Online Group-Tuition Programmes

Academy Programmes

Beginning - 14 Oct 2023

Course 3 of Fundamentals of playing the early Irish harp


This course will teach you the the foundational skills and knowledge you need to explore the music and traditions of the early Irish harp at post-beginner level. This is Course 3 in a sequence of three. You will build further on the historical playing techniques covered in the previous two courses, and will be introduced to more repertory: an evocative air collected from 18-century Irish harper, Donal Black; a lively planxty composed by Turlough Carolan; and a 17th-century love song melody composed by Sligo harper, Thomas Connellon. 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. 

N.B. You can sign up for this course without taking courses 1 and 2. Students who already play early Irish harp, and want to focus on skills and repertory, 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 (Irish time)




Saturday | 2:00–3:15 pm (Irish time)

14 Oct

Session 1

Róis Bheag Dhubh (1 of 2)

The harp-music collector, Edward Bunting, wrote that he notated this evocative air from the 18th-century harper, Donal Black, who sang it to him in 1792 to his own harp accompaniment. A different setting, Róisín Dubh, is still one of the most famous of all Irish-language songs. We will explore Bunting field transcriptions of two different settings of the tune, and compare them with his 1840 printed piano arrangements. We will then focus on learning to play one of the settings, decorating it with melodic ornaments notated from harpers, and using historical Irish harp fingerings.

28 Oct

Session 2

Róis Bheag Dhubh (2 of 2)

We will recap. 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’

04 Nov

Session 3

Planxty Irwin (1 of 2)

Planxty Irwin is a lively, but completely approachable, jig-time song air composed by Turlough Carolan (1670–1738), the most famous early Irish harper. Planxtys are usually tunes that Carolan composed in honor of a particular patron; in this case Colonel John Irwin in county Sligo. We will compare Bunting’s field transcription with his later MS piano arrangement to arrive at a plausible setting for our harps, adding melodic ornaments, and using historical Irish harp fingerings, and string-damping suggestions helpful for all harps, which give a crystal clear texture.

11 Nov

Session 4

Planxty Irwin (2 of 2)

We will recap. 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’.

18 Nov

Session 5

Síle Bheag Ní Chonnalláin (1 of 2)

In a 1790s MS, Bunting wrote that he collected this setting of a love song composed by the Sligo harper, Thomas Connellon (c. 1639–before 1700), from the playing of the harper, Charles Byrne, and also from the singing of Donal Black. We will examine Bunting’s MS piano setting (no field transcription taken directly from a harper survives) building a harp setting, with a historically plausible bass hand, melodic ornaments, helped by known historical Irish harp fingering and string damping techniques.

02 Dec

Session 6

Síle Bheag Ní Chonnalláin (2 of 2)

We will recap. 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’.

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 an evocative air of the 18th century, a jig-time song by Carolan and a love song by Connellon
  • 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