video demonstrations of special effects used by Bernard Andrés

Musikwerke Fackler

free resources for harpists
hints for beginners, hints for gigging harpists, and more

These Resources for Harp Students and Harp Teachers by Barbara Ann Fackler are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

wedding ceremony at St. Thomas Orthodox Church, Fairlawn, Ohio - Celtic harp music

Andrès Notation Project

A compilation of markings used in the music of Bernard Andrès. Provided as a free download to harpists worldwide. Includes video demonstrations of some effects. If you perform the harp compositions of Andrés, you'll eventually need this guide. As musicians we are to follow the dictates of the music. There's no need to guess what terms mean, especially when the composer is still living and has given us a clear indication of his intent. Find the German translation here. FREE DOWNLOAD

Compiled and translated by Isabelle Perrin and Barbara Fackler with the intention that this collection be shared freely among harpists at no cost. It should never be offered for sale. Many of these effects may be indicated in more than one manner. The words and/or symbols may be used together or independently of each other. All effects using a tuning key refer to a wooden handle with a metal shaft.

Because we do not guess at rhythm, notes, dynamics or tempi, we encourage our fellow harpists to treat these new and unique notations with the same care as is given to other elements of music. We encourage harpists not to guess, but execute them as intended.

Some of the effects cataloged here may be heard on the recording Bernard Andrès played by Isabelle Perrin. Hortensia 3003842 ARC 321.

Editing assistance was generously provided by Joanne Glover, Delaine Fedson, and Thea Hansen. Graphics design by Augie Fackler. Demonstrations filmed by Kelly Yousoufian of Michigan Harp Center. Digital video editing by Dane Wester.

click here for example movies that provide further clarification

Notation Specific to Harp

Rests, unless we intentionally dampen a string, do not accomplish silence on harp and so, to add them is superfluous and makes interpreting the music more difficult. Especially for those most familiar with music written by harpists, we simply don’t see them scattered though our music in the way they are for keyboard or other instruments.

Rot und Schwarz by Barbara Ann Fackler

Rot und Schwarz is the theme for a series of skill building preludes for harp. In the same way that we often simplify map reading, by not naming every street that we'll pass on the way to our destination, note reading is simplified when new harpists can quickly identify where all the black and red strings are notated on the staff. These are useful for teachers as well as those learning on their own. Once these come easily, try my arrangement of Ode to Joy. Felicitation, Spring Song, Still Waters and Meditation, all found in Short and Sweet Volume III: Accessible Solos would also be a great place to use your new skill. Look for music in the Pretty Quick Music catalog that is a Skill Building version and dig in.

An Introduction to Note Reading for Harpists

The title pretty much sums it up. To read notes well, you need to understand how the staff maps out your instrument. It's a beautiful system that shows you the location of each note on your instrument. Pay attention to how the notes move, up or down on the staff. Learn the watch for relationships as notes move, is it moving stepwise or skipping around, going up or down? When you read a map, do you need to know the name of every street you pass on your way to the next turn, or do you just need to know how many blocks to travel and in what direction? Note reading works in a similar fashion. This free one page music worksheet reminds you what you need to know.

Note Reading and Rhythm Tutorial

Each note on the staff tells you two things about itself: 1) what it sounds like (the pitch of the note, and the string it is played on and 2) how long the note should last (the duration of the note). Where the note lays on the staff (which line or space) tells you what string to play and what the note will sound like. What the note looks like tells you how long the note should last. Download this free one page (PDF) tutorial that explains note values and how to interpret them. 32KB

Why Is It So Difficult To Count?

It's very, very common for students to struggle with counting. Train your ears, your hands will follow. This brief tutor may help you get started.

Placing Four in a Row

One of my favorite things about the Suzuki method is that it teaches the placing of all 4 fingers very early on. Learning to do this teaches you to find a good healthy hand position. If you've worked through this and the study on root position triads, try out the lever-free version of Grieg's Morning Song or Saltarello (recorded on my CD). You might also consider Irish Love Song and Meditation from Short and Sweet Volume III: Accessible Solos. It's a lot more interesting to fine tune your new skills with music you enjoy than an etude and when you're done, you've got music you can play for family and friends. If you're up for a more serious workout, grab the Lariviére etudes (from ISMLP or there's a link here later on) and start at page 6.


Learning to play thirds is the beginning of being able to add harmony to your music. It is important to learn to bring both the thumb and second finger off the string at exactly the same moment and to be able to recognize the interval of a third when the notes are not played as a chord but as individual notes following one another. Work through this short study until you can control your fingers reliably. Then, you're ready to work on music that incorporates thirds like Kelvingrove (used in the Gather worship book) and Sweetheart Waltz, part of Short and Sweet Volume III: Accessible Solos. Silent Night, Hosanna, Loud Hosanna, or the Beethoven's Ode to Joy might be good choices for you if you can manage this study well. If you are comfortable with placing three notes in a row, then you could also learn Hymn of Thanksgiving or Children of the Heavenly Father from The Sacred Lever Harp (available from Vanderbilt Music) or Ron Harris' In This Very Room.

Typical fingerings for harpists

If you are consistent in your habits as a beginner you'll have an easier time as you attempt more difficult music. There aren't too many chord shapes for a harpist to know. Because our instrument works chromatically differently than other instruments, a minor third and major third are virtually the same to our hands. Once you realise this and memorize the typical fingerings for each interval, large chords and arpeggios become much easier to master.

Triads in Root Position (C Major)

Root position triads are often found in beginning music and they're very useful when learning to improvise. Small harps that don't allow for large chords will use them all the time. You need to master not just placing this chord shape but recognizing it. When you have mastered this, you can learn Westphalia, Savior Like a Shepherd Lead Us, Ode to Joy(version A), We Three Kings, All the Pretty Little Horses or the Sweetheart Waltz. If you work with a harp ensemble, you are ready to play first harp on Arabesque if you have mastered this exercise. Once you're comfortable with the version in the key of C, try the other keys as well.
Click each link for sheet music for each free harp etude.
triads: D major
triads: G major
triads: a minor
56 KB

Chord Inversions

Chords may be inverted, meaning the note on the bottom is no longer the root. Once you've learned to dependably find a root position chord, it's time to learn how to find the inversions. This prepares you to learn Ode to Joy (version C), Come Thou Almighty King, Christ the Lord Has Risen Today, Fairest Lord Jesus, Jesus Loves Me Manoah and O Sacred Head. You're also probably ready to start learning to read lead sheets. Work this in different keys to learn the chords that commonly ocurr in keys you'll use a lot on lever harp.
Download the sheet music for these keys after you've learned the one in C major (link above):
key of D
key of F
key of Eb
key of G
40 KB

A Short Study in the Placement of Four Note Root Position Chords

The beautiful thing about harp is that we can memorize the shapes of commonly used chords which simplifies note reading. Root position chords always have the same shape to the hand on a harp, no matter the key. Finding chords of three notes is much easier than four note chords, so a little extra practice finding big chords is often necessary.

This is a short study, to be practiced over a long period of time that will help you memorize the shape of a four note root position chord. When you are ready to work on all the inversions possible with four note chords, grab the Lariviére etudes and look at page 5, which offers enough exercises that you'll be busy for a long time. The exercise on page 5 of the Lariviére book can be played on lever harps, there are plenty of others for pedal harp only. 76 KB

Lead Sheet Tutorials

Included are two (3) free tutorials on reading lead sheets that are designed with harpists in mind. Learning to read standard lead sheets opens up limitless possibilities for repertoire, even to the novice. Also including on this page is a list of commonly occurring chords for commonly used key signatures. Nearly all of my Beginning-in-the-Middle students learn to read lead sheets sometime in their first two years of study. I teach them to use standard lead sheet notation so that they can read any lead sheet they find. Once you've got the hang of this, check out the lead sheet collections in our Short Cuts collections of lead sheets for harps, with special sets aimed at lever harp including reminders for lever shifts.

Why would you want to learn to read lead sheets? Read this and start to ponder.
Post missing, check back for a repost of this topic.

Program Planning: What's the Secret?

Planning programs can be tricky. It's not enough to simply program what you already have in your repertoire, or music that you enjoy. If your audience doesn't engage, a repeat performance is unlikely.

It's often the stories behind the music that makes a program work, do your research and engage your audience in a bit of history. Tie the music, if you can, to where they live. It's possible to do that for nearly any music with a bit of creativity.
Here's some ideas for an Irish program to get you started.

Here's some more general ideas for program planning.

Pedal Felts

Do you replace your own pedal felts? If so, you can save $$ by purchasing the fabric in bulk. Here's some places that sell it by the yard: Mali Cloth or here ( 2 yard minimum) : any color you'd like!

Why Everyone Needs a Repertoire Book

Do you know what music you have ready for performance? Here's a way to make sure you're ready for anything.

Hints on Playing Harmonics

Don't get all worked up about harmonics. Once you know "the secret handshake", they're not hard at all.

Pedal or Lever, What's to Compare?

It's not less, it's different! Don't underestimate your lever harp.

It's not less, it's different. Lever verses Pedal harp

How's your practicing going? Are you making the most of your time at the harp?

What’s My Problem? Why Can’t I Do This? Maybe the problem isn't you, maybe it's the awkward notation in your music. Here's some suggestions that might help.

No excuses. If you have 15 min. today, you DO have time to practice. Tune the harp. Get busy.

Productive practicing requires sleep. Interested, read why this is so.

Are You Relaxed? Do you know why you should be relaxed when you're at your harp?

Tension is not your friend. Read this to find out what to do about tension.

Listen to your feet. Can you move your pedals quietly?

Train Your Ears Well, without them, you can't make beautiful music.

Do You Know the Lyrics? ~ Whether as harpists we play classical music, pop, Celtic, it doesn’t matter. Phrasing is often directed by lyrics and if you don’t know them, you may not be playing the music correctly. What's the point if it's not lovely?

Stay in Shape With Little Effort: Part 1 hints for how to stay in shape if your time is limited.

Stay in Shape With Little Effort: Part 2 hints for how to stay in shape if your time is limited.

Take it easy. Are you frustrated with your playing right now. It could be that your problem is the same problem that Lily had, and solved for herself.

Do you take time to practice SLOWLY? There's great value in it.
Sometimes, when I know I'm short on time to learn a new piece, I spend all my initial time with the music at a very slow tempo: so that I can focus on accuracy in all things. There's a pay off to patience in this regard as once you understand the music, it often speeds itself up with no effort. Click the link above to read more on the subject.

My favorite students have been my adult students. It's never too late to start something wonderful.

Challenges of the Eye

With "more mature" students, it can be hard to discern the source of a note reading problem. As teachers, we tend to approach them in the same way we would a child, forgetting that mature eyes develop mature sorts of challenges.

Easy, free music for pedal or lever harp and viola or violin, found here. Scroll down and look for the music for SALTARELLO. Most of you will be able to sightread this music.

Credit Where Credit is Due

Please honor copyright laws. When you copy music under copyright, it's stealing from those who produce, print and market the music.If you wouldn't steal your colleague's tuning key, don't steal their music.


THANK YOU NOTES Do you write thank you notes? Professionally and personally? It's worth your time, reaping rewards of strengthened friendships, long term business relationships and to encourage others.

What does it take to get repeat gigs from your clients? It might not be what you think. It's not only your music that matters.

DOES YOUR CONTRACT PROTECT you and your instrument? Consider what you need to itemize in a contract for your services as a harpist.

IS YOUR MUSIC LOVELY? We all start someplace taking gigs. Some of my beginning intermediate students have done very well with their early gigs.

IS YOUR WEBSITE WORKING FOR YOU? It could simplify your clients choice of music in a way that benefits you. My surprize, when I started including sound files on my website was how people chose music for their event, especially for weddings. I posted only sound files of music that I like to play, with the idea that the last thing needed on the internet was another harpist playing the Pachelbel Canon. What happened was people started to choose music from my sound samples! Music is posted, not only as a list of samples, but as a list of recommendations. Look here to see how we've made suggestions as to use, including mostly our own music, not the standard fare of transcriptions. Also, be sure you list your location - countless harpist's website not only don't list their city, they don't list their region, state or country.

Keys Matter

Ask Them to Step Inside the Music ~ When playing anything with words, the key sometimes matters to the audience. In some situations, it's not unexpected to find people singing or humming along. Choosing the right key invites your audience to set inside the music with you and that can be a delight to everyone.

Lever Changes

A Moment of Necessity, MARKING DIFFICULT LEVER SHIFTS: borrowing an idea from Mary Radspinner, I found a quick solution with something around the studio to mark some hard to grab quick lever shifts.

More Than One Reason to Mark Lever Changes Marking lever changes, then highlighting them can have an advantage.

LEVER TUTOR You don't need to be clever to flip levers quickly, you just need to know how to think about them. Here's a couple of tutorials to get you started.

Etudes are the Beginning of Skills

The Lariviére Exercises and Etudes is available as a free download. This is a great collections of etudes, aimed at pedal harp but some can be played on lever harp. Once you've worked through the short, easy etudes posted above, take a try at some of these.

Changing Harp Strings

Learning to replace strings on your harp can be daunting until you've tied the knot enough times that you remember it. Harp Spectrum used to have a decent article (with pictures) that will remind you how to do this. If you can find it, please let me know. There's a helpful movie at The Harp Herald about string knots.

String Ends: Why Staying Tidy Matters

It’s tempting to leave new harp strings untrimmed, wrapped around the neck of the harp, seemingly out of the way. Other than the fact that it’s unsightly, there can be good reason to trim these strings. It’s possible to get sympathetic buzzing from the long ends touching each other, vibrating with certain frequencies.

Instead of leaving a lot of extra length, try trimming well conditioned strings very close to the tuning pin and leaving your new strings with an extra length of about half an inch. This leaves just enough to identify the new strings that are going to need extra attention but not enough to cause problems.

Fingering With Purpose

Fingerings can be very personal and there are many reasons one might choose one option over another.
The original post about new ways to think about fingerings as a harpist has sadly been misplaced. Check back to see if we've found it.

Think Enharmonically!

Sometimes thinking enharmonically makes a passage easier to play, either on pedal harp or lever harp. This webpage includes a (hopefully growing) collection of hints that will help you find ways to make enharmonic spellings simplify and expand your harp playing. Examples from harp sheet music included.

Insert for Britten's "There is No Rose", from Ceremony of Carols

Why Britten chose to put the harp notation in small notes and the piano in large is a mystery. This insert makes it easier to read this in poor light, so common in many churches. (pedal harp)

Tchaikovsky: Romeo and Juliet

edited with Elizabeth Volpé, this edition spells some of the chords enharmonically to allow for better chord shapes. It's easier to read, easier to play but sounds exactly the same. If Tchaikovsky understood harp better, he'd have done this himself. Download the PDF with the above link for edited part.

Custom Harp Case Sewing Instructions: why not make your own?

Thanks to Jaye, the Winged Harper, these plans are well laid out and easy to execute.

Harp Raincoat

Here's plans for a DIY raincoat for a small harp. This should be enough for most medium to small lever harps. Download the PDF with the free plans.

Lighting Matters

Lighting matters: Why should you care about a stand light?

Why you should practice in the dark from time to time.
post missing, check back later to see if we've found it

Christmas Eve and stand lights: don't forget to pack one

Winter Harps

Check humidity in your studio and maintain a healthy humidity for your harps. Lack of humidity can cause tuning pins to slip, gut strings to dry out and more serious complications if left unchecked. Read some reviews of humidifiers and find a solution for your space that works. Your harp will be happier and so will you. 

Tokens and Memories of Loveliness

Years ago, we gave out small paper angels to everyone who attended our Christmas concerts. This small take home gift was so well received that we've continued the tradition. Our regular attendees tell us that they have amassed a good collection. They may not save the programs, but they save the angels, looking forward to each new Christmas celebration. One gal walked in and took hers at the beginning of the concert declaring "It's not my first rodeo, I want to be sure I get some!"

Several have asked for the patterns, so I've posted them for you to download. Instructions are easy, cut on all the solid lines. The two pieces that are "around the head" become the wings. Tuck them into each other. With practice, you'll be able to do it quickly. If you use the template with text on it, you'll need to fold so that the text is on the outside. It's easy to cut different patterns on the edges of the wings or to paint or color designs on them.

I've found that card stock suits the large size better than the small. It's easier to manage folding without creases if it's bigger.

small folded angel template, plain (6 per page)

small folded angel template, snowflake (6 per page)

large folded angel template with text(2 per page)