours to re-string a harp...perhaps less with practice. It will probably cost $50-$60  plus the cost of the strings to have it done for you. If the tuning pins are loose or with certain types of plywood construction (a common  problem with older Chromaharps and occasional Oscar Schmidt harps) the harp will not stay in tune. This makes it essentially worthless. There are some remedies to this if the problem is loose tuning pins, but they are sometimes not successful. So, a used ‘harp for $100 may cost you another  $150-200 to get into good playing condition...sometimes a bargain, and sometimes  not a bargain.


Getting a new instrument.

Oscar Schmidt and Chromaharp are the best-known  makers of mass-produced autoharps. There is quite a bit of variation in these, so it’s important to play an individual ‘harp before buying it. You’ll want to make certain that the ‘harp stays in tune, and so if possible, should play it on two different days and for a period of time. If you purchase one of these ‘harps, from a music store or online, you will need to make some minor modifications to improve the “action” of the chord bar mechanism  and make it truly playable.  The Chromaharp will generally give you a brighter, louder sound with more sustain; but the chord bars can’t be easily rearranged. If you purchase your ‘harp from a dealer who is also a qualified technician,  the instrument will be checked out and maximized for you, and the additional  price you pay for the instrument will be well worth it.  Unless you have some technical knowledge and skill, I’d advise getting any autoharp through luthier/technician who is also a dealer in Oscar Schmidt autoharps.  Here are a few:

Pete DaiglePO Box 13270
Des Moines, WA 98198
(206) 878-2193 1-800-630-HARP
http://www.daigleharp.com
email: pete@daigleharp.com

Bob Lewis
AutoharpWorks
email: contact@autoharpworks.com
http://www.autoharpworks.com
phone: 864-868-0698

John Hollandsworth
Blue Ridge Autoharps
700 Tower Road
Christiansburg, VA 24073
Phone 540-382-6550
e-mail: john@blueridgeautoharps.com
http://www.blueridgeautoharps.com/


Custom Autoharp Luthiers

Of course, a fine custom autoharp will give you the best overall tone and playability.  The following are a few of the luthiers that make autoharps for many of the professional autoharpists you’ve heard. They’d be happy to send you a brochure  if you call or write. These luthiers guarantee  their work. The cost of these custom ‘harps will run from $850-$2500.


Pete Daigle
PO Box 13270
Des Moines, WA 98198
(206) 878-2193 1-800-630-HARP
http://www.daigleharp.com
email:  pete@daigleharp.com

Tom Fladmark
Fladmark Woodworks
141 Saw Mill Rd.
Sunbury, PA 17801
570-286-5044
http://www.fladmarkautoharps.com
email: fladmark@hughes.net

John Hollandsworth
Blue Ridge Autoharps
700 Tower Road
Christiansburg, VA 24073
Phone 540-382-6550
e-mail: john@blueridgeautoharps.com
http://www.blueridgeautoharps.com/

Buck Lumbert
2378 Carroll Road
Traverse City, MI 49686
email: info@lumbert.net

George Orthey
RD1, Box 34A
Newport, PA 17074
(717)567-9469
http://ortheyautoharps.com
e-mail: gorthey@gmail.com

Greg Schreiber
Schreiber Autoharps
354 Owl Hollow Road
Millerstown, PA 17062
Phone: 717-589-7210
http://schreiberautoharps.com
Email: greg@schreiberautoharps.com


Autoharp Repair and Maintenance

Your autoharp requires very little care. There are two things it doesn’t like: water and extremes of temperature. Please don’t let your ‘harp sit in the sun, in or out of its case. Autoharps have actually “exploded” when subjected to extreme heat in the trunks of cars (not a pretty sight). To clean it, just wipe with a dry cloth. Don’t  use waxes or polishes on it, except for a good commercial acoustic guitar polish (I use Martin guitar polish.) The strings will sound better, play more easily, and last longer if you keep them clean. Also, if you’re playing in a warm environment, make sure to wipe any sweat completely off the harp body, and perhaps clean it with guitar polish after playing. This will keep the finish from getting ruined and also from taking up an odor from your skin. Keep your autoharp in its case when you’re not playing it, so that things don’t inadvertently get spilled on it and the strings don’t corrode from the moisture  in the air.


String Replacement

The first calamity you are likely to encounter when playing the autoharp is a broken string. This simply happens, and is unavoidable. If you do break a string, it’s fairly easy to replace. You need to figure out first what kind of strings you have. Modern Oscar Schmidt harps use “B/C strings”. Some older Oscars, OS73 re-issues of “Black Box” autoharps and Chromaharps, as well as many custom ‘harps  use “A” model strings. These are a bit longer than the “B/C strings”. Note the number  and note of the string you broke and call around  to music stores before going to make sure they have and will sell you a single string of the correct size. You may need to order your new string by mail.

The suppliers listed below will gladly send you a new string if you give them a call. First, you’ll need to remove the old string. Be careful of the string ends, as they can be quite sharp. Once the string is out, unwind the pin approximately four full turns from its “strung”  position. Then hook the ball of the string at the base of the ‘harp, thread it carefully under the chord bar mechanism,  and feed it into the hole in the pin. If you then turn under about the last 3/8” of the string into a little loop and tuck the end back into the hole, it will be more secure and also the end won’t catch on your clothing or cut your fingers when you’re done. Now, wind the string carefully and neatly without overlapping, and bring it up to tune. Note that a new string will take a few days and 3-4 tunings to “settle in”, and so you will find that the string you just replaced will frequently  be out of tune at first, and thus require special tuning attention. You’ll probably want to replace all the strings on your ‘harp about every one to five years, depending  on how much you play. The strings will begin to sound dead when they need replacing. This job takes about four to five hours, and is best to do when you have a good deal of time with few distractions and good music to listen to. Replacing your strings also gives you a good opportunity to clean up and polish the entire ‘harp, and also to check and if necessary polish or replace the bridge rods on “A” model ‘harps.

Replacing and Repairing Felts

The other things that will inevitably need some attention are the felt pieces that cushion the chord bars as they hit the strings. Particular in older ‘harps, the glue on these felts often becomes hard and comes loose. A quick fix for these will be to simply glue them back on. I find that “Tacky Glue” works best for this, as it is easy to work with and dries with some flexibility. At some time, you may need to replace all the felts on your ‘harp. This is time-consuming but not difficult with some advance planning. You’ll need to order a set of felts of the right size for your ‘harp, and set aside 4-5 hours of uninterrupted time to do this job. It’s a good idea to talk with someone who has done this before before embarking  on this project. You can get felt from suppliers listed above.  If you need some expert repair help, you can sometimes find someone  through  a local shop that specializes in acoustic musical instruments. If you can’t find a repair person who is experienced with autoharps in particular,  try looking on the Internet (See below for a list of some excellent autoharp repair people). It’s actually pretty easy, economical, and safe to send a properly packed ‘harp  through  the mail for repair.

Where to get supplies.

Sometimes it’s a bit difficult to find strings, felts, tuners, straps, stands, and other things you might need for your autoharp. Your local music store may stock these things. If they do, or are willing to order supplies for you, it’s good to patronize  them, so that they

will continue  making an effort to meet the needs of autoharpers in your community. If you can’t find supplies locally, here are a number  of excellent mail-order  sources:

Drew Smith
529 Ardmore  Rd,
HO-HO-Kus, NJ 07423
(201) 444-2833
E-mail: drew-smith-autoharp-emporium@verizon.net

Pete Daigle
PO Box 13270
Des Moines, WA 98198
(206) 878-2193 1-800-630-HARP
http://www.daigleharp.com
email: pete@daigleharp.com

Bob Lewis
AutoharpWorks
email: contact@autoharpworks.com
http://www.autoharpworks.com


Professional Repair.

Your local music store may be able to make quality repairs; however, you’ll sometimes find that these folks won’t know much about autoharps. Here are a few of the people you can send your ‘harp to who will do excellent repair/conversion work at very good prices.


Pete DaiglePO Box 13270
Des Moines, WA 98198
(206) 878-2193 1-800-630-HARP
http://www.daigleharp.com
email: pete@daigleharp.com

Bob Lewis
AutoharpWorks
email: contact@autoharpworks.com
http://www.autoharpworks.com
phone: 864-868-0698


Chuck Daniels
e-mail: autoharpguy@minpin.com

John Hollandsworth
Blue Ridge Autoharps
700 Tower Road
Christiansburg, VA 24073
Phone 540-382-6550
e-mail: john@blueridgeautoharps.com
http://www.blueridgeautoharps.com/


Accompanying Your Singing

The best way to get started with the autoharp is to use it to accompany your singing. We’ll start with that in Part I, and expand these techniques in Parts III and IV.  You’ll find that accompanying your singing is easy to do, and will let you begin to get an idea of how songs are constructed  as well as build the skills for learning to pick melodies. The first thing to become comfortable with is long, even strums through  all the strings of the ‘harp. I find it useful to have folks practice a smooth, rhythmic stroke with the thumb only, and not do anything else with the autoharp until they have a really comfortable strum. When you strum the ‘harp, your shoulder and elbow should be as still as possible and your forearm working like the hand of a clock in a smooth vertical arc from the lowest to the highest strings. Start with a round on one chord, hum or sing the words, and strum the rhythm, then slowly add different kinds of rhythm strokes and rhythm strums. As you progress, you will want to add a few two-chord songs and then progress to three-chord songs and more complex ones. It’s a really good idea, if possible, to get one song really under one’s belt before starting on a new one.  I find that humming or singing “la-la-la” on songs while  I’m learning the chord pattern and get comfortable with the rhythm strokes is the best way to learn a song. Once the autoharp accompaniment is more or less automatic, I then add the words and....voila!....I’ve learned a song.

We’ll be working on these skills in the Part I of the eBook, and also throughout the other parts of the book.

Playing Melodies

This will be covered in Part II and also expanded in Parts III and IV of the eBook.  The melody that comes out of your autoharp  is determined by two things: (1) which chord button you push down with your left hand, and (2) which strings you hit with the right hand at what time.

Getting your left hand to push the right chord bar button  down consistently and easily is the first and most important step in playing melodies. Whether you are playing a simple unembellished  melody line or a complex tune with lots of strums and brushes and frills and furbelows in-between, your left hand is doing exactly the same thing. So, if you learn where your left hand goes, and can play the melody of a song comfortably and automatically, you can then be free to embellish it with any kind of right hand licks that strike your fancy.

When learning a song, then, it’s best to start very simply, with little short thumb strums or little plucks with your right long finger in the rhythm of the melody, and concentrate on which buttons you are pushing down with the left hand.  Once you can play the song smoothly and evenly, without pauses and without having to look at where your left hand is going, you can then begin to work on more precise picking with the right hand.

Now it’s time to concentrate on the pinch. This consists of bringing your thumb and middle finger together in a short, fast motion, so that your finger is only hitting the melody note, and your thumb is hitting two or three strings below. After practicing that motion and getting it so that you’re hitting the right number  of strings, you can than experiment  with moving your hand up and down the ‘harp, to position the pinch to hit the strings you want. When you have your pinch under control, it’s time to go back to the simple song you’ve been working on and with which your left hand is comfortable, and use the pinch to tease out the melody of the song.


At this point, it’s important to practice just one song over and over again, adjusting your pinch so that the melody is clear and recognizable to others as well as yourself. At this time, check to see that the rhythm is absolutely even, that you don’t have to pause to think about what note to play next, and VERY IMPORTANTLY, that you don’t have to LOOK at the chord bar buttons. In order to play any song artistically, you MUST get to the point where you don’t have to look at the chord bar buttons. Now that you’ve learned the song, can play the melody clearly and evenly, and feel at ease and comfortable while doing it, it’s time to add some ‘’rhythm  fills”. This will take advantage of the wonderful properties of your instrument and make your songs more beautiful and interesting.

Rhythm fills can be (1) a simple strum (2) a back-brush  (3) one or two single notes or (4) a combination  of these. It’s important to remember  that rhythm fills are embellishments...they are secondary to the melody. If the song becomes crowded with extra notes and the melody is not brought out above them, it becomes muddy. If you listen to the very best autoharp  players you’ll notice that their playing is more precise and in many ways more simple than people who don’t play so well. Virtuosity is often a process of eliminating  unnecessary notes and emphasizing the ones that will have the most artistic impact.

Easier melodies with different chord bar arrangement.

One last thing about picking melodies: your chord bar arrangement. I played along for about 3 years before I realized I could change around  my chord bar arrangement to suit myself!  I had always thought  I had to stick with the way my ‘harp had been set up in the factory.  Then, I had the good fortune to spend some time learning from Bryan Bowers, charter member of the International Autoharp  Hall of Fame, who plays with great skill and musicality.  Bryan showed me how much easier it was, for the traditional and folk songs and tunes that he and I love to to play with a ‘harp that was set up consistently so that the three strongest fingers shared the work of pushing buttons equally. This results in the buttons being arranged with the majors in the middle row, the minors in the farthest row with the relative minor right underneath the major, and the sevenths in the closest row, with the seventh right above the same major. This can be arranged so that it is almost totally consistent among all the keys (with some variations on either end of the ‘harp). I have also found that the Ab, Bb7 and C minor chords are not very useful on the ‘harp and choose instead to have an E minor, B minor, and F# minor on the ‘harp instead. The autoharp  technicians listed above can do that easily if this seems to be a daunting task.

Here’s one suggested layout:




Another layout, adding diminished  seventh chords and sacrificing the key of A:




As you can see, there are a number of variations of this layout, depending  on what keys you plan to play in, and whether or not you want diminished  chords. Diminished chords are not used in my beginner’s book; however they can be great fun for many popular “standard” tunes.

Whichever variation of this setup you use, you don’t have to do much thinking about what key you’re playing in, and the keys fall automatically and comfortably beneath your fingers. Once I changed my ‘harp around  this way, my playing and enjoyment  in playing improved immeasurably.  As you can see, this is a three-row setup. If you’re really serious about playing melodies on the autoharp,  I’d advise that you invest in a chordbar setup with three rows. You can have 15 or 18 or 21 bars, whichever suits you, and can include keys on either end of the above setup as your playing needs dictate, but a consistent three-row setup will, in my opinion, give you the best and easiest playing. Now, it’s important to note here that there are some VERY GOOD players who DON’T AGREE with this setup.  These are often folks who do music in harmonic minors, pop music, classical music, and other repertoire that is far away from the kind of music I like to do on the ‘harp.  .  So this setup is not the “end-all and be-all”;  but it’s the one I find personally most useful, and it certainly gave me  easier and better playing than the setup that the Oscar Schmidt factory puts on their instruments.   And also, it’s important to say that , if you already have a two-row 12- or 15-bar setup, you’ll be able to learn to accompany your singing and play the melodies in this book just fine.  It will simply take a little more work, and compromise  as to keys. I’ve tried to make this book so that it will “work” for all autoharps.


Connecting with the Autoharp  World

There are some excellent resources that will help you find about other autoharpers, recordings, books, performances,  supplies, and general information about the instrument.

If you have access to the World Wide Web, you’ll find the Autoharp  page http://www.cyberpluckers.org  to be tremendously useful. There you can find out about joining the Cyberpluckers, the internet  autoharp  mailing list as well. There you’ll find autoharpers from all over the world to talk with, ask questions, and share tunes and tips. Here’s a magazine specifically for autoharp  lovers:


The Autoharp  Quarterly
PO Box 13270
Des Moines, WA 98198
http://www.autoharpquarterly.com

This is a quarterly magazine which is a treasure house of information about technical issues, recordings, autoharp history, clubs, and festivals and contests. Also it includes artists’ schedules.   Back issues are also available, with classic articles on many topics of interest to autoharpers.

Another resource that you may find useful is the ‘’Autoharp Owner’s Manaul”. This is available from the Autoharp Quarterly Marketplace or via mail order from the magazine.

Festivals and Schools  Featuring the Autoharp

There are a number of festivals that feature autoharp  performances,  classes, workshops, and/or contests. They include:

- California Autoharp Gathering, Dunlap, CA http://www.calautoharp.com

- Mountain Laurel Autoharp Gathering, Newport, PA  http://mlag.org

- Willamette Valley Autoharp Gathering, Salem, OR  http://wvag.com

- Walnut Valley Festival, Winfield, KS http://wvfest.org


There are also a number  of week-long “schools” where intensive autoharp instruction is available.

- Augusta Heritage Center  http://www.augustaheritage.com/

- John C. Campbell Folk School http://www.folkschool.org

- Swannanoa Gathering  http://www.swangathering.com/

- Seattle Autoharp Week http://www.seattleautoharpweek.com

And in the UK:

- Sore Fingers Week http://www.sorefingers.co.uk/


Autoharp Recordings

Autoharp  recordings may be a bit difficult to find in your neighborhood record store. In general, each artist who records autoharp  music sells his or her own tapes and CD’s directly, and that often turns out to be the best way to support  the artist. But if you ask your local music or record store to order an artist’s recording for you, that supports  the artist, too, since stores will then begin stock recordings of artists for which there is demand.

A good selection of autoharp-related materials is available at http://www.autoharpquarterly.com  and also, if you go to  http://www.cdbaby.com and type ‘’autoharp” into their search engine, you’ll find some autoharp recordings.


One last piece of advice: Work on PLAYING BY EAR every single day.


Do this, first by learning scales and arpeggios and getting good at playing them. (see PART II of this eBook). Then, work on playing some simple children’s songs, such as “Mary Had A Little Lamb”, “Itsy Bitsy Spider”, “London Bridge”, “Hot Cross Buns”, and others you can think of. After you can master those, try some of your favorite old folk songs. This may seem like a mysterious and difficult process at first, but if you just keep at it, suddenly one day, patterns will begin to emerge from the music for you and your fingers and brain will start to find those melodies and chord accompaniments, as if by MAGIC.


Yes, the autoharp  is a wonderful instrument!  You can play many different styles of music in many settings.  The autoharp  is likely inspire you to do things you’ve never done. It made me start singing and playing for others, and inspired me to write songs.  Here’s the first song I wrote on the autoharp,  sung with my friend William Limbach. And is my wish for you, as you go along your autoharp learning adventure: ‘’ May your heart be filled with song, as good friends gather ‘round you...”



About the Author:

Cathy Britell is a professional autoharp performer  and teacher who plays everything from traditional  fiddle tunes to celtic airs to classical pieces, popular songs, and beautiful original tunes. She was pleased to win First Place in the International Autoharp Championship in Winfield, KS, in 2005 (placing second in 2002 and 2003), and second place in the 2007 Mountain  Laurel Autoharp Competition and is renowned for her clean quick fiddle tunes and lyrical airs and waltzes on the autoharp.  The immense fun she has with her music spills over to audiences and students in an infectious way. Her website is at  http://www.larkpoint.com

 
 
Books for Learning Autoharp
Cathy’s Performance and Teaching
Seattle Autoharp Week
Playing Scales on the Autoharp
Southwind Plus You
Contact - Questions? 
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