The harp encompasses a variety of different plucked stringed instruments found around the world and heard in many different musical genres. Though there are many types of harps, they all share many of the same benefits as we learn to play and practice regularly.
Maybe you're already an accomplished harpist, or perhaps you're considering trying out the instrument for the first time. No matter your familiarity, I hope to inspire you in your continued learning. To do so, in this article, I'll be sharing what I believe to be the top 11 benefits of learning and playing the harp.
The Top 11 Benefits Of Learning And Playing Harp Are:
- Improves Coordination/Dexterity
- Enhances The Understanding Of Music
- Introduces A New Language
- Improves Memory
- Building Relationships
- Provides A Creative Outlet
- Improves Discipline & Concentration
- Builds Confidence
- Improves Posture
- Therapeutic Benefits
- Yields Transferable Skills To All Other Instruments
- Bonus Benefit 1: Monetizing Your Skills
- Bonus Benefit 2: Opportunity To Learn Instrument Upkeep & Construction
In this article, we'll discuss each of the benefits listed above in more detail to investigate how learning and playing the harp can improve our lives.
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Learning & Playing Harp Improves Coordination/Dexterity
Mastering the harp requires tremendous coordination and dexterity, especially for the larger styles with levers or pedals. Beyond plucking the right notes and muting the right notes are the right times, harpists are also often tasked with playing across a wide range while also tuning on the fly (with pedals or levers).
Additionally, for music performed while sight-reading, harpists must develop the dexterity to read and play simultaneously.
So then, learning the harp will inevitably improve our skills. The coordination between our eyes, brains, hands and [sometimes] feet will surely benefit as we learn and practice the harp!
With improved dexterity, we'll have an easier time learning other related skills, including other musical instruments.
Learning & Playing Harp Enhances The Understanding Of Music
Although the harp may arguably be the easiest stringed instrument to learn, it can teach us a tremendous amount about music.
Many harps have very wide ranges, notably the modern pedal harps designed with 47 strings covering a range of six and a half octaves. Harps with larger ranges, like the pedal harp, will often cover the rhythm/bass and harmony/melody sections of a song, which will teach us how the different sections work together (the piano offers the same benefit).
Harps are also polyphonic. Being able to play many notes at once can deepen our understanding of chords and voicings and ultimately help us develop a better sense of harmony. The natural sustain of the harp further enhances its abilities as an instrument to learn harmony and theory.
Note that when I write music theory, I'm referring to Western music theory, based on the 12-tone equal temperament tuning system.
Compare that to other common polyphonic instruments like the guitar, which has a maximum of 6 voices (in 6-string version) and 4 octaves (in 24-fret versions). A popular monophonic instrument like the saxophone has a single voice and only spans about two and a half octaves.
Learning & Playing Harp Introduces A New Language
Whether we're learning songs by ear or reading sheet music, playing the harp is similar to reading and speaking a spoken language.
Like written and spoken language, music has the power to evoke emotions and tell stories. Tapping into such power with the harp can teach us about the great musical language and help us to tell our own stories.
Since the larger harps allow us to perform so many aspects of music (bass, rhythm, harmony, melody, etc.), we can even conversate with ourselves on the same instrument.
The song arrangement, harmonic movement, rhythm, lead/melodic lines, and the general feel of the music are all part of the language in their own right. Each can be understood through playing the harp.
Studies show that learning a musical instrument like the harp helps strengthen the same parts of the brain responsible for language processing (source). Therefore, becoming a skillful harpist not only introduces the language of music but also enhances our brain's ability to learn spoken languages.
Learning & Playing Harp Improves Memory
The link between learning musical instruments and improved memory has been and continues to be documented through studies like this (source).
The auditory and tactile stimulation of learning and playing the harp, combined with the visual aspect of reading music, stimulate the amygdala and hippocampus, which play a role in emotions and memories. Exercising the brain in such a way will improve memory (source).
Consider all the factors of learning and playing the harp that involve memory:
- Memorizing songs (with rhythm, harmony, melody, timbre/tone)
- The notes of the harp
- Chord shapes
- Theoretical knowledge of music (rhythm, harmony, melody)
While learning and playing the harp, we stimulate the hippocampus, which activates neurogenesis, the formation of new neurons. Neurogenesis is linked to improved learning and memory (source).
Learning & Playing Harp Helps Build Relationships
Learning the harp and playing it in ensembles or live as a solo harpist will help build relationships. Putting yourself out there as a proficient harpist will attract other musicians to you, along with audience members.
Whether you're a professional performer or a casual player, learning the harp can help you make new lifelong friends. After all, music does bring people together, and if you can play a song or two or understand the harp, there are plenty of other people to share your interest and passion with.
From teacher-student relationships to the friends you jam with to music fans and professional colleagues (if you decide to go pro and join an orchestra or similar group), there will be opportunities to build relationships based on your harp playing.
As you're learning, you may decide to find a good teacher. Once you've developed some skills and knowledge, you may want to become a teacher yourself. A few online resources to consider for online harp teachers are Fiverr, Preply and Upwork.
If you've developed the skill and confidence to play live, you'll benefit from meeting venue owners, music fans, and other musicians. Music excels as a social art, and it makes it much easier to meet new people and develop deeper connections.
Learning & Playing Harp Provides A Creative Outlet
We all have the capacity to be creative (source). Learning to play the harp gives us a fairly obvious creative outlet to write our own music and also to perform the music of others in our own fashion.
Studies show that learning musical instruments like the harp creates connections between the brain's two hemispheres. Regular practicing and continued learning can actually increase the size of the corpora callosa, the bundle of axons that effectively connects the two hemispheres (source). With new neural pathways, we add additional ways of thinking (consciously and subconsciously), which surely improves our ability to create innovative and unique musical ideas.
Learning & Playing Harp Improves Discipline & Concentration
Though the harp is often considered a relatively easy stringed instrument to learn (often compared to guitar and violin), it still demands a significant investment of time and effort. Furthermore, getting to a point where you're able to play the harp at a high level takes discipline and concentration.
These skills (discipline and concentration) can be learned and developed with conscious practice. From the mechanics to the in-depth theory, learning to play the harp is a fun way to develop discipline and concentration.
Mastering the harps takes a tremendous amount of discipline and concentration, which are traits we can utilize in many other aspects of our lives.
Learning & Playing Harp Builds Confidence
Learning to play music with the harp is one of the many ways to raise confidence. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines confidence as “a feeling or belief that you can do something well or succeed at something”.
As we amass a catalogue of songs and techniques with the harp, we feel more confident in our abilities. Musical instruments give us immediate auditory feedback as we play, which tells us if we're on the right track or not. As we learn, we continuously prove to ourselves that we're gaining skills on the harp.
As we go through the process of becoming better harpists, it's only natural that confidence gained spills over to other areas of our lives. If we can learn how to play the harp, surely we can learn other things, including other musical instruments, so long as we put our minds to it.
Developing the confidence to perform in front of friends, family, strangers and even virtually/online will pay dividends in many other aspects of our lives. Learning the harp gives us the opportunity to engage in such performances.
Learning & Playing Harp Improves Posture
Sitting upright in a position where we can reach all the strings without straining takes a conscious effort at first. Our posture becomes almost second nature as we develop our skills and become more confident with the harp. Being aware of our posture and correcting as we play will allow us to perform for longer periods and help us avoid poor postural habits in the long run.
The simple act of being conscious of our posture when playing the harp can translate to other parts of our lives and help us develop stronger bodies in doing so.
Learning & Playing Harp Has Therapeutic Benefits
Debra Shipman (Ph.D. RN) states, “Learning to play a musical instrument provides a peaceful retreat from the pressures of daily life. Therapeutic outcomes of playing music include better communication skills, improved emotional release and decreased anxiety and agitation. Musical training promotes cognitive function, mental health, and a connection to others.” (source)
Music, in general, is also being studied thoroughly as a promising tool for therapy for the brain, lungs and heart (source). The American Music Therapy Association lists the following benefits of music therapy:
- Promote Wellness
- Manage Stress
- Alleviate Pain
- Express Feelings
- Enhance Memory
- Improve Communication
- Promote Physical Rehabilitation
Learning & Playing Harp Yields Transferable Skills To All Other String Instruments
As was briefly mentioned earlier, the harp is often considered a relatively easy instrument to play. It's a great option to begin learning string instruments.
Although the harp does not require fretting, its strings are plucked, which is a transferable technique to most other string instruments. This applies to fingerstyle guitar and pizzicato techniques.
Learning & Playing Harp Bonus Benefit 1: Monetizing Your Skills
An obvious bonus benefit worth mentioning is the opportunity to become a professional harpist. By professional, I mean playing the harp as a paid occupation and even as the main income source, rather than as a pastime.
Once you've become a capable harpist, there are many different methods to monetize your skills. Here are just a few to consider:
- Performing original music live (at clubs, dinner parties, coffee shops and even busking)
- Performing covers live
- Record streaming royalties from original music
- Teaching harp lessons
- Recording as a session harpist
There are plenty of other opportunities to monetize our harp playing. Marketable skills (whether they're high-paying and/or capitalized on or not) are undoubtedly a benefit of learning and playing the harp.
Learning & Playing Harp Bonus Tip 2: Opportunity To Learn Instrument Upkeep & Construction
Beyond the technique and music theory, becoming a harpist also includes learning about the harp as an instrument. As we develop our skills as a harpist, we also have the opportunity to learn about the inner workings and maintenance of our harp(s) and about sound and stringed instruments more broadly.
Furthermore, learning the general upkeep of a harp teaches us about plenty of other topics, including:
- How to tune the harp (or hire someone to do it for us)
- How humidity affects wood and other materials and how to keep the harp performing optimally
- How UV rays affect wood and other materials and how to keep the harp performing optimally
- How to clean a harp
- How to position microphones in and around a harp for sound reinforcement and recording
- How the inner mechanics of different harp types work