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Help! I'm really trying to learn!

  • Anna
    Anna Lea

    I began taking harp lessons about 2 years ago at the age of 67, could not read music nor play any type of musical instrument.  Needless to say it is an uphill climb.  I practice an hour or more each day and have a great teacher but it just doesn't get much easier and I'm not sure how much progress I should have made by now.  It takes a long time for me to learn each new song.  Just how much progress should I have made in 2 years under these circumstances?  Does it ever get any easier?  Thanks for anyone's opinion. 

    replies to "Help! I'm really trying to learn!"
    • Sherj
      Sherj DeSantis

      Hi Gayle. Hang in there. I am never as far along as I want to be either, and get very frustrated that it takes me MONTHS to memorize pieces, or my teacher explains something clearly, but by the time I walk out of the lesson, I've already forgotten it. You would think after 4 years of practice, I could remember what note was what, but again, I sometimes look at those pages, and I can't read the notes at all. Never mind being able to count either. Does the word bifocals mean anything to you? I can see progress however, and I am having the time of my life. I also started as an adult, with a very limited musical background. Ask your teacher if  he/she sees progress. Are you having fun? My mother has also just started harping, and is experiencing the pains of learning a new skill. You are practicing diligently, and you will continue to grow. Two years ago you didn't know anything about harping.....Best of luck to you in this adventure. You are not alone. (Mom, are you reading this post also?) 

    • Elizabeth
      Elizabeth Volpé Bligh

      Maybe, to counteract the frustration, buy a book of really short, easy pieces just to have fun with. If you have more easily attainable goals, then the more difficult ones won't seem as much of a yardstick to measure your progress by. Also, just for pleasure, play by ear, just noodling around the harp for a few minutes every day. This will remind you why you love it. Everyone has their own pace, and if you are practising an hour every day, then you are progressing.

    • Kay
      Kay Lister

      Just remember - 2+1/2 years ago you knew nothing about the harp or playing any sort of music.  Look how far you have come, not how far you want to go.  Really, each day you get a little better.  Don't get frustraited, enjoy where you are in you learning and you will be surprised at how well you will do.  This is not a race. Slowly but surely you will climb higher but there will be times when you level off for a while, then up you go again.  Even the simplest pieces can sound absolutely beautiful!  Enjoy them, and the tougher ones will come with a bit more ease when the time is right.  You'll get there.


    • Liam
      Liam M


      Wow! You can play songs all the way through after only two years and learning to read music at the same time!!  (I know you're pulling our legs just the wee bit here.... Your Mum had you take piano lessons, didn't she?)

      I have a complete reportoire of songs missing the final stanzas or in most cases, the entire second half and YOU are playing them all the way through! I am so bad at it that I am thinking of simply being a strolling Bard reciting poetry with my snippets of various songs.

      But you know I have learned to nestle my ear up against my harp. Listen really close as I count from the blue string. Learned to pull the music stand really close so I can even see the clef, (Sometimes abandoning the chords as my left finger counts up those lines, Why didn't they just write music with the darned letters, anyhow?). Learned to put the metronome in the collar of my shirt in back so I can hear it and ignore it even better.

      What a contorted pretzel I become when toturing my harp. Even my face is contorted with my scrunched up eyes and knitted brow as I struggle to see the music and count those strings. Gleefully and with grand pizazz flipping the wrong lever less then the full travel.

      Yet all the time there is this certain serene smile that grows as I play. My ear nestled in draws me into the harp and somehow all the stresses of the day melt as I am nestled in a cocoon of the most marvelous sounds. My hour of  practice strangely stretches into two, three. My fingers tire and I continue with the nubs, thumping and thudding across the strings  until my wife finally cajoles me to come to bed.

      You know Gayle, I may never learn to play an entire song....never. But Gayle, my fingers are dancing in Heaven as I produce angelic sounds and I am happy. So I guess I will not be quite as jealous of you. I'll catch up with you someday, maybe, maybe not..................

    • Unknown
      Unknown User

      Hi Gayle- I'm a retired music teacher and have taken lessons with an excellent teacher for 14 months. I am a good sight reader in both clefs, and had a few years of really bad piano instruction about 40 years ago.

      I've just begun the first selection in Suzuki 2, finished the second volume of "Fun From the First", and finished the first volume of "Classiques" (leDentu). It was very hard for me to relax and make good use of my practice time when I started because I felt as though it should be easier for me to play harp than it was.

      Whenever I become frustrated, I go back in my books and find a piece that I worked on for weeks and thought I'd never ever be able to play, and after playing it slowly a couple times, I realize how much easier it is now.

      Have you discussed how to practice with your teacher? If someone told you that they wanted you to learn to race walk, you'd think "Easy", right? Actually, it wouldn't be easy, because you'd need to know the very specific movements you'd need to perform in order to move as a race walker instead of your typical gate.

      I have to admit, and I should know better, that I have wasted a lot of practice time brooding about how little music I can play. I suddenly had an "ah-hah!" moment just a week ago, and my lesson for this week sounds much better than all the lessons I've taken previously.

      If you love it, or even like it a lot sometimes but don't know if you can do it, don't even think of giving up. If you're not sure you love it, take a break for a couple weeks and see if you find yourself going over to your harp and plucking a little bit. If it's calling you back, give it another try.

    • Anna
      Anna Lea

      Thanks to all of you for your reponses......all very encouraging!  I think my problem at this point is that for the first year + I played mostly the "A" versions in Sylvia Wood's  books, especially the hymns, which I love, also some sheet music, some of it by Sylvia.  Then last Christmas I began working on some of the "B" versions, then on to a few other things.  My problem is......when playing the "B" versions and I have, for instance, a two note cord on the bass and a rolled 3 note cord on the treble, I just can't get them to smooth out. 

      Another concern, I have a lovely Dusty String 36FS harp but would love to buy a pedal harp (of course), but realize at my age I will probably never be able to progress sufficiently to warrant a pedal harp. 

      Thanks again to all of you, now, do you have any further advice about these two concerns.  It will certainly be appreciated! 

    • Tony
      Tony Morosco

      Some of Sylvia's arrangements can be a little tricky, even the 'A' versions on some. I would suggest for Christmas music you get Dewey Owens' Christmas Music Simplified. Very simple yet very nicely done arrangements.

      It was one of the first books I used and I still use it. If I need a Christmas song but don't have time to work on a difficult arrangement I can pretty much sight read these.

      As for the chords it is all about getting a feeling for the timing. I would suggest doing a lot of exercises practicing arpeggio's. As you speed up the arpeggios they become rolled chords. Just form the chords and play them one note at a time as smooth as possible. Play the chords going up the diatonic scale of the key you are in. Go as slow as you need to in order to play them smoothly. Eventually you will find you can go faster and faster until finally you will be able to play them simply as rolled chords.

      And about the pedal harp... lots of people have the idea of needing to be worthy of a fine instrument. But a fine instrument can be the inspiration we need to progress. Don't worry about having progressed to the point to warrant a pedal harp. You don't need to warrant one, you just need to want one.

      If you have the money for one and you want one then get one. Don't worry about any artificially set bench mark you need to reach before you can justify getting one. These bench marks exist only in you head. The only bench mark the harp company's care about are the ones in your bank account.


    • Anna
      Anna Lea

      Hi Sherj,  I just wanted you to know how very much your kind words encouraged me when I read them this a.m. so much so that I practiced about 2 1/2 hours today!!!  I, too, am having the time of my life, but it is easy to get discouraged when I don't see the progress I think I should.  Now I feel as if I have a whole new cheering section......thanks to all of you!  By the way, I know you are proud of your Mom!  Way to go Sherj's Mom!

    • luc
      luc Sherrill

      Bless you Gayle!  Wait until you turn 76,  begin a "foreign" subject.  Then in a moment of weakness invite a pretty blonde (HARP) to spend some time with you!!!  She is a beauty; I've never read music; learning is a trip (perhaps a one way street with me going the wrong way) I started 2 months ago, I sweat, bifocals steam up, I want to swear, I don't remember things that are so obvious to others.  When I get Alzheimer's I plan to chase him away with my feble attempts.  I've had 2 strokes, various ailments, a deformed finger yet I am blessed beyond all measures.  YOU can PLAY for me anytime. Remember in 20 years it ain't gonna matter!  Enjoy today!  You aren't alone.  Rookie, Luc (picking ???) with one sore finger, but 2 months ago I couldn't do that!!!

    • Cheryl
      Cheryl Z.

      Hi Gayle,

      "I will probably never be able to progress sufficiently to warrant a pedal harp".

      Gayle, you are 67.  If you want a pedal harp and can afford one, get one.  A lifetime of hard work is enough to warrant a pedal harp. 

    • Briggsie B.
      Briggsie B. Peawiggle, Esq.

      Tony, your post really hit the mark!!! I totally love what you wrote to Gayle. You are RIGHT ON the money in everything you said.

      Gayle, you are awe-inspiring to me. The thought of beginning something totally foreign at the age of 67 is daunting to say the least. You did it! Not only that, but you are still DOING it. That alone is wondrous. Don't worry about the progress you are making.....just enjoy the DOING of what you are doing. You are using your brain and your body and your heart. GO FOR IT, GIRL! And Tony's right about the pedal harp. You just GO!!!!



    • Tacye
      Tacye Phillipson

      Might it reassure you to know that after nearly 20 years of playing I still spend time (and should spend more!) on the total basics- making sure 2 note chords are exactly together and have the balance between the notes I want for instance.  Now you have identified a problem with arpeggiated chords you are well on the way to solving it- can your teacher help if you ask to dedicate a lesson to this point and practice techniques?

      It never gets easier, because your aspirations will probably advance ahead of your ability, but it does become more and more fun.

    • Dwyn
      Dwyn .

      Gayle -- You don't need to reach some special level to "warrant" a pedal harp.  You just have to want one, and be able to afford one.  I bought a pedal harp before I'd ever plucked a single harp string, and haven't regretted it.  Went to the Virginia Harp Center in NJ one Saturday about a year and a half ago, and peppered the charming and incredibly patient young sales lady with several hours worth of kindergarten level harp questions, then asked her to play something on the cheapest pedal harp they had in stock (an 8 year old Venus Cherub) so I could find out what the heck it sounded like, and just when it was about closing time announced "I'll take it".   A few minutes later, it was in the back of my station wagon on its way to its new home.   Indulge yourself. 


    • Carl
      Carl Swanson

      Gayle-Congratulations on your work ethic and dedication to learning the harp. All these posts have some good ideas and you'll need to pick and choose the ones that work for you. Here are a few more.

      Try changing your practice habits. Practicing means pulling the piece apart and playing it in a way different from the final version. That means practicing(a lot) hands separately, or one or two measures at a time. Playing through a piece, beginning to end, is the worst thing you can do when you are trying to learn a piece.

      If a particular pattern is giving you a hard time, like chords, then make an exercise out of that and spend a half hour just playing chords. For this reason I find that etudes are critically important to fixing technical problems and advancing your technique. Read my article that appeared in a recent Harp Column about using Etudes to improve your technique.

      When you practice a piece you are trying to learn, start by going directly to the trouble spots and working on them first. Try putting a check mark or X above the music every time you trip or have to stop and regroup. There will be a lot of them at first. Then as you learn to play through each one with no trouble, remove the mark. That will help chart your progress and motivate you.

      Lastly, learning any musical instrument is a process, and for me the process is the the fun part. Enjoy the act of learning a piece, of fixing a problem, and don't focus too much on the finished product. Trust me, no matter what level you play at, the piece is never finished.

    • Catherine
      Catherine Rogers

      What Carl wrote is so true and probably the best way I've ever heard (read) it expressed. When people ask me, "How long did it take you to learn to play the harp?", I reply, "I've been playing 30-something years and I'm still learning. And I hope I always shall!"

      There's more music in the world than one could learn in a lifetime (and new works are constantly becoming available), and the learning is as much fun as (if not more than) the performance.

    • Jerusha
      Jerusha Amado

      Wonderful advice, Carl! 


      There's great advice as well from the posters on this thread. 

      One thing that my teacher taught me is that she'd much rather hear a simple piece of harp music, beautifully played, rather than a more difficult piece fraught with error and lacking expression.  Whenever I feel frustrated that I am not playing at a higher level, I comfort myself with her words!  No matter the simplicity of what we are playing, we can still play beautiful music, and this principle will apply whether we play lever or pedal harp.


    • Briggsie B.
      Briggsie B. Peawiggle, Esq.

      Jerusha, I so agree with your teacher. Case in point......Isabelle Moretti at the AHS Conference played everything beautifully -- really difficult harp lit, and then at the end, one of her encores was a very simple, beautiful arrangement of Eleanor Plunkett, and OMG.....I had tears in my eyes listening to the beauty with which she expressed that piece.


    • Anna
      Anna Lea

      I cannot thank all of you enough for taking time to encourage a slightly discouraged grandmother.  At the time I wrote my first post I had not been for a lesson in about 3 weeks, due to one thing or another and had been working on a few songs, one that had the chords I was trying so hard to get to sound just right (being a perfectionist!).  When I went for my lesson last week I showed my great & wonderful teacher what I had been working on and she immediately (realizing my weakness, as she always does) said she had planned for me to work on chords as soon as I came for my next lesson.........sooooo, she got out her hand metronome and we went to work!  I'm still working!  She had let me slide on my previous couple of lessons as she was helping me get ready to play "The Prayer" at a friend's wedding.

      All of your advice has been terrific and I continue reading your posts, over and over.  Not only am I reading & appreciating every bit of it but am taking it.....except I have not bought a pedal harp, YET.  Thanks again, and if you have any more hints, I will love reading them, too.  

      By the way, Briggsie, I am thoroughly impressed with your name and, Liam, with your  poetic ability........you can certainly wax very eloquent, whether you ever play the harp well or not.....good for you for trying....(I'll bet you play very well, I think you were just trying to make me feel better!) 

    • Unknown
      Unknown User

      HEY GAYLE- Do you know how important it is to be asked to play for a friend's wedding??? I am SO jealous. My friends call here first just to make absolutely sure that I'm nowhere near the harp before they come! (just kidding!) But seriously, playing for others is really important, and if you were able to do that without making people run screaming out of the ceremony, you must have plenty going for you!

      I hear where you're coming from about getting your pedal harp. There's a lever harp I have my eye on, and it seems that it just keeps coming up and taunting me, but all in good time. The most important thing is to play as beautifully as possible right now.

    • Kathleen
      Kathleen Clark

      Hi Gayle, this year I'll be in my 60's and I started playing the harp a couple years ago as therapy after a debilitating stroke. I play both the pedal harp and the lever harp. I love my pedal harp as I can hug it and feel its vibration along the whole length of my body. Because of the pedals it has given me good physical therapy, retraining both my feet and hands. I had absolutely no idea when I started to learn to play the harp where it would lead me. My teacher doesn't let me get too 'busy' on the harp. Whenever I get too caught up in the notes he leans over and plays ONE note, and that gets my attention. When he plays that one note it is the most beautiful sounding and most graceful movement in the world. He never lets me forget that the harp is a journey of the soul. Each note counts. Each note by itself is lovely and should be cherished. Just last week I was depressed that I didn't think I could play very many things and he stopped me and made me look at what I've accomplished in the last couple of years. I've been very focused on things that I love on the harp. I haven't done much, but I have done things that I love. There is a lot of good advice people have written here already. All I can add is to cherish the journey one note at a time. If there is any music that speaks to you that you want to someday play ask your teacher to help get you there. Sometimes for me it is just snippets of pieces I want to learn (I think this is how I have gotten so involved in arranging for harp now). So it is a process and the more you follow what you love about playing the harp, the more clear your path will become, and the more in love you will be with your instrument every day.