Learning to play the double-strung harp


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Most harps only have one row of strings. Some have more...

This is a photo of a normal lever harp. You can see a single row of white, red, and blue strings. At the right of the picture, you can see the soundboard, with the darker piece of wood that the strings go into.

A double-strung harp has two rows of strings. The rows, or courses, are exactly the same strings, parallel to each other. Each side has its own set of levers.

In this picture of my Voyageur II➚, on the near side, look at the top, and you can see that the closest string is red. Look to the left of that closest red string. You can see a white and a blue and another white string. These are on the far side of the harp, a second row of strings, same as the first.

When harpers who have never played a double sit down at mine, the first thing they do is look at the placement of their right hand...which means they are looking through two sets of strings. They immediately blink a lot and ask how I play this without getting dizzy.

It took me a week to get used to it. But, because of this initial dizzy confusion, I recommend that you learn the fundamentals on a single-course harp before tackling the double-strung.

If you’d like to try the double-strung before deciding you’d like to learn it, I will rent mine out for short periods of time. Contact me about renting my Voyageur II.

These harpers have method and tune books for the modern double-strung:

  1. Cynthia Shelhart➚ has a great beginning double-strung method book

  2. Beth Kollé➚ and Laurie Riley➚ have another great double-strung method book and two tune books (Laurie Riley has a good article all about double-strung➚ on Harp Spectrum)

  3. Joanne Griffin➚ has two double-strung tune books, including Christmas carols

  4. Cindy Kleinstuber Blevins➚ has two double-strung tune books

Ready to contact me about learning the double-strung or regular lever harp? Or, first find out more about me.

Why learn double?

  1. Easier improvising. With a row of strings for each hand, your hands will never run into each other. Set the levers of each side in a different key for extra fun—one side can be gilss tuning.

  2. Better-sounding repeated notes. For songs with lots of repeated notes, you can split the playing between rows, so you don’t have to dampen the same string to play it again.

  3. Special effects. Echo yourself by playing the same melody with both hands (imagine what bisbigliando sounds like) Play the same notes at the same time for more volume.

  4. Less mid-song lever changing. Set your accidentals on one side so you don’t have to flip in the middle of a song.

  5. More resonance. Doubling the same strings gives a fuller harp sound, because there are more strings to vibrate sympathetically.

  6. Twice the strings in half the space. Take arrangements for a larger harp and move the left hand up an octave.