Monday, January 28, 2013

Introduction to the Autoharp

The autoharp is a simple, yet complex instrument. On one level, it’s extremely easy to play, making it a popular tool for elementary school teachers and music therapists.  But the autoharp can produce some amazing melodies in the hands of a master.

A typical chromatic autoharp has 36 strings and 15 or 21 chord bars.  To play a chord, you simply press a button and strum. The chord bar dampens all the strings except the strings for that chord.  If you hold down the “C” button, the only notes you hear are C, E and G. 

If you know anything about music, you can pick up an autoharp and strum along with singing almost immediately. Picking out melodies is a little harder, but if you’ve played other instruments, you can pick up some basic songs fairly quickly.

Here I am after only one month of playing the autoharp:

I hope to improve with practice.  The following video shows how wonderful an autoharp can be.  This is Bryan Bowers, well-known autoharp master, at a recent concert I attended:

Bryan uses “diatonic” autoharps: autoharps that have been tuned to just one key. It’s easier to pick out a melody on a diatonic autoharp, and it produces a louder and usually more beautiful sound.  The disadvantage, of course, is that you can play in only one (or sometimes two) keys.

I hope to add more posts about the autoharp as I learn more about this amazing instrument.

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