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How do you know if you should quit?

  • Gillian
    Gillian Bradford

    I've had my harp for 4 years and so far have made so little progress on it that I wonder if I should give up altogether. I have been having regular lessons but then I just find myself getting so tense and stressed about the whole instrument now. I am so frustrated that just sitting behind it is enough to make me feel irritated.

    I love the instrument but I love it the most when I don't touch it at all and just admire it from afar. I can happily leave it adorning the corner of my room for the rest of my life. I can't find any reason or passion to play it, even though I still have a desire to be able to play it.

    I've always wanted to play a musical instrument and this one is the only one I love. But it's so disappointing to me that I find reading music so difficult, even after all this practice I still can't sight read. I find any musical theory just mind boggling and can't tell the difference if I'm playing a C or E chord. I wonder if I have any musical aptitude at all. I'm just about to pack it in, although I could never bring myself to ever part with my harp.

    replies to "How do you know if you should quit? "
    • Unknown
      Unknown User

      Some people never sight read well.  Don't beat yourself up over it.  Harp is a hard instrument, and you are starting from the beginning.  Music theory is different than playing an instrument, useful but not actually playing.

      I realize there are two schools of thought in something that is getting to you.   Some might suggest sticking it out.  Playing will get easier with time and experience. 

      However, I would suggest trying a vacation from the harp.  I don't know if it will fix anything, but it will help your attitude.  Hard to do something you are beginning to hate.  What ever you decide, try to relax over the whole situation.  That didn't sound quite right, but what I am trying to say is that the harp is lovely, but don't let it ruin your life. 

    • Kay
      Kay Lister


      Life is to full of "have tos"!  If you are no longer enjoying your harp quest, give it a break.  If your not sure, don't sell it by all means keep it around and love it from afar.  Don't feel guilty about stepping away for a while.  If the drive doesn't come back, then move on to something else.  This or any other instrument should be for your enjoyment.  I am sure you will make a good decision - just don't feel bad about what it is and be happy with what you choose.  If you want to stick it out, maybe try another teacher.  Not all instructors are suited for all students.  Someone else might help something to click that wasn't happening before.  Just relax and give yourself the credit for trying something you wanted to do. 


    • Sid
      Sid Humphreys


      I agree with Kay. Take a break and try reading Dr. Carrols Power Performance. You may find that a different approach is what you need, but taking a break is vital (I think ) when you need a new attiude.


    • Andy
      Andy B

      Hi, Gillian:

      I've been right where you are. Every time I sat behind the harp, I was frustrated, and didn't want to play. I sold my harp and didn't play for three years. While my reasons for getting frustrated are different from yours, you still don't want to associate those feelings of frustration with your harp. In the two years since I've been playing again, I've experienced a renewed passion for playing. I really needed the time away to rid myself of the negative thought patterns I was developing. I'm sure you won't need that much time away, and don't get rid of your harp! But a little break will probably be a big help.


    • Unknown
      Unknown User

      If it's that frustrating, you might want to take a vacation from it.  If reading music is that difficult, maybe you need a teacher who takes the time to teach "by ear".  You didn't mention whether you are playing lever or pedal harp.  Sometimes learning folk harp from a classical teacher just isn't a good match.  If you can find a harpist/harper who can adapt their teaching to the way you learn best, it could make all the difference in the world. 

    • Tony
      Tony Morosco

      By all means take a break if you are feeling too frustrated. But remember that typically our frustration is due to our own expectations from ourselves. Perhaps altering your expectations of where you think you should be and what you want to get out of it would change your level of frustration at your progress.

    • Dawn
      Dawn Penland

      My aunt was a gifted harpist and gave it up in college because she hated her teacher.  Later in her 50s my mother sent the family harp to her to sell and she fell in love with it and has been playing ever since.  So, my point is even gifted musicians can quit.  My mother also played and said she had to fight for every note.  She played 7 years and quit, but she could always play her two songs for company.  I played at age 13 and  quit, then took it up again at 52.  All your interests can cycle in a life time.  For me, everything in my life is work so the harp has to be fun.  I'm not a perfectionist.  I play for my own enjoyment.  I love the repertoire and although I don't feel I'm a great sight reader, that's what I enjoy most.

    • Unknown
      Unknown User

      I think you should quit and sell your harp to me at a low low price.

    • Maria
      Maria Myers


      Even if you are joking, this comment is crass.

    • Unknown
      Unknown User

      Actually I thought it was funny, because I knew he must be joking.  It is so hard to include nuances on a computer screen.

      I loved Dawn's story about her aunt, it is true how much difference a teacher makes. 

    • Unknown
      Unknown User

      you know, I went through the same thing with piano.8 Years  playing classical piano, then I just got sick of it. I couldn't stand sitting on that piano bench anymore. Then I picked up the guitar and loved it, haven't played piano since.Maybe its time you pick up a different instrument or just find a new hobby.What kind of music are you into?

    • harp
      harp guy

      I agree with most of the comments so far.  Take a break, and then come back to it. Leaving high school, I had to decide between being a flute music major, or a harp music major. The money wasn't there for me to be a harp major, and I also found the harp to be so much more frustrating than flute, so I ended up being a flute major.

      After that break from playing, I loved harp again.  The same thing has happened with me and flute playing. I got frustrated because I was bumping against that glass cieling and getting nowhere in terms of improvement. I took a month off [and actually went so far as to ship my flute out of the country for servicing so I wouldn't have to think about it], and started playing again. After another month or so of minimal playing, I had a new attitude. I haven't been able to stop playing either instrument since. :)

      So take a break, even if it means putting the harp away in a closet so you don't have to think about it.  Then come back to it and try again. Just don't sell it. I know people who have done that and regretted it.

    • Audrey
      Audrey Nickel

      I just have to add regarding sight reading...don't beat yourself up over that at all!  I have been reading vocal music since I was a kid, and am pretty good at it.  I can also sight read music for the whistle without difficulty.  Sight reading for the harp is a whole different animal.  Even though I've been playing harp now for over three years, that aspect of it is coming slowly.  There's so much more to think about...fingering, hand position (not to mention keep track of both clefs).  It isn't easy.  So don't berate yourself for having difficulty with it.

      That said, there's nothing wrong with learning to play by ear and memory.  Many traditional musicians don't read music at all.


    • Sherry
      Sherry Lenox

      Sight reading is the hardest part of music to learn and also the hardest to teach. See if you can find someone who uses the Kodaly method.

      Even though it's designed for children, a teacher trained in the method  can use it to help you make sense of it all.

      If you like all the other aspects of playing, you owe it to yourself to try something that you're not doing now to learn the sight reading part.

    • Unknown
      Unknown User

      From what you say, you do not want to quit, you are frustrated because you are not making progress. You have to accept that you have to work as hard as it takes to improve. You may not be working hard enough. It may be your lessons. Unless you have little or no talent, you will progress with time and effort. Reading music takes practice. Everything takes practice. You may not have learned to practice effectively. There are many possible explanations. You might not be working on the right things. A lot of things need time to sink in. The real question is how do you deal with yourself. Do you berate yourself for not instantly getting things? Do you expect everything to just work as if by magic? The only magic is that if you work hard, it start to flow. Ask your teacher. Ask how to practice. Ask how much progress to expect. Look for other approaches to musical theory. Not knowing which chord you are playing seems to mean you haven't gotten the concept right yet. You may not be ready for it. The brain has to develop into a lot of music. I'm assuming you are a young teen. If you're an adult, then it's different.

    • Audrey
      Audrey Nickel

      Another thing to bear in mind is that you may be making more progress than you think you are.  We don't tend to be very objective when it comes to our own abilities, and it can be very easy to decide that you're "not progressing," when you may well be at the same or even a higher level than most others with your level of experience.  It might pay to ask your teacher if her or she is satisfied with your progress.

      Another way to "take a break" can be to just have fun with your harp.  If the idea of focused practice seems overwhelming on a given day, just sit down with it and noodle.  Pick out favorite tunes...then see if you can think of ways to flesh them out a bit.  Don't worry about the theory of it...just use your ear and see what you can come up with.  Do something really silly...maybe pick out "Smoke on the water" or "Dueling banjos."  Sometimes just playing around with the instrument can reawaken interest in practicing, because you rediscover what it was you fell in love with in the first place.


    • joan
      joan fitch

      I never had played an instrument until I was 43.  My first instrument?  The highland bagpipes!  I thought I was horrible at it but eventually became a grade 3 solo piper.  I started with the harp 4 years ago and have also wondered about the slow progress, but, having learned another difficult instrument I can say it takes the love first, then the desire, and then the perseverance.  One wonderful thing to do is to tape yourself now and then.  Let me tell you how awful my first tapes were!!  Now when I go back to listen to those early tapes I can hear the progress I have made and recognize that it comes in baby steps.  Don't be hard on yourself.

    • Unknown
      Unknown User


      I think you can tell that many of us have "been there" to some degree or another...which is why I laughed when I saw the Bosch painting of the harp in the Hell portion of the triptych (the person being tortured in the strings).

      The harp is a very difficult instrument, and my guess is since you started from the beginning in music that you just don't realize how much you have learned and accomplished. I love the suggestion to record some of your practice sessions, BUT I suggest that you tuck the recordings away and not listen to them until 6 months or a year has passed. You will then see the progress and you will be more objective about the music. I also agree with the advice that others have mentioned so far...take a mental and/or physical break from the harp and see what that brings...also look at your teacher, they may be wonderful but, is it a good match with you?  With your learning style? Your personality?...the student teacher match is more importantthan most people think.

      I was in your shoes when I first started the harp...struggling to read music, physical pain, frustration, and stress, stress, stress..."this instrument is impossible!"  I ended up setting the harp aside for almost 10 years.  Oh I looked at my harp, kept it dusted, tuned it once every few years and pretty much left it in the corner...until about three years ago and then the bug bit me...a neglected pedal harp needed a home and "do you still play the harp?" and "Do you want a harp?" were questions that I found myself saying "Yes" to.  I guess the timing was right, who knows, but I love it...I love every moment I have with my harps and do not see myself ever walking away again.

      By the way I am still trying to learn to sight read...may not ever happen to my satisfaction...no big deal...I can still learn to play beautiful music...just takes me a while.



    • Honoria
      Honoria Spencer

      My question would be about your teacher and lessons, and whether or not you are working toward the same goal.  Do you both share an attitude about music and what ultimate outcome you desire for your lessons?

      What music are you playing?  Are the pieces you are learning your choice or your teachers?  If you are only playing the pieces that the teacher suggests in her syllabus, no wonder you aren't enjoying playing.

      What were your goals?  Did you initially want to be a giging harpist or were you interested in playing for your own enjoyment and participation in the occasional church service? 

      Do your goals match the goals that your teacher has for you.  If you want to play for enjoyment, and your teacher wants you to learn ever difficult pieces so you will constantly feel "challenged", you have a problem.  Has the enjoyment of playing harp disappeared because you never feel you've quite made it because every accomplishment is overshadowed by the more difficult piece offered next.

      Please understand I am not critisizing your teacher, but a beginning in the middle student may need a different aproach than a teen who is training for the conservatory.

      My suggestion is to stop lessons, don't worry about your sight reading skills, not everyone is good at that anyway, it's a different skill than playing.  Not every harper has a deep knowledge of theory, it's helpful but not absolutely essential, (I know I'm gonna get clobbered for that).  Put away any music you don't like and forget about the difficult pieces that stress you, you don't have to play them, the harp police are not going to show up at your door. 

      So what if you can never play the classical pieces designed for the upper level conservatory recital, if you enjoy your harp and your music that is all that matters.

      Play the tunes you love and that speak to you without self criticism.  Play the hymns you love from church, play the songs you sing around the house, play the tunes you wanted to play when you bought your first harp.

      Just play for fun, and forget about improving just play.   You may find that without the ever changing bar to jump over you enjoy playing the harp again.  

       If the love of the harp doesn't return then you can re-evaluate, but first take the stress of needing to reach a certain goal in your playing off your shoulders, because you'll find that the stress of playing and the joy of playing are completely different entities.  It seems like you've maintained the stress but lost the joy.

    • Alice
      Alice Freeman

      Another idea to consider Gillian, is taking a break from the harp (as others have suggested) and focusing on the tension and stress issues. These have been a big problem for me and lessons in the Alexander Technique have made a world of difference in my harp playing and overall enjoyment in living.

      Check out http://www.alexandertechnique.com/ to learn more about it. http://www.alexandertech.org/ can help you find a teacher in your area.

      The Feldenkreis Method (http://www.feldenkrais.com/) is another good way to achieve the same goals: learn to listen to your body, identify the tension problems, and change the thinking and habits that cause the tension.

      This is not a "lesson or two" type of process. It may take you six months to learn some basic principles and over a year to be able to successfully apply them consistently.