Online Group-Tuition Programmes

Academy Programmes

Beginning - 06 May 2023

2 – Fundamentals of playing the early Irish harp


This course will teach you the foundational skills and knowledge you need to explore the music and traditions of the early Irish harp at a post-beginner level. In this second of a series of three progressive courses, you will build on the historical playing techniques and repertory introduced in course 1, which are fundamental to mastering the instrument. This course will suit you if you play early Irish harp at a post-beginner level, or have had a pause in your playing, and want to return to the instrument to refresh your skills. This is course 2 in a sequence of three: course 3 (autumn 2023), will build on skills and knowledge introduced in the previous courses. 

N.B. You can sign up for this course without taking course 1. Students who already play early Irish harp, and want to focus on skills and repertory at a post-beginner level, are encouraged to enrol. If you are unsure, feel free to get in touch.  We warmly welcome players of all kinds of harps.


Course Duration

6 Sessions



Class Time

2:00–3:15 pm (GMT+1)




Saturday | 2:00–3:15 pm (GMT+1)

06 May

Session 1

Miss Goulding (1 of 2)

In this first session we will work on a lovely, easy jig said to have been composed by Turlough Carolan (1670–1738), the most famous early Irish harper. We will work from an edition by the 19th-century music collector, George Petrie—a friend and colleague of Edward Bunting, the seminal Irish music collector—which Petrie made from an older manuscript setting now preserved in The Royal Irish Academy. This piece will allow us to begin to incorporate into our playing an idiom characteristic of Carolan—dividing phrases of the melody between the hands—that makes the tune even easier to play!

13 May

Session 2

Miss Goulding (2 of 2)

We will recap. the work we did in the first session. If we have time we will now work on fleshing out the melody by adding a simple, historically plausible 'lower hand’ in additional places in the tune.

20 May

Session 3

Carolan’s lamentation for Charles Mac Cabe (1 of 2)

This beautiful lament by Turlough Carolan survives in the mid-19th-century Forde manuscript collection, reproduced by Petrie, with the additional title 'Parting from a companion’. Carolan composed it as a result of a joke that his good friend, Charles Mac Cabe, played on the blind harper, pretending that he was dead! By working on this piece we will learn how to 'reverse engineer' from a historical printed source to get back to a more plausible harp setting, both in terms of the actual notes to be played, and also in the likely phrasing of the original, before it was 'nailed down' in music notation.

03 Jun

Session 4

Carolan’s lamentation for Charles Mac Cabe (2 of 2)

We will recap. on the work we did in the first session. Now, we may also work on fleshing out the melody by adding a simple, historically plausible 'lower hand'.

10 Jun

Session 5

Sídh beag agus sídh mór / The bonny cuckoo (1 of 2)

One of the most famous melodies said to be composed by the harper, Turlough Carolan (1670–1738), Sídh beag agus sídh mór is likely not his original composition but a reworking of a graceful song called The Bonny Cuckoo. We will compare historical printed, and manuscript Irish sources, aiming to arrive at a plausible harp version. 

17 Jun

Session 6

Sídh beag agus sídh mór / The bonny cuckoo (2 of 2)

We will recap. the work we did in the first session. We will now also start to understand how Edward Bunting’s piano arrangements generally do not channel the Irish-harper performances that he heard, live, in the 1790s; why that is, and how we might now go about reconstructing a more plausible ‘lower hand’ for our harp setting.

What to Expect

In this course, students will

  • have demonstrated, and learn, appropriate posture, hand position, and playing techniques for the early Irish harp
  • be taught a lively jig, a heart-rending lament and a sparkling Carolan air
  • learn to incorporate an important characteristic of Carolan’s compositional idiom, missing from modern sources of his music, that makes his music much easier to play
  • develop critical thinking skills around historical (both printed and hand-written manuscript) vs. more modern sources of Irish harp music, and how to access the best source material including free online resources
  • learn how to 'reverse engineer' from later editions of Irish harp music to get closer to the original music
  • learn plausible historical accompaniment for Irish harp melodies, based on the latest cutting-edge research into performance practice in the old, pre-1800 tradition

Technical Requirements

  • A laptop, desktop or tablet computer; we do not recommend using a phone to participate
  • Speakers or headphones
  • Access to a printer for downloadable course materials
  • Access to the Zoom platform; further information to help you get set up for participating over Zoom will be sent after you have registered

Enrollment is now closed

You can no longer join this course