Back to the Celtic Harp Main Page    Harp Books - Method & Introductory Books
Methods - General  /  Methods - Children  /  Exercises  /  Theory & Arranging  /  Other Introductory
Note: Any method book is at its most effective when used in conjunction with lessons. However, for those who may have a hard time finding a teacher, I've tried to include notes as to which books are more helpful for those trying to learn on their own. This list is for nylon (or gut) strung lever harps played with the finger pads, although some contain information on other harps. For books specific to multi-course & wire-strung harps, click here.

Method Books - General, & Instructional Videos

Bruner, Pamela. Play the Harp Beautifully. Method books and DVD's.
See our May 2009 reviews of Pamela's books here.

Drake, Charlene North. A Method for the 22-String Harp. Vol.'s 1 & 2
For complete beginners; although since very little physical technique is covered, these books should be accompanied by lessons. The first book starts off at the most basic level, and progresses fairly slowly, introducing the fundamentals of reading music, and taking you through a series of exercises. There are only two tunes in the whole book, at the very end. The second book moves a little quicker, introducing more tunes, chords, and playing with both hands at the same time. If you choose this method, you'll probably want to buy both books as a set. All the tunes and exercises will fit on a 22-string harp with the lowest note being C below middle C. - T.H.

Edwards, Star.
Learn to Play the Celtic Harp. Enoch Productions, 1998.
As the front of the book says, "Four levels of learning; Learn one hand at a time, one clef at a time." Divided into four sections. Includes practice tips, "musical athlete stretches" and avoiding injury, as well as photos and diagrams showing hand position, stretches, sitting with the harp, etc. Basic theory, including tips on reading notes and counting rhythm. Notes on the various tunes are included at the back of the book. For self-taught harpists or those taking lessons. - T.H.
Play Celtic Harp by Ear. "EZ Beginner's Guide to Harp Tablature - Play-a-Long Book and Recording. Over Sixty Songs: Folk, Popular, Celtic, Religious, Seasonal, Classical, and Selections for Young Children". This book is for people who cannot read music, although as Star says in her intro, "Tablature is not meant to be in the place of reading musical notation. It is a bridge into playing and listening as you explore the nature of sound through your chosen instrument". Something beginners should be aware of, is that not all harp tablature is the same. There are several different varieties out there (Star's tablature, for instance, is not the same as Laurie Riley's harp tablature). However, Star explains her tablature clearly at the beginning of the book, so that after a bit of practice it should be quite easy to follow. The book and CD are focused on learning the tunes by ear, with the tablature mainly providing fingering and placing. As with most tablature, there is no way to know from the tab the lengths of notes, rhythms, etc., so it is really meant to be used in conjunction with the CD. While obviously aimed at beginners, this is not a method book, in the sense that it does not give instruction on technique (how to hold your hands and arms, plucking, etc.). My one concern with any book aimed at beginners that does not include notes on technique, is that people may feel they only need to learn to play a melody to be a harp player, and may neglect things like hand position, which can cause problems later on. (This is not a problem with the book itself, more of a general concern that beginners are not always aware that technique is quite important when playing the harp). So as always, I would suggest that any beginning harpist take at least a few lessons with a qualified teacher, to learn proper hand position and plucking technique, so you don't pick up any bad habits. That said, this book is quite self-explanatory and would be very approachable to anyone new to the harp, and would not require any previous musical experience. - T.H.

Mayfield, Donese and Dave Bailey. Beginning the Folk Harp: Vol. 2 (An Instruction Book of Celtic Tunes)
This book is aimed at advanced beginners who can already play with both hands, and have already been introduced to the bare bones of chord structure and scales. [Note: I haven't had a chance to look through Vol. 1 of this series, but probably these are addressed in the first book]. It starts with a brief introduction to time signatures, rhythmic accents and 3 major key signatures: C, G and D. All chords are written out in the bass clef, with examples of left hand patterns. There is also some fingering given for the right hand. Lots of tips and pointers are given for each piece. Later on in the book you are introduced to 3/4 and 6/8 time. At the end you'll find a glossary of harp-related theory and music terms. For use with help from a teacher. -T.H.

Milligan, Samuel. Fun from the First. Lyon and Healy, 1962. Vols. 1 & 2.
This book was designed specifically for use with the Lyon and Healy Troubadour harp, but it has proved versatile enough that it's been in reprints ever since the 1960's, and people are still using it for beginner repertoire. Since Lyon and Healy are primarily pedal harp makers, their books - this series, and the repertoire book Medieval to Modern - tend to have a slightly more classical approach to music. This series should really be used in conjunction with a teacher. There are exercises and brief explanations to go along with the tunes, but it isn't really designed in a teach-yourself fashion. One should also keep in mind that the books are designed for use on a 36-string harp, so some of the repertoire might not fit on smaller harps. -T.H.

upBack to the Top   /   Harp Books Main Menu   /   Back to Reviews Section

Pratt-Walter, Jennifer. Hands Upon the Harp - A Beginning Harp Tutorial and Introduction to the Modes. Lyrica Press.
- Reviewed Nov. 2003
Both a well thought out method book and an introduction to the classic modes. Many method books only focus on major and minor scales, even though the classic modes are frequently used in folk, Celtic, and other music. Celtic/folk harps are particularly well suited to modal playing, and the modes are really quite easy for beginners to grasp if they are given a proper introduction to them. I think this book would be equally suited to adult beginners and children (with the help of a teacher). By the end of the book you will know your modes, and be playing confidently with both hands. Numerous exercises included throughout. - T.H.

Raimond, Susan. Making Music for Folk Harp. - See Theory & Arranging Books, below

Riley, Laurie. Basic Harp for Beginners.
A straight-forward method book, set up in a logical progression for beginning harpists (both self-taught and those taking lessons), with a nice selection of tunes. Includes: how to sit with your harp, tuning, hand use, music notation, finger placement, theory, scales, levers, ornamentation, etc. This is probably best accompanied by Laurie's Harper's Handbook (listed below, under general info), which covers some issues like posture, practicing and harp care in greater detail. Both books pack quite a lot of information into a small volume. You can now get Basic Harp for Beginners from Mel Bay, which makes it easier to order from your local music store. -T.H.

Woods, Sylvia. Teach Yourself to Play the Folk Harp. Woods Music & Books Inc., 1978. (In reprints ever since.)
This is still the most popular teach-yourself book for lever harp, no doubt partly because it was one of the very first. It has probably introduced more people to the folk harp than most other books combined. But just because it is well known doesn't necessarily make it the right book for you. If you are taking lessons, be sure to talk to your teacher first before buying any method book (nowadays, there are lots out there to choose from!). That said, one of the reasons this book is so immensely popular is that it really is designed in a teach-yourself fashion. There are clear diagrams showing hand position and how to change a string, as well as a few pages of basic music theory, and a section on how to take care of your harp. There are some basic exercises included, and most of the tunes are well-known folk and Celtic tunes. NB: The first few pages of tunes are all in the treble clef, and people may miss the note that you should play all of these with the left hand as well as the right (not necessarily at the same time), so that your coordination develops equally in both hands. -T.H.

upBack to the Top   /   Harp Books Main Menu   /   Back to Reviews Section

Method Books - Children

Mohr, Bonnie. Colorful Adventures on the Harp. Beginning Harp Book. I use this book with my younger students, ages ten and under. It seems to work perfectly for around ages 8-10. The red and blue coloured notes really help the students equate notes on the page to notes on the harp. For really young students, the progression from raw beginner to complicated two-handed playing is possibly a little fast; so for ages six and under I'd recommend getting a book aimed more at younger kids.- More thorough review coming soon

McDonald, Susan and Linda Wood Rollo. Harp Olympics Series. This series is great, in that each book incorporates exercises, theory, and repertoire sections, so it's like getting three books in one. The first couple of books are designed to be used with either lever or pedal harp. - More thorough eview of Stage 1 and Stage 2 books coming soon

upBack to the Top   /   Harp Books Main Menu   /   Back to Reviews Section

Harp Exercise Books

Friou, Deborah. Harp Exercises for Agility and Speed.
I suggest to all my students that they get this book. It's a great collection of exercises for any harpist, beginner to advanced, lever or pedal. It includes at least some exercises for just about everything: solid intervals and chords, broken chords, rolled chords, arpeggios, placing, jumping, slides, finger independence, runs and scales, etc. It also includes several songs which use the various techniques that the exercises focus on. Ms. Friou has also put out a number of repertoire books for lever harp, click here for more info. - T.H.

upBack to the Top   /   Harp Books Main Menu   /   Back to Reviews Section

Theory & Arranging Books
Regular theory books are often aimed at piano players or conservatory students, and don't always address the needs of a harp player. Also, of the harp theory and exercise books that do exist, many are designed primarily for pedal harpists. With that in mind I've started to track down theory and arranging books designed specifically for folk harp (lever/Celtic harp). These books, with the exception of 3's a chord, were part of a comparison review in January 2003 - T.H.

Mayfield, Donese and Dave Bailey. Beginning the Folk Harp: Vol. 2 (An Instruction Book of Celtic Tunes) - Under Method Books, above

Pool, Ray. 3's a Chord. Review by Gwyneth Reid.
"Ray Pool has written a book about why every harp should be tuned in E flat. Bearing that in mind, he introduces the fundamentals of scales. He explains the root, first inversion and second inversion. Every explanation comes with a line of chord samples or whatever he is explaining, e.g. scales too. He explains scales and chords for each key. He assumes you are in E flat. However, if you tune to C or F, there are pages devoted to chords and scales in these keys. Unfortunately you are paying for a book that has all the chords. Regarding pedal harp, the keys are all the same and the book is only concerned about the chords/scales for harp chords and how a composition is built on these chords. There is a short section on pedal harp as well as lever harp tuning. My recommendation is: 7 out of a possible 10. There are probably some books that might be easier for a complete novice who doesn't have a clue about the subject. " - G. Reid

Raimond, Susan. Making Music for Folk Harp. Mel Bay Publications, 1999. (CD incl.)
Good for anyone who wants to expand beyond being "paper trained" and move on to making their own arrangements. A brief description of some basic accompaniment patterns (3 pages in all) is included at the beginning (chord patterns, drones, rhythm, etc.) Assumes some previous knowledge of chords and keys. Each tune contains chord markings and suggestions for possible accompaniment. There are also several original tunes by Susan Raimond with accompaniment already added, near the end of the book. Comes with a CD so you can hear all the examples. Fine for small harp (since the bulk of the music is just tune lines in treble clef, you can arrange each accompaniment to fit your harp); although the arranged tunes near the end may need to be transposed. Tunes included are mostly old favourites, like Brian Boru's, Greensleeves, Ash Grove, etc. It has 17 tunes and 6 rounds to play with, along with the 4 arranged pieces. This book is probably best suited to harpists who want to play by ear and are already equipped with a knowledge of basic theory, or for use with help from a teacher. -T.H.

upBack to the Top   /   Harp Books Main Menu   /   Back to Reviews Section

Robertson, Kim. Arranging for Folk Harp (Mel Bay).
Kim is renowned for her arranging as well as her playing, and often gives workshops on the subject. This book is a good concise primer for those who already play the harp, but would like to start doing their own arranging, and gain some freedom from the printed page. While not quite as packed with information as Syliva Wood's similar book, it does cover all the basics, and should help get you over that initial hump of being tied to the sheet music. While especially helpful for players of Celtic and folk music, this book is basic enough to be relevant to all styles of harp music. More info on Kim Robertson can be found on her website, Kim's books can be found in almost all harp-related stores. - T.H.

Trotter, Louise. First Steps to Harp Improvisation. 1996.
Recommended Pre-Requisites: basics of theory and harmony (although you don't have to be advanced in either). Also a medium or larger sized harp. This book is definitely not for beginners, or lap harp players. You will need to know how to play with both hands and read chord symbols. It mainly consists of 12 "etudes", with brief notes included for each. There are also 2 pages of bass, melody and arpeggio patterns. In the version I looked at, it was occasionally hard to read some of the notes included with the pieces, as they were written either onto a staff or between staves. Most of the music can be done on harps with either no levers, or levers on F only (with the exception of one piece which has a D#). This book is probably best suited to people who already play regularly and want to try improvising more, for instance to fill time or expand already known pieces. It will also appeal more to people who like traditionally "harpy" sounds like lots of glisses and arpeggios. This book would be equally useful to lever or pedal harp players. -T.H.

Woods, Sylvia. Music Theory and Arranging Techniques for Folk Harps. 1987.
This book covers all the main types of chords (triads, four-note, major, minor, augmented, diminished, 7th and 9th , modal), as well as intervals, inversions, major and minor keys, chord relationships, patterns, right hand chords to enhance melody, counter melodies, "neutral chords" (no thirds), tuning, accidentals, substitute chords, vocal arranging, and transposing. There are lots of example pieces, and blank staff paper for your own notes and arrangements. As with most Sylvia Woods stuff, it is definitely "beginner friendly". You can also approach it from the angle of a novice, who wants to learn more about arranging. If you already know basic theory, you can use it for practice (there are numerous tunes laid out in a fake-book style with just tune line and chord symbols) and as a refresher. There are also plenty of workbook-style exercises to help you get familiar with chords, scales and intervals. Fingering is suggested for many tunes but not all.
Again, as with most Sylvia Woods instructional material, the tunes are mainly familiar Celtic and folk tunes. This may be an asset, since it is often easier to learn new concepts while working with familiar repertoire; however, for anyone who wants to get into stuff that may be more unusual (or if you're wanting to spice up your arranging, to make it more "jazzy" or "hip"), you might also want to pick up one of the books by Ray Pool or Kim Robertson, or a book that focuses on music from other cultures (e.g. Nordic, South American, etc.).
Overall, this is a good, comprehensive introduction to basic theory and how it relates to the harp. It's set out in a straightforward and logical fashion, and should be easy to follow whether you're self-taught or have the help of a teacher. -T.H.

upBack to the Top   /   Back to Harp Books Main Menu   /   Back to Reviews Section

Other Introductory Harp Books

Geller, McCall & Mallory. Exploring the Folk Harp. Mel Bay Publications, 1993.
This isn't really a proper method book, in that it doesn't cover much physical technique, and is not organized like a typical method book. However, it can be useful in conjunction with a method book, especially for those who are trying to teach themselves. It contains sections on harp basics, types of harps, ways to approach the harp, buying a harp, tuning, caring for the harp, some basic theory, chords, improvisation, and singing with the harp (many of which aren't covered in your standard method book, which tends to focus on technique, exercises and graded repertoire). It also has a nice variety of music, mostly folk but with some Classical and Renaissance pieces as well. Most songs have a full set of lyrics for people who want to explore singing and playing. NB: Be sure to get a spiral bound version if you can - since it is a large book, it is awkward to try and use on a music stand with a regular book binding (one of my students found this out the hard way!). -T.H.

Hewett, Margaret. The Small Harp. Margaret Hewett Publications, London, 1982. With an introduction by Derek Bell.
This is a big book, over 170 pages, and all completely dedicated to the small harp. It has 14 pages on the history of the small harp alone, as well as sections on tuning, technique, performing in public, theory, harmony, & chords. The section on modes is also very informative, despite the old-fashioned language. Harpists should be aware that this book is for harps tuned to at least 3 flats - a few of the pieces even have four flats, but they can always be transposed.
Despite the detailed look at theory, this is not a book for people who don't already know how to sight-read. There are a few scales and exercises at the beginning, but the tunes start off at a level significantly above beginner. The main focus of the arrangements seems to be on singing with the harp, with the harp accompanying a tune line with lyrics, although there are also a number of straight instrumental pieces. Each song has a full set of lyrics, and some songs include informative notes. There is a lot of music in this book, interspersed throughout with short stories, anecdotes, and bits of info. The songs are all very traditional, so perfect for someone looking to go "back to the roots" of small harp music. The accompaniment parts would all fit on a small harp, but may not be within your range; however, the parts that go quite low could be simply read up one octave.
This would be a good book for people who really want to immerse themselves in all aspects of the small harp, especially those who want to accompany themselves (or others) while singing, and have at least a bit of previous musical experience. For the complete beginner, it would be best accompanied either by a few lessons or a beginner method book.- T.H.

For wire and cross-strung harp books, click here.
Back to Harp Books Main Menu      Back to the Harp Teachers Section