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Playing the autoharp

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SINSULL 12 Jun 00 - 12:04 PM
NH Dave 12 Jun 00 - 01:43 PM
catspaw49 12 Jun 00 - 01:53 PM
GutBucketeer 12 Jun 00 - 02:06 PM
GUEST,Pete Peterson 12 Jun 00 - 02:50 PM
BlueJay 12 Jun 00 - 03:19 PM
SINSULL 12 Jun 00 - 03:20 PM
GutBucketeer 12 Jun 00 - 10:18 PM
catspaw49 12 Jun 00 - 10:48 PM
harpgirl 13 Jun 00 - 12:06 AM
BlueJay 13 Jun 00 - 03:25 AM
GUEST,murray@mpce.mq.edu.au 13 Jun 00 - 08:03 AM
GUEST,Pete Peterson 13 Jun 00 - 09:06 AM
Bill D 13 Jun 00 - 11:08 PM
GUEST,Jerry Doty 17 Jun 08 - 06:32 PM
Peace 17 Jun 08 - 06:39 PM
Bill D 17 Jun 08 - 07:10 PM
Peace 17 Jun 08 - 07:32 PM
SINSULL 17 Jun 08 - 07:34 PM
Bill D 17 Jun 08 - 07:35 PM
GUEST,Arkie 17 Jun 08 - 09:36 PM
selby 18 Jun 08 - 04:12 AM
Piers Plowman 18 Jun 08 - 06:27 AM
Bernard 18 Jun 08 - 09:24 AM
Bernard 18 Jun 08 - 09:25 AM
Bat Goddess 18 Jun 08 - 09:48 AM
GUEST,Arkie 18 Jun 08 - 11:01 AM
Bill D 18 Jun 08 - 12:42 PM
GUEST,DonMeixner 18 Jun 08 - 01:38 PM
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Subject: Playing the autoharp
From: SINSULL
Date: 12 Jun 00 - 12:04 PM

I recently purchased an autoharp - my first attempt at playing an instrument. It came with some basic books describing plucking, strumming, scratching, etc along with how to play a few songs. Very basic stuff. I graduated to a video by Carol Stober who insists on singing the instructions and reducing the younger members of my family to tears as they roll on the floor in hysterics. How much of Old MacDonald can you take when it is accompanied by "Pinch, pinch, pinch pinch pinch strum strum" in vibratto?

So, do I simply forge ahead and choose a song I want to play, and practice, practice, practice? Or can someone recommend some books/videos/whatever?

SS


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Subject: RE: BS: Playing the autoharp
From: NH Dave
Date: 12 Jun 00 - 01:43 PM

Since "Old MacDonald" won't help much at your local folk hoot, you will probably be better off deciding what songs you really want to play, after sitting in at various folk venues around your area.

Once you have decided on a few songs, locate copies of the songs with chords, and start playing them at home. One source of these songs might be "Rise Up Singing", from Sing Out. Initially you will only be strumming the chords as you sing, learning to keep left and right hand going while singing the lyrics. Once you get comfortable with this you can begin more finger-picking work, on the top of the instrument.

Sooner or later you will start learning a bit of simple harmony so you can transpose a song you learned in one key into the song as it is being sung in another. Some of this may be covered in your autoharp book, but you can get more from various beginner's books for the guitar or banjo - Silber's and Seeger's books on folk guitar and banjo come to mind. These teach the progression by fifths of the musical keys, and can also teach you what the simple guitar chords look like as the guitarist plays them. This allows you to pick up chords and chord changes by watching the other players in the group.

By this time you will have realized that the more expensive autoharps cost more because they have more chord bars, allowing you to play in more and different keys, and you may be ready to upgrade your instrument.


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Subject: RE: BS: Playing the autoharp
From: catspaw49
Date: 12 Jun 00 - 01:53 PM

If you're looking for good instrutional videos and tapes that are a little past the thing you got........

Try the books and tapes section at Elderly Instruments and check out Bryan Bowers, an acknowledged master, or perhaps Sebastian's stuff which is well presented.

Spaw


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Subject: RE: BS: Playing the autoharp
From: GutBucketeer
Date: 12 Jun 00 - 02:06 PM

Sinsull:

I am not familiar with the Carol Stober book.

If you ask Autoharpers today what got them hooked on Autoharp, the vast majority in America will say, Hi saw/heard Brian Bowers.

If you ask how they started learning the vast majority will say with the Complete Methode for Autohar or Chromoharp by Meg Peterson. It's one of the first and still one of the best. You can also order a companion tape.

Bonnie Phipps also has a book out "Beginning Autharp Instruction Book" that is one of the stalwarts for those learning to play.

A newer book that is color coded and teaches the importance of setting your harp up so that you can play by I,IV,V positions is the book by Alex Usher (sorry I don't know the name). It is color coded based on the positional chords you need to push.

Others with exceptional beginner instructional material are: Cathy Britell in Seattle, and Charles Whitmir in Texas. Cathy was putting together an online course at one time, but I don't know if she has anything published. Charles self publishes a number of courses with tapes.

The best advice I can give to someone starting autoharp is to go to the autoharp.com web-site and also the autoharp web-ring. Look at the material they have there. Then join the cyberpluckers autoharp list serve. They will be able to help you with any question that you can think up to ask.

Happy pluckin'

JAB


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Subject: RE: BS: Playing the autoharp
From: GUEST,Pete Peterson
Date: 12 Jun 00 - 02:50 PM

I second JAB's remarks and add that my friend Drew Smith has also put together an instructional tape which I have listened to (and read the book that goes with it) and recommend it. Have fun!


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Subject: RE: BS: Playing the autoharp
From: BlueJay
Date: 12 Jun 00 - 03:19 PM

Sinsul- I'm not up on books etc, seems like you got good advice above. The Bonnie Phipps book is probably excellent. I'd try a combination: visit the web sites, try instructional materials, but most important is, (as you suggested), choose a song, and practice, practice, practice. Just as important is to Listen! You need to get some good autoharp material. Bryan Bowers, (as JAB stated), influenced me greatly, and is probably the easiest autoharp music to find on tape or CD. Check the autoharp pages, there may be others. I especially like Roz Brown, a fellow Coloradoan. He has a website, but I cant click you to it because I don't think it's possible to visit two web pages at the same time. I'll post it later.
But you need to HEAR good autoharp technique before you can hope to play it, IMHO. One of my main influences was Bowers, but I REALLY learned a lot at an "autoharp club", folks just playing the autoharp once a week. Maybe there's one in your area. If so, you will progress by leaps and bounds. But try and find some autoharp tapes. Probably lots of stuff on the autoharp websites.

For me, a big breakthrough came withthe realization that you can play a major scale using three chords: for example Do=c chord, Re=G chord, Mi=C chord, fa=F chord, sol=C chord, La=F chord, Ti=G chord, Do=C chord. What you're actually doing is playing the chord, but emphasizing the note of the scale encompassed in the chord in order to play a melody. Try it, just play the major scale till you get the hang of it. Pretty soon you'll think of simple melodies you can work out. The Battle Hymn Of The Republic is a real good one to learn from.

NH DAVE has excellent advice, but I disagree on one statement in his posting. Autoharps do not cost more because they have more chords, except for the same model. Autoharps get more expensive just like guitars do: they are made more carefully and use better woods, such as solid tops instead of plywood. The number of chords is not much of the purchase price. I bought my modest Oscar Schmidt in a pawnshop many years ago, and it had 21 chords, which I think is the maximum. I had a lot of problems with the 21 chord set up, so I changed it to 15 chords. Versatile, but with fewer mechanical difficulties. The chord bars are auxilliary to the instrument itself. You can custom-make your own chord bars, and re-felt the bars as needed. The felt eventually wears out. A lot of the pros carry 5 or 6 harps with them, each with only 4 or 5 chords for a specific key or even a specific song.
Now I'm not a superlative harp player or anything. It's not even my main instrument. But I have played it for quite a few years, so feel free to PM me with any questions! Welcome to Autoharpomania. There is a lot of great music in those things. It just needs a little coaxing. BlueJay


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Subject: RE: BS: Playing the autoharp
From: SINSULL
Date: 12 Jun 00 - 03:20 PM

Thank you all. I am printing your suggestions and checking into everything. I knew there had to be a world beyond "Old MacDonald".


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Subject: RE: BS: Playing the autoharp
From: GutBucketeer
Date: 12 Jun 00 - 10:18 PM

Ditto on everything that BlueJay said.

I tried to check for you about Autoharp clubs in the New York Area. The link on the Autoharp page for the clud listings is out of date. So you may need to check with the cyberpluckers list, or Autoharp Quarterly.

Check for Autoharp, or Mountain Dulcimer clubs since a lot of the time they attract each other (there are dulcimators at autoharp events and Autoharpies and dulcimer events. We have fun. I fell into the Capital Harpers club here in D.C. and couldn't ask for a more helpful group of people. The first time I went I had only had my harp for two days, and didn't even know how to hold the thing. They also have great potlucks!

If you want to undergo an intense submersion in all things autoharp attend the Mountain Laurel Autoharp Festival just outside of Harrisburgh Pennsylvania. It's four days of wonderful music and people. It's June 29 - July 2nd this year. It's almost a religous experience. I won't make it again this year due to family committments, but I will wish I was there.

JAB


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Subject: RE: BS: Playing the autoharp
From: catspaw49
Date: 12 Jun 00 - 10:48 PM

BASIC MUSICOLOGY STATEMENT....which I always feel compelled to make regarding Autoharps.

It is not a harp. Harmonicas are not harps either. By definition, the Autoharp is a zither, a board zither, an automatically chorded board zither. We like to attach the name harp to an awful lot of things because it sounds better than what it actually is I guess. I mean who's going to buy an Autozither anyway?

I know this is unimportant perhaps, but for all those demanding accuracy around here, I thought it best to call a spade a spade....or in this case, a zither.

Spaw


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Subject: RE: BS: Playing the autoharp
From: harpgirl
Date: 13 Jun 00 - 12:06 AM

...how about button-harp?


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Subject: RE: BS: Playing the autoharp
From: BlueJay
Date: 13 Jun 00 - 03:25 AM

http://www.rozbrown.com/index.html


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Subject: RE: BS: Playing the autoharp
From: GUEST,murray@mpce.mq.edu.au
Date: 13 Jun 00 - 08:03 AM

Actually Spaw, we of today are not the only ones guilty of overusing the word "harp". Throughout the ages "harp" has been used for a wide variety of different instruments. I wonder what the words actually means?

Murray


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Subject: RE: BS: Playing the autoharp
From: GUEST,Pete Peterson
Date: 13 Jun 00 - 09:06 AM

I've always felt that the way the names "dulcimer" and "harp" got attached to folk instruments was the strength of the Calvinist/Puritan tradition which was "agin" musical instruments (some of the early New England Congregationalist churches didn't have church organs for just that reason" but WOULD make an exception for instruments mentioned in the Bible: dulcimer, psaltry, harp, and yes, cymbals! I can just imagine somebody being admonished by the deacons for playing a musical instrument and saying "but it's a dulcimer" . Auto-harp may have gotten named for the same reason. It looks like I won't make it to Mtn. Laurel this year for business reasons-- I will be 3000 miles away. Yuck. (Maybe I will win the Good Taste Award)


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Subject: RE: BS: Playing the autoharp
From: Bill D
Date: 13 Jun 00 - 11:08 PM

other names I have heard..."Mickey Mouse Chord Changer" and "Idiot Zither".....The most important thing is not to feel that there is "one & ONLY one" way to play the thing....lots of styles work...find one that pleases YOU!


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Subject: RE: Playing the autoharp
From: GUEST,Jerry Doty
Date: 17 Jun 08 - 06:32 PM

Properly called Autoharp or Chorded Zither. My favorite autoharp player and the one who got me firt interested was "Ma Maybelle Carter" at the Grand Ole Opry. Ma Maybelle Carter is the mother of June Carter Cash - June was the wife of Johnny Cash - this explains the Grand Ole Opry appearance when I was a kid back in the 1950s, Known as the Carter Family. Anyone remember "Wildwood Flower" as picked on the auto harp by Ma Maybelle Carter?
Jerry


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Subject: RE: Playing the autoharp
From: Peace
Date: 17 Jun 08 - 06:39 PM

Yep. I remember it. And in the parlance, "IT ROCKS!"


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Subject: RE: Playing the autoharp
From: Bill D
Date: 17 Jun 08 - 07:10 PM

I remember....and I play it...as close to Maybelle's version as I can.


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Subject: RE: Playing the autoharp
From: Peace
Date: 17 Jun 08 - 07:32 PM

Then, IMO, you rocks too, Bill.


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Subject: RE: Playing the autoharp
From: SINSULL
Date: 17 Jun 08 - 07:34 PM

8 years later my autoharp is in the hands of another 'Catter. I made the mistake of watching Bryan Bowers play one (autoharp not 'Catter, although that too may be a possibility) with far fewer chords than mine. After convincing myself that I needed six fingers on at least one hand if I were going to make it work, I shipped it out of the country. Don't know if it being played or used as a plant pot.
SINS


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Subject: RE: Playing the autoharp
From: Bill D
Date: 17 Jun 08 - 07:35 PM

(learning the autoharp trick for 'hammering on' is fun...which is sorta what Maybelle did)


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Subject: RE: Playing the autoharp
From: GUEST,Arkie
Date: 17 Jun 08 - 09:36 PM

SINS, instead of trying to grow another finger you could have done what Bryan did and tune the harp diatonically. Ron Wall is another master of the diatonic harp.


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Subject: RE: Playing the autoharp
From: selby
Date: 18 Jun 08 - 04:12 AM

Thread creep
I play concertina and accordian and have bought a ukulele and I think the question is relative to the autoharp, but how do you strum? all I seem to get is a horrible noise that bears ne relation to the tune.
Keith


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Subject: RE: Playing the autoharp
From: Piers Plowman
Date: 18 Jun 08 - 06:27 AM

SINSULL wrote:

"I recently purchased an autoharp - my first attempt at playing an instrument."

I wish you every success, of course, but I think an autoharp may not be the easiest instrument to learn to play as a first instrument. I feel the same way about harmonicas, recorders, and other relatively inexpensive and (supposedly) easy instruments. I've started playing the harmonica again after a long break, but I'm sure I would have found it quite difficult if I didn't already play other instruments.

We used to have one at home and I used to like to play with it (it was more "playing with" than "playing"). Do you have an electronic tuner? I think that would make tuning much, much easier and tuning is always a difficult hurdle.

SINSULL wrote:
"How much of Old MacDonald can you take when it is accompanied by "Pinch, pinch, pinch pinch pinch strum strum" in vibratto?"

Sounds great to me!

"With a pinch, pinch here
And pinch, pinch there.
Here a pinch, there a pinch,
Everywhere a pinch, pinch!
[...]"

Maybe they'll buy you a piano if you keep it up long enough.

Seriously, it would probably help if you could expel them from the house while you're practicing if they're going to fall about or make unhelpful remarks.

"So, do I simply forge ahead and choose a song I want to play, and practice, practice, practice? Or can someone recommend some books/videos/whatever?"

Well, yes, the practice, practice, practice part, even if you do buy instructional material. My suggestion, in addition to the other good ones you've gotten on this thread, is to try to play melodies, both by ear and by reading music. And don't forget to have fun!


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Subject: RE: Playing the autoharp
From: Bernard
Date: 18 Jun 08 - 09:24 AM

A useful trick is to understand which notes two chords have in common - for example, C major (C E G) and G major (G B D) have G in common, so by holding down both bars (don't think it works on electronic ones, though) you will only have the G strings playing.

I use the technique to get a waltz time 'dum ching ching' effect, where 'cum' is two bars held down (in this example C and G) for the bass note, and 'ching ching' is one bar for the chord (G)...

With a bit of research you can even do bass runs, and it can help to make a melody stand out more clearly.


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Subject: RE: Playing the autoharp
From: Bernard
Date: 18 Jun 08 - 09:25 AM

Ooops! 'cum' should read 'dum'!! Or is that me?!

;o)


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Subject: RE: Playing the autoharp
From: Bat Goddess
Date: 18 Jun 08 - 09:48 AM

We've got, I think, four autoharps with something wrong with each one of them -- oh, and also a new set of uninstalled "works", I don't know how many bars.

I think I'd like to find somebody, preferably closeby here in New Hampshire (or Maine or Massachusetts) who can put together one decent instrument from this pile and is willing to keep the rest as parts -- and work out a financial deal with us based on that.

Any ideas?

Linn


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Subject: RE: Playing the autoharp
From: GUEST,Arkie
Date: 18 Jun 08 - 11:01 AM

Linn, there two people in Arkansas who are pretty good at making autoharp parts playable. Surely, there is someone in New England who could do the same. If you want to contact either of the Arkansas folk let me know and I will put you in touch.


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Subject: RE: Playing the autoharp
From: Bill D
Date: 18 Jun 08 - 12:42 PM

Linn...it depends seriously on what type/models they are. Some are MUCH easier to switch parts.

There is an annual autoharp gathering in south-central PA. each year....there are contact points at http://www.mlag.org/index.html. Probably someone there would know exactly who to contact.


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Subject: RE: Playing the autoharp
From: GUEST,DonMeixner
Date: 18 Jun 08 - 01:38 PM

Hi Linn,

I have restored many Autoharps over the years. There is no real magic to it. Send me some good digital photos and I'll be happy to give you some direction.

Don Meixner
dmeixner@twcny.rr.com


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