Harp Wiki

How to Tune Your Harp, Part 1

First of all, there is no substitute for private, one-to-one lessons when it comes to the harp. Harp is a unique instrument in that it requires some very specific hand positioning to play the instrument well, and good hand position will be the foundation of your enjoyment. It will be easier to perfect your hand position under the guidance of an objective professional. However, you may want to run through these videos and do a little research on how to play the instrument before your first lesson.

After you're done perusing the videos, your next task is to book at least a handful of lessons with a live harp teacher. You can try learning the harp on your own, but if you feel discomfort or pain, consult a professional harpist. By the way, some pain on your fingerpads is normal. You will experience a few weeks of tenderness as you toughen up your fingers. Blisters forming? Stop, and let them heal before continuing!

All Harps[]

The tips in this section apply to all harps: nylon, gut, wire, lever, and pedal.

Tuning Your Harp[]

Sitting at the Harp[]

Nylon or Gut Strings[]

This section is intended for harps with nylon or gut strings. If you are looking through these tutorials, it's likely that you are starting out on a smaller lever harp rather than a pedal harp. Pedal harps are somewhat cost-prohibitive for new learners of the harp, so videos explaining how pedals work will be saved for an article covering intermediate skill-set.


Lever Harps: When ALL the levers are down, the instrument should be tuned to E flat Major. That is: E♭(D♯), F, G, A♭(G♯), B♭(A♯), C, and D. The reason for this is so that you are able to play in the two most common flat keys (E♭ Major and F Major), as well as the most common sharp keys (G Major and D Major).

Pedal Harps: When all of the pedals are up (disengaged), the instrument should be tuned to C♭ Major.

Levers and Positioning[]

Josh Layne does the best job of breaking down all of the pieces of playing with proper hand position. As you can see, it's a lot for a beginner to remember all at once, which is why it is advantageous to have a professional harpist observe your technique for a few lessons in order to cement a good foundation for healthy and comfortable playing.

Simple Lessons[]

Lessons presented by Telynau Teifi (Video)

Lessons presented by Josh Layne (Video)

Lessons presented by West Coast Harps (Written)

Lessons presented by Chris Caswell (Video)

Collapsed Thumb: thumb is bent backward (as shown with the yellow line).

In contrast to Layne's videos, Caswell runs through of a lot of material in his episodes. Layne does a better job of breaking down proper position into smaller pieces, so start with Layne's videos first, and then watch Caswell's. Caswell may explain something differently that will help you understand positioning. One word of caution here: Caswell's technique is mostly good, except that his thumb is sometimes collapsed, which can (believe it or not) cause discomfort and pain if you play harp a lot (professionally), so it's not a good habit to get into. Something to be mindful of as you play and ask your teacher about.

Lessons presented by Harp-school.com (video + sheet music)

Wire Strings[]

Wire-strung harps are traditionally played with fingernails, and requires slightly different hand positioning. In addition, the plucked strings sustain for a long time, and musicians need to use a special technique that will dampen strings as you play.


Many wire harps do not have levers, so you can tune it to whatever key you use the most (likely you will choose the key of G). Also, keep in mind that metal strings are more sensitive to the movement of the peg than nylon strings. The tiniest, minute movement causes the pitch to fluctuate wildly. If you have a freshly built wire harp with new strings, it will take a while for the strings to find their "home". Be patient, they will settle down.


Lessons presented by Cynthia Cathcart: