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  • Wire Harp Method Books

    Cathcart, Cynthia. Pathway - A Primer for the Wire Strung Harp. Highland Circle Publishing, 2003.
    This newest addition to the world of wire strung harp primers is a comprehensive, user-friendly guide for the beginning "clarsair", or wire harp player. There is a detailed introduction to the instrument, including how to hold the harp, use and care of nails, and hand position. Although the book assumes the student can already read music, there are explanations of the notations particular to the wire harp (symbols for damping, ringing, etc.). The music is designed for a harp tuned to G major (F's are tuned to F#), and is suitable for small harps. There is a generous collection of tunes, in progressive order, each with placement guide and thoroughly detailed notes. The CD that comes with the book is quite helpful when approaching each new tune. As Cynthia herself points out, no book can take the place of the guidance and inspiration of a good teacher. However, for those who may have trouble finding a teacher, the logical progression, in depth notes and instructions, and helpful CD make this an excellent first book for any harpist who wants to try their hand at the wire harp.- T.H.

    Kathryns, Gael A. The Wire Strung Primer - An introduction to Playing the Wire Strung Harp. Raging Celt Productions, Englewood, Colorado, 1991.
    Begins with an overview of technique (with pictures), including posture, arms, hands, nails, plucking, and damping. Includes numerous exercises, and a collection of charming traditional English and Irish pieces, each complete with fingering and damping notes. This is a good book for people who want a more detailed introduction to technique, and also for those who may want an alternative to the well-known "beginner tunes" that are used in some other books. - T.H.

    Heymann, Ann. A Gaelic Harper's First Tunes. Clairseach Music, ISBN 0-9621867-3-2. A classic among wire harp books, this book was the one that helped me "break through" into understanding how to play the wire harp. Its approach and selection of tunes are unique, and helped me make sense of the mystery that is the wire-strung harp. In her research of the Bunting manuscripts, Ann uncovered three of the first four tunes taught to harp students in the 18th century, and those three tunes formed the foundation for the book. Highly recommended for anyone starting out on the wire harp, with our without a teacher. - T.H.

    Heymann, Ann. Coupled Hands for Harpers. ISBN 0-9621867-40. Ann's books are available from Clairseach Music and most harp supply stores, such as Sylvia Woods, Melody Music, Lark in the Morning and Dusty Strings.
    Also by Ann Heymann: A Gaelic Harper's First Tunes (see above)
    and Secrets of the Gaelic Harp, 1989, ISBN 0-9621867-2-4. (The latter book is apparently out of print, but you might be able to access it through an inter-library loan service at your local public library, or look for a used copy.)

    For more info on wire harps, you can visit There are also other links to Gaelic harp sites in the historical section.

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    Wire Harp Collections

    Cathcart, Cynthia. Traditional Beginnings for the Celtic Harp. Highland Circle Publishing, 2001.
    As the subtitle says, "an easy and progressive collection of fun and recognizable melodies arranged for wire strung and small harps". Designed for a harp tuned to G major, and suitable for small harp. One of the nice features of this book, is that each tune is presented in two versions - one with fingering, damping, and chords noted - and the other without. This is good way to wean yourself off of all the typical notes and fingerings including with beginner music. Each tune also has detailed notes on both the history and musical structure of the tune. Also included at the back of the book are useful drills for each piece, and full lyrics for many of the songs. The many recognizable tunes (25 in total) include Blow the Man Down, On Top of Old Smoky, Red River Valley, The Water is Wide, The Minstrel Boy, etc. Many musicians will know these tunes from singing or playing them as children or beginning on other instruments, but playing them on a wire strung harp gives them a whole new dimension. Not a method book, but a good companion for beginners and anyone who wants a resource of familiar tunes arranged for wire harp. - T.H.

    Catchart, Cynthia. From My Music Stand. Highland Circle Publishing, 2001.
    A collection of 19 Irish and Scottish tunes. As with Cynthia's other two books, suitable for small harps, and meant to be played on a harp tuned to G major. Speaking from the perspective of a beginner myself (on wire harp), the pieces seem to range from early intermediate to advanced (although the intro indicates that some may be accessible to late beginners). Meant for players who have already grasped the basic concepts of ringing and damping, and are comfortable using both hands. Fingering and damping suggestions are given for every piece, and each piece is accompanied by performance notes. In addition, full lyrics are included for two of the songs (in Gaelic, with English translation). - T.H.

    Hines, John C. Early Music for the Wire Harp, Melody's Traditional Music, Houston, TX.
    All the pieces in this book are arranged to be played in the fixed hand position. Each piece includes fingering and a placing guide. An enjoyable collection of early tunes from anonymous chant- style pieces to renaissance dances. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the book includes one piece which can be played in an ensemble ("Conductus", with parts for 2 harps and percussion), as well as two other pieces arranged for 2 harps. - T.H.   [Back to the Ensemble Music section]

    Cross-Strung Books

    Tasche, Harper. How to Play the Cross-Strung Harp. 2001.
    Kudos to Harper for tackling this much-needed method book, which will make lots of struggling cross-strung players very happy. The book starts off with detailed notes and clear pictures of several different hand positions. It includes numerous scales and chord exercises along with an eclectic variety of tunes in many different keys. By the end of this book, you should be able to play in just about any key your heart desires. It can be used in conjunction with a teacher, or by those learning on their own. However, it may be daunting to those without previous musical experience. Previous sight-reading and theory skills are a major asset. If you are new to music, be sure to pick up a basic theory book to go with it. - T.H.
    For info on where to get this book, you can contact Harper at or visit his web-site at

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    Double-Strung Books

    The Double-Strung Harp by Beth A. Kollé and Laurie Riley - Reviewed November 2003
    I finally got my hands on a double-strung harp, so I have now had a chance to try out this book for myself (so far it's the most fun I've had harping in a long time!). First, here's a brief overview of its contents courtesy of Melody's:

    "The tunes found in this book are The Rooftops of Langley, Mazurka Michel, Scarborough Fair, Dinny Delaneys, Whelan's Jig, Are You Sleeping Maggie, Slides, La Noche Pasa, Refraction, Greyhound, The Reel of Mullinavat, Fantasy on Leyenda, Noel Nouvelet, Masters in this Hall, and Carol of the Bells. Also included are valuable instructions on double-strung harp history, harp techniques possible on a double strung harp, doubling melodies, dividing melodies in half, overlapping chords, setting levers for accidentals, getting your hands working, repeated notes, left hand exercises, two-handed exercises, getting used to looking at the strings, and the actual arrangements themselves. "
    That said, this really is more of a repertoire book than a method book. Despite some descriptions of the neat things you can do on a double-strung harp (many of which can't be done on any other kind of harp, except for the Welsh triple-strung), this isn't really a method book, nor is it suitable for beginners. The tunes are generally intermediate level, or higher if you factor in the trickiness of some of the double-strung technique effects, which will be unfamiliar to single-course harp players. If you already know how to play the harp and are looking for a fun challenge, playing the double-strung is a marvelous experience, and the arrangements in this book make full use of its unique capabilities. I've been working my way through the book using a double-strung lap harp (from Stoney End), and so far most of the arrangements are playable on a small harp. A few bass notes go down below the low C (one octave below middle C), however they can be played up an octave. You do, however, need a full set of levers to make the most out of this book. I have levers only on F's and C's, and while I've been able to play many of the tunes, there are a few G#'s and even a D# in some of the arrangements. People who already play double-strung will be thrilled to finally have a repertoire book written soley for them, and people who are just beginning to explore their double-strung will definitely be inspired. - T.H.
    The Double-Strung Harp is available from,, or from Melody's Traditional Music 1-800-893-4277 (92120 $22.00 US).

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