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Beginner Autoharp Lesson 1

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hi everyone I'm Joanne Smith and I play

the diatonic autoharp I'm starting a new

series it's specifically for beginners

I'd like to start out with showing you a

few things like how to pick your first

autoharp and how to get started it's

just some real bare-bones things that I

get asked an awful lot and so I thought

I'd do a little series of videos that

will help walk you through those things

step-by-step so the first thing I want

you to do is to go to my website at Auto

harvest dot-com and if you scroll all

the way down to the very bottom of the

webpage you're gonna find a section

called learn more and in that learn more

section you'll see some little buttons

that are labeled with the titles of

different articles that I have written

over the years about the autoharp and

there's two of them that I want you to

click on it'll take you to open up a PDF

file that you can download and save or

print screen' from your from your mobile

device or whatever and the first one is

called choosing an autoharp and what

this does is it runs through basically

what to look for when you're in the

market for your first autoharp and on

the second page I have a listing of

luthiers or people who work on auto

harps and offer refurbished sometimes

used auto harps that type of thing the

main thing to do if you're in the market

for getting an autoharp and you don't

already have one is to get it from

somebody who deals with them for a

living someone who is used to working on

them knows how they operate and deals

with them on a regular basis because

there are a lot of moving parts on an

autoharp more so than any other stringed

instrument and there's a lot of things

that can go wrong with that

and even if they don't actually go wrong

wrong they can make playing difficult if

it's not set up correctly it's just like

any instrument that you would get for

instance like say a guitar it's going to

work better if you have it set up by

someone that's gonna make sure that all

the frets are level and you know and and

the strings and then at the next rate

and that the strings are seated properly

and you know maybe shape the nut

whatever I don't know that much huh

guitars but I do know quite a bit about

about auto harps and I do know from

personal experience that playing an

autoharp that's straight off the shelf

that has not been gone over and

optimized by an expert is a lot harder

to play than one that has been optimized

one that has been looked over to make

sure all the felts are correctly cut

making sure that there aren't any

buzzing strings that they're tuned

properly they can even lower the action

on the chord bars to make them easier to

play because the easier it is for you to

play the more you're going to want to

play it and the easier it's going to be

to learn so that's the main thing so go

to my website auto harpist calm and

download this choosing an autoharp so

even if you already have an autoharp or

you go to this place you find somebody

and you you end up ordering an autoharp

well what do you do with it when you get

it back all theirs I'm gonna go through

some very basic things about what Chuck

Daniels a friend of mine and one of the

luthiers on that list by the way he

calls it care and feeding of the


which is basically what it is so what

I'm going to do is I'm going to show you

the very first autoharp I had when I

started playing back in 1994 this is a

chroma harp at 21 chord chroma harp

and it's basically was my main

instrument for about Moe 2 and a half

years or more before I got another

invested in a luthier autoharp and this

little thing taught me the basics of

playing an autoharp I learned more from

playing this little thing than I you

know I I really am amazed at how much

the autoharp can teach you and it's one

of the reasons why I recommend if you're

going to get an autoharp and that's one

of the things that's mentioned in this

choosing an autoharp article is that if

you're going to get an autoharp get the

21 chord chromatic model that has the

buttons in three rows that's a big deal

the three row setup is much much easier

and logical than the two row I have most

of the auto harps the manufactured auto

parts like the chroma harp the Oscar

Schmidt's have their treble I'm in the

treble row rather have their major

chords you can have major chords seventh

chords and minor chords those three

kinds major is sevenths and minors and a

lot of people like to have their major

chords in this middle row rather than

the way it generally comes with the

majors in this room we call that the

treble row because the highest strings

are over here and this is the row

closest to the treble strings so that's

why that's called the treble row

I prefer having my majors in the treble

row there's a lot of good reasons for

doing that but there's also a lot of

good reasons for having your majors in

the middle row what they call the Brian

Bowers arrangement so whatever floats

your boat that's fine

but we'll get into all of that part

later the main thing right now is that

you you've got an autoharp it's a

twenty-one chord or whatever and now you

want to know what to do with it so let's

go into the care and feeding this


has been very stable and has been a good

friend for a long time okay and one of

the reasons it is is because when I'm

not playing it I keep it in its case I

avoid exposing it to extremes in

temperature and humidity because those

things right there the extremes in

temperature and humidity going from a

very cold car into a really hot room or

going from a place with very very low

humidity like like your house gets in

the wintertime when you run the heat it

can get very very dry in there and then

if you were to take it into a place with

really high humidity you're going to go

on a vacation and go to the beach and

expose it to that moist ocean air all at


it's your auto harps not going to like

that and actually any wooden instrument

is going to have trouble with sudden

changes of temperature and humidity

you'll find your auto harp well

typically the strings will go

universally sharp in the spring and

summer because the weather is warming up

we don't turn on the central heat as

much we get rain storms and there's more

humidity in the air and the wood and the

instrument will swell slightly which

makes the strings stretch a little which

means that the the when you go to tune

it the strings are all going to kind of

be universally sharp but that's not

necessarily a bad thing because you're

gonna have to tune it okay and I'll do a

whole another lesson specifically on

tuning so watch for that but actually

how it goes out of tune can be a big

indicator whether you have something

going wrong with your auto heart when it

goes out of tune

should go out of tune pretty much the

same all the way across all 36 or 37

strings if you notice that one

particular section say for instance your

bass strings are always going flat the

other ones don't really drift that much

but boy these really go out of tune well

that's a sign of trouble because what

that probably means is you may have some

warping at the top or maybe one of the

seams is coming loose but something is

causing the these strings to get more

slack than the other ones

it should be pretty much even so if you

notice that that's the time to get in

touch with one of these repair techs or

luthier and say hey I think I've got

something going wrong with my autoharp

and they'll be able to diagnose it for

you so they they'll go sharpen the

spring and summer and they'll go flat in

the fall why because the weather cools

down we turn on the heat and the air

gets really dry and so the wood shrinks

and as a result the strings get looser

and they go flat so it goes universally

flat so typically with my auto harps

they'll start going sharp in the spring

and I'm having to tune them flatter up

until maybe about July or August a

couple of months later then fall comes

around and then all at once I'm having

to turn it back so really overall over a

year span of time you're really not

going to be tuning changing the length

of the strings all that much so that's

tuning and oh and I don't know if you

notice but I have a fish tank over here

that's that's one of the ways that I

that I try to keep some stable humidity

in this little room where I do most of

my playing and it does seem to help so

that's another thing you might might

think about okay so we've got keeping it

away from extremes in temperature and

then you're also going to want to have a

little kit because not only are you

going to need to tune your autoharp

there's other things that can make life

a little bit more easy for you so first

of all if you have the tuning wrench

that came with your autoharp throw it

out and get you one of these a tee


tuning wrench hey you can just Google

t-handle tuning wrench and you're gonna

find it and basically it's a wooden

handle and then I'm gonna show you what

the hole looks like on that say it's

square okay and the reason I want you to

get rid of the tuning wrench that came

with your manufactured autoharp is

because the metal that it's made of is

softer then the tuning pins themselves

and what ends up happening is the little

square hole in that tuning wrench gets

rounder and rounder and rounder the more

it's used and you end up having a

terrible time getting it to even grip on

the pins and and work the way you want

it to so I'll do a whole episode like I

said about tuning later but that's your

first purchase for sure you need to get

a t-handle tuning wrench they also come

with some of them come with a I don't

know if I have one right here or not but

see is this a star shape or is that

another square one no it's a square one

but they do have some that have like a

star shape hole in them and those are

okay too I prefer the square hole so in

addition to that another thing that you

can do if you're autoharp didn't come

with strap buttons mine did

but the strap buttons are just like what

you would find on a guitar and the best

place to put them for an autoharp is if

you have a choice if it's not already on

there for you is probably right up here

on just above that little curve okay

just right about right about there okay

for one of them and then the other one

in this particular case it's plastic on

the bottom in fact there's a little

door where you can see how how the

strings are attached on there see

there's a little loop in the string and

it left

that's not ended this is spring-loaded

so I can't really put a strap button you

know down in here so what we did was we

put one or they put one on the back say

right down here so you have an

attachment here and an attachment here

and this is how this one came okay so

you've got a strap button there at the

bottom up the long edge okay either on

the very bottom backside or right there

okay and then another another one either

right here on the top I prefer to put

them on the side rather than on the

soundboard but this is the way this one

came okay but a strap can be your best

friend because the auto harps they're

heavy most of them are made of pin block

really heavy maple plywood pin block

same thing that they make sound boards a

pianos out of not the soundboard but the

actual where the the the tuning pins are

in a piano so they're heavy and the

reason is when all of those strings are

tuned up to pitch there is about a ton

of pull of pressure of all of those

strings tuned up to pitch pulling on the

top of this autoharp and trying to make

it fold in half okay so that's why

they're so heavy it's to support all

that tension from the strings so once

you have your autoharp you have your

strap buttons on it the next thing is a

strap my favorite strap for auto harps

is the slider autoharp strap and you can

google this as well and basically what

it is I don't know if you can see this

or not but it's it's nylon webbing with

a little channel a square channel that

it goes through

and the strap is it kind of been a

figure eight and it's adjustable okay so

it's got the different it's got two

little tabs on there with with strap

buttons and the way you use this is like

this lay this down you put it on like

you're putting on a coat okay

you put your arms through the two loops

of the figure eight like that and there

you go all right and so you've got this

whole thing and I'll turn around here so

you can see how it's crisscross in the

back and that distributes the weight of

the auto heart very well across your

shoulders because they are heavy and

they get heavy after a while so I'm

going to show you how this works using

this little this little autoharp right

here this is one of the heartland model

Auto harps that I have on my website

that they're made by Ken Ellis of

whippoorwill acoustics there are nice

entry-level luthier autoharp so if

you're looking for something that's a

step up from a manufactured autoharp I'd

encourage you to give these a look I

love them they're reasonably priced

there are much lighter weight and they

have a wonderful sound but so as you can

see I have a button right here on the

side for that one and I've got a button

right here and so with that with that

attached with BA no hands

okay so I can hold the auto heart and

play it without having to hold it up

with my arms and try to play at the same

time okay the only disadvantage to

wearing a strap like this is that it

wants to take the autoharp and make it

do this okay ergonomically this is not

good the best way to get an autoharp

into good playing position is to have

this long edge

right here as straight up-and-down as

possible hey so what I do is I get it up

like this

and I have it as straight as I can get

it but still enough to clear you know

just enough angle to clear my jaw okay

and there's a reason for that your left

hand is the one that's going to be using

the courts if you come at it like this

look at what my wrist is doing I'm

having to my wrist up this way to

reach the the buttons so bring that

elbow down closer to your body so that

only just let it hang and then Bend just

bend your elbow and bring it a rent

bring your arm around the auto heart and

as you can see my my wrist is straight

now it's not cocked sideways or like

this or like this so getting it at the

right height so what that when you bend

your elbow your arm is loose you bend

your elbow and it comes around the

autoharp there you are you're right


okay now as far as the right hand goes

you want to have that autoharp up to the

point so that when your right hand just

kind of falls in a natural arc from the

elbow across the strings you're going to

naturally be in the right place to hit

all the strings from low to high if I

have my autoharp down like this

I'm hitting tuning pins and I'm I'm

gonna have to draw up my shoulder to

reach to reach down here you know and I

see a lot of people that do that plate

that hold their autoharp like this and

play it but it's really your shoulders

not going to like that very much

so basically I think my computer just

went to sleep so I'm going to stop the

stop the video and start it again here

okay it looks like my computer did go to

sleep so anyway I'm back and now I've

got the pics we want to talk about so

there are a lot of different choices on

finger picks and I've tried them all and

I'd say probably four three fourths of

the time that I've been playing the

autoharp I used the the Dunlop nickel

0.025 gage finger picks they look a lot

like this a little hole in the plectrum

and I would not recommend plastic finger

picks the reason for that is the plastic

finger picks tend to have a noise of

their own kind kind of a noise of their

own sorry

kind of like a tweak tweak tweak tweak

click click click click click on the

strings where the metal well

that's a very good demonstration

okay does a better job of actually

grabbing the strings and pulling the no

doubt so I would recommend metal for

your fingers finger picks but I would

recommend plastic for the thumb pick I

use a Kelly what they call a speed pick

looks like that and they come in small

medium large three different gauges

white is the hardest and then I think

orange is the medium and yellow is the

soft something like that but anyway I

like the the hard pick but it gives

a nice clear tone without much noise on

its own a metal thumb pick does really

make a brash sound it's great for single

picking but for most of the thumb work

you're going to do on the autoharp it's

going to be for basically strumming

underneath the melody that you're going

to be picking with your fingers when you

get to that point back in December I on

the recommendation of a friend

I ordered a set of Kling pro finger

picks from a gentleman named Gus

Chatterley that lives in Canada and he

designed these to be banjo finger picks

but they work amazingly well in the

autoharp and I am completely sold on

them this is what they look like the

nice thing about these is that they stay

completely firm on my finger because of

that little tab that comes around and

rests on top of your fingernail it looks

kind of odd and it looks like it might

be uncomfortable but it's not at all

very very comfortable much more so than

the Dunlop's and for me they provide

better accuracy so I'm completely sold

on them if you go to my website at Auto

harpist com you can scroll all the way

down to the bottom of the website and

you'll see a little banner down at the

bottom that says cling Pro the fingers

friend down at the bottom you click on

that that will take you to Gus's website

so that you can try a set out I highly

recommend them I absolutely love them

and he's real good about helping you get

them fitted to your fingers and he'll he

can advise you what sizes you need that

type of thing I think I have mediums on

these two fingers and a small on my ring

finger but they're really wonderful

picks and I really like them so if you

you know if you haven't gotten any picks

yet it might you know and you want to

try these out I highly recommend them so

okay so that that's basically you know a

good case you've got tuna an electronic


which did I go over that in the last one

get to a clip on tuner like this little

snark just make sure that it's a

chromatic tuner and can read all of the

notes of the scale not just guitar notes

there's very few of them out there

nowadays that are only designed to tune

guitars but there's still a few of them

floating out there so make sure it is a

chromatic tuner and the way these things

do you they just clip on the tuning pins

and you turn them on and it reads the

notes for you and it's it's really nice

tuning is a little bit of a learned

thing and I'm gonna devote a whole

lesson just to tuning so watch for that

that's going to be the next installment

so basically you get you in Auto harp

make sure it's set up properly talk to

one of the people in my choosing the

autoharp article that I have at the end

here and then while you're at it and

you're on my website go to down to the

bottom of the page and there's another

little article called the solid vamp the

solid foundation and it goes over a lot

of the things that I've been talking

about here today everything from simple

chord changes to how to hold it you know

kind of go over some of the economics

that I was talking about and then also

the strap like what I was talking about

so there's it's just just getting you

started there's a lot to a lot to think

about it first but once you actually get

it in your hand and we're gonna start

learning some very simple things that's

going to get you started on your road to

learn in the autoharp and I hope you've

enjoyed this and if you like what you're

seeing and you would like to see more

visit my website like I said it at Auto

harvest comm but also I have a patreon

account so to help me take care of some

of the expenses that are involved in

maintaining my websites and also

recording I'm working on a Christmas

album and I'm doing some other recording

projects and of course that takes a

little bit of cash so if

feel so moved to help me out in that

regard I'd really appreciate it so go to