harp accompanyment book and/or CD ?

harp accompanyment book and/or CD ?

My wife is learning to play the harp and I was looking for a good book or CD combo to intrduce her to accompanyment to ITM so she could start coming to sessions. Any suggestions?

Re: harp accompanyment book and/or CD ?

I doubt you’ll find an established and widely recognized approach to harp accompanying session tunes. As always, knowing the tunes and being sensitive to the overall sound are important. Listening to old Chieftain recordings could be useful, but some people consider their approach to arrangements to be tending toward semi-classical. Likewise for Dordan, though I find them very satisfying.

When I’ve played with harpers, they’ve mostly played the melody with minimal bass parts.

Re: harp accompanyment book and/or CD ?

I use the melody line in fiddle tunes for the right hand and arpeggio chords for the left hand. Listening to Patrick Ball and Sylvia Woods helped me.

Re: harp accompanyment book and/or CD ?

I agree with both of the above - and also if she is able to play basic chords, why not just ask her to come along. The great thing about the harp is that you can play it quietly if you’re not sure what you’re doing. The only danger is that you’re likely to be asked to do a solo at some point, and also it’s difficult to put the harp under your coat and skulk out unnoticed!

Re: harp accompanyment book and/or CD ?

…particularly thinking of the comment from Bob Himself, because there isn’t a widely recognised approach to harp accompaniment, I doubt you’ll find a book that covers this. Very few teachers know about accompanying, although some of them will cover playing by ear…

Re: harp accompanyment book and/or CD ?

Hi Doug…. as you know I had the same question, also as you know, I started making it up on my own, I have a ways to go, but according to what people are saying, it sounds like a harp!! OK at sessions thus far, not making a mess of it anyway and learning new things all the time.

For all able to get to NorthWest NJ, to Rockaway, I am trying to organize at IAANJ a few pre-session harp sessions. Any level, we’ll all sort of show and tell on our harps, exchange tips, tunes techniques… it doesn have to be a session where we just play tunes, but a get together really, to talk harp, help each other out on things, etc. I know of three of us thus far, possibly four.

If anyone is interested please email me with your direct email address. we generally run the session on a Sat. mid. month but it may sometimes vary. That starts at 8:00 so we could meet at 6:00. There is no charge of course in case anyone is wondering. I may also have access to the hall if I OK it with the board at other times, even if we don’t have the usual session after. So maybe we can pick some other Saturday evenings or late afternoons to get together and not have a time limit. We can get you, Doug, to play melody so we can practice backing! Consider yourself drafted!

And Doug… I know Mrs.’ harp is a monster to lug, she can use my 34 Ravenna harp and I will bring a small one for me since she is used to a 34. She should really come out and just do it, come to a session and just sit. I can at least tell her they keys to go into for the tunes if she sits by me. Even if she doesn’t play and just watches and listens, the music will make its way into her psyche and she will absorb it, which is a great help…not that she doesn’t get to hear YOU practice ad nauseum…just kidding, but close to the truth, right?

She ought to listen to Joe and Antoinette McKenna’s CDs, Anto is a genius backer I think. Let me know if you are unable to get any, I always have one in the car you can have. Also, one of our mutual harp friends, brilliant backer… you know who I mean, Mrs. should go watch her! Best of all we should all get together again. I figured out a sort of basic pattern for backing, yet do deviate from it by throwing in some melody lines, but the basic chording can work too. That little I can show your Mrs.

In ways, I find that good or better backing is way harder than melody playing, whether on harp, guitar or whatever. As you see from the replies, there is no road map, no dots to follow, it’s largely instinctual. You have to know the tunes or the structures at least in your head and then have your hands play something different. You make it up and improvise as you go too, it can change all the time. It’s so much harder to convey or explain than tune playing… you can teach someone the chords, but then they need to figure out what to do with them, where to stress what, and very important being able to adapt to each new melody player’s phrasing. But first the basics, and many CDs or people who don’t mind, to practice to.

Anyway, she is coming along really great, especially for never having played anothing but the radio all her life!

Re: harp accompanyment book and/or CD ?

PS…. Mark… so right on that… we have to get her going on playing by ear, Doug, as well as the dots.

Re: harp accompanyment book and/or CD ?

I do like that approach - basically, "Learn to do it by doing it". Saves a lot of time and hassle!

Re: harp accompanyment book and/or CD ?

The only way is to jump in. Try anything and everything. Not in public though! Not yet! Just experiment a whole lot until something sounds good, and remember waht you did.

I just recently had a lightbulb go off about the backing. It was after about 10 months of playing. I just had my one year "harp anniversary" Jan. 19th, and cannot keep off the darned thing, fully addictive.

I don’t back the way some others do, but am trying everything 1-5-8 or 1-3-5 or tenths, sevenths, fifths, for the left hand. For the right hand I try to hear bits of melody and pick up on them. It’s the way I play guitar too, partial melody (unless doing proper full fingerstyle tunes). In a way, the right hand is less structured, if not chording with it, and it’s more about figuring out the very few notes in the do-re-mi up there NOT to play. Most of what you hit sounds good, just due to the way it’s tuned, which makes life easier.

Also I find both hands don’t have to be ultra busy all the time, little "hold-offs" on one or the other are fine. All this is what I love about backing/accompanying… it’s so loose, you can do all sorts of things as long as they fit.

She needs to sit with slowdown session recordings, but also has you Doug, a great concertina player, to supply melody to work to!

Re: harp accompanyment book and/or CD ?

Agree with all that, irisnevins. It’s often about the notes you avoid. So for me, I try to avoid doubling the melody as there are people who can do that much better than me. Also most harpists (me included) will find that if you do play the melody, people will just join in and swamp it anyway.

So I try to play something that’s a complement / counterpoint (not in the strict Bach sense, of course!) to what’s being played - both with the melody and also with the rhythmic figures. The harp works better filling in missing bits rather than adding to the general sound (in my experience).

Re: harp accompanyment book and/or CD ?

Right on all that Mark… you are WAY ahead of me on harp, but when I play guitar accompaniment I do a lot of counterpoint too, though some melody lines where the mood hits. I like to join in with it at times, then counterpoint away a little. I wish I were as "fluent" on harp as on guitar in that way, but it’s coming along. The most I ever learned about backing, and carried over to guitar (fingerstyle) was from listening to the great piano backers. Odd as that sounds, those folks know what great backing is all about., espcially ones like Felix Dolan in our NY/NJ area. It goes well beyond chords, and harp is just asking to be used that way too. In time it will get easier, being laid out like a piano, white keys anyway.

I think though, what Doug is asking, is for something very clear, basic, easy to understand, a little step at a time sort of thing. I think saying to do what we’re talking about will confuse the issue at the beginning. I think I know exactly what to show her for a simple start, and we live near enough to each other where that is possible. Also we need our mutual friend who is a great backer to really show her right! But would be great if there were a book….. care to write one yourself? You are a really nice player!! An idiot’s guide to harp backing?

Backing or accompaniment I find are just the hardest thing to convey, much harder than teaching a tune in spite of the fact that there are less chords than full tune notes. With notes you know where they go and when. You can give someone the chords but they have to either have the instinct, or know the music and tunes well enough to know where to put them, what to emphasize and even when to hold back. People have this attitude, oh you are just the backer, you’re not playing real music, yet when you get into the depths of it, I find it way more challenging that tune playing, and also love it for that reason.

Re: harp accompanyment book and/or CD ?

Doug, I don’t know offhand of anything published for this. During a couple of the Catskills workshop weeks that I attended the instructors were asked to devote a session to accompaniment, and each (happened to be Michael Rooney and Michelle Mulcahy) had their own approach and style. My only ‘training’ in this came from playing with Jim for many years, and now with playing with other people, in small groups, as much as possible. I brought some piano training and guitar training to the harp, and that helped.

I do have a couple of suggestions. Keeping in mind that the harp is most related to the piano, there may be more likelihood of some published piano tutor out there for trad accompaniment that could be useful. Perhaps you could touch base with the Dolans for suggestions. Another source would be Kathy DeAngelo - you can easily find her on the web and she may have suggestions also.

Good luck!
Eileen

Re: harp accompanyment book and/or CD ?

Great advice Eileen! Doug and I spoke this AM about talking to piano players too. There must be a piano book out there. I’d like one too. Little Julia hasjust started piano, I may pick her teacher’s brain on that and see if she knows any books good for kids that can easily translate to harp.

Here is a clip of Antoinette McKenna backing on harp:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OIlqQirjpIg

some great closeups.

Re: harp accompanyment book and/or CD ?

PS… in case some don’t realize, this is Mary Bergin’s sister!

Re: harp accompanyment book and/or CD ?

Michael Rooney is the finest exponent of harp accompanyment bar none - he even has an all-Ireland title in the accompaniment competition to boot. His recent book of tunes would be a great place to start if you wanted to get a good guide on how best to play backing to ITM. I would also recommend any of Grainne Hambly’s tune books. The relevant links are: http://www.draiochtmusic.com/harpTunesVol1 for Michael Rooney and http://grainne.harp.net/books.htm for Grainne Hambly.

Re: harp accompanyment book and/or CD ?

Oh, I’d forgotten about Antoinette McKenna. Good place to look for inspiration.

Re: harp accompanyment book and/or CD ?

Antoinette is a tune palyer and does a few on the CDs here and there, but mainly accompanies Joe, so she came to mind…. great harp backer, just super.

Michael Rooney is great too.

"drinharp" too! 😉