Thoroughly Equipping Music Students for Life – Part 2, Harp

In my previous article, Thoroughly Equipping Music Students for Life – Part 1, I highlighted some of the primary ways in which piano students should be prepared for future ministry and occupation. In this article, Thoroughly Equipping Music Students for Life – Part 2, we will endeavor to do the same for harp students. Even if you are not a pianist, I encourage you to go back and read Part 1, as that lays some very important groundwork for this and future articles. Also, please note that while not all masters of the harp are ladies, the harp is most commonly thought of among laymen as a lady’s instrument. Due to this thought process, I use feminine pronouns throughout this article.

As most of us know, the harp shines in a different sphere than that in which we typically find the piano. Piano is better known for accompaniment, while harp is most commonly thought of as an unaccompanied soloist. Consequently, the skillset required for a well-rounded harpist is going to be different from that of a well-rounded pianist. It may not, however, be as different as we think. With that said, let’s get take a look at the goals that it are helpful for harp teachers to have for their students.


Classically trained harpists should be well-versed in the upper-lever works from the great composers of the instrument, including Dussek, Pescetti, Grandjany, Salzedo, Handel, and others. Much as for a pianist, this sort of study lays the foundation for future usefulness in chamber groups, orchestras, and church-oriented ministry. Goal: To be able to play well – technically and artistically – the foundational works found in advanced musical literature. Also, to be able to perform as a soloist in various scenarios, including weddings, receptions, seasonal events, funerals, and more.


As a pre-cursor to playing with an orchestra and being useful in church music, young harpists should be engaged in learning ensemble music with other harpists, and even with other instruments. This is very beneficial in developing a harpist’s sense of rhythm from loose and unregulated to still sensitive, yet precise and consistent. Don’t think that there is something wrong with rubato, though; there is still a definite place for it in harp music. But a harpist who plays with others must learn to follow –and stay in sync with – those with whom she plays. Goal: To be able to play in chamber groups with fellow harpists and/or other musicians, holding her own while following and communicating with others in the group.


As mentioned in the previous paragraph, chamber music lays an excellent foundation for orchestra. The primary difference between the two is the presence of a conductor in an orchestra. Many orchestras, especially those playing sacred music, will only have one harp, and so the harpist is in a class by herself. It is essential to a successful performance of either “classical” or sacred orchestra music that the harpist have a solid and unwavering sense of rhythm, and hopefully this has been previously established throughout her years of study. The next element to playing with an orchestra is watching the conductor. This is especially challenging for harpists. The harp prevents them from seeing anything to their right, and the instrument should be positioned so as to obtain a straight line of sight to the conductor. The object here is to have the harp and music stand adjusted so that the harpist’s head has a minimum amount of movement from side to side, and rapid, vertical glances can provide constant monitoring of the conductor, music, and hands/strings. The skill that needs to be developed here is the ability to be constantly rotating what she looks at, without either losing her place in the music or becoming disoriented with the placement of the strings on the instrument itself. Goal: To be able to follow a conductor, utilizing the pre-developed sense of rhythm and ability to communicate. Also, to be able to constantly rotate eyes between conductor, music, and hands/strings without becoming disoriented or losing her place.

Church Music

For the harpist, church music is, depending on the church to be served, a combination of solos, chamber music, and orchestra. If a harpist has studied and learned well in the fields previously mentioned, she should be more than equipped to minister in the local assembly. Goal: To be confident with solo sacred music and have a repertoire for use in church services, seasonal occasions, and other events.


As with a pianist, the ability to pass on what they have learned to others is the crowning feature of the trained harpist. To be able to learn is one thing, but to teach is another. This is what the future depends on in all areas of life. Just as parents are commanded to pass on their faith in God to the next generation (Psalm 78:5-7, Ephesians 6:4), so musicians should be prepared to endow others with their skills and knowledge for the glory of our Lord. Goal: To be able to be ever-learning, teaching themselves so that teacher-induced limitations may be overcome, and to have the potential to instruct future generations.


If you benefited from this article, please consider leaving feedback in the comment section below. Don’t forget to read the previous entries on music pedagogy here!


Come visit our online store to purchase sacred and seasonal solo collections for lever and pedal harp. Additionally, check out some of my favorite harp pieces and learning materials:

Cover tiny file look inside Children’s Hour Suite for Harp, Op. 25. Composed by Marcel Grandjany (1891-1975). Classical. Solo part. With Standard notation. Opus 25. 24 pages. Carl Fischer #O004651. Published by Carl Fischer (CF.O4651).
Cover tiny file look inside Hymns and Wedding Music for All Harps Harp Solo. By Sylvia Woods. Arranged by Sylvia Woods. Harp. Sacred, Collection, Classical, Wedding. 96 pages. Published by Hal Leonard (HL.720900).
Cover tiny file look inside Sonata In C Minor For The Harp Composed by Pescetti G B. Edited by Carlos Salzedo. Harp Solo. Classical. 12 pages. G. Schirmer #ST37591. Published by G. Schirmer (HL.50280450).
Cover tiny file look inside Short Pieces from The Masters Composed by Christopf Willibald Von Gluck / Franz Peter Schubert. Arranged by Marcel Grandjany. Solo part. With Standard notation. 7 pages. Carl Fischer #H000064. Published by Carl Fischer (CF.H64).


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