Online Group-Tuition Programmes

Academy Programmes

Beginning - 04 Feb 2023

Fundamentals of playing the early Irish harp – 1


This course will teach you the foundational skills and knowledge you need to begin to explore the music and traditions of the early Irish harp. In this first of a series of three progressive courses for 2023, you will acquire the historical playing techniques and repertory fundamental to mastering the instrument.

This course will suit you if you have only recently started playing early Irish harp, or have had a pause in your playing, and want to return to the instrument to refresh your skills. Or maybe you play other kinds of harps and want to explore the aristocratic harp of the old Gaelic world? If so, then this is the course for you!

This is Course 1 in a sequence of three: Course 2 (spring 2023) and Course 3 (autumn 2023), will build on skills and knowledge introduced in the previous courses. You can sign up for Course 2 or 3 without taking the preceding course/s. Refer to the course and session descriptions to decide which one would be best for you. 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)




Saturday | 2:00–3:15 pm (GMT)

04 Feb

Session 1

What is an ‘Irish harp’?

There is more than one Irish harp. The modern Irish or ‘Celtic’ harp, usually strung in nylon, is a distinct instrument from the earlier Irish harp, strung in brass wire. In this introductory talk, you will discover the differences between these two harps, together with the different posture and playing techniques required for each. You will also be introduced to the most significant source of Irish harp repertory, so that you can access and explore this rich treasure further for yourself in the future.

11 Feb

Session 2

The ‘First Tune’

In this session you will learn the First Tune traditionally taught to beginner harpers in the eighteenth century: Máilí Bhán [‘Fair Molly’]. You will have a rare opportunity to see the actual music copied down directly from an old Irish harper in the 1790s by Edward Bunting, the collector who saved the music of some of the last Irish harpers in the old tradition. This session will introduce you to the techniques that are vital for playing the long-resonating brass-wire strings of the early Irish harp.

18 Feb

Session 3

Carolan’s rambles to Teague — 1 of 2

In this session we will explore a tune said to be by Turlough Carolan (1670–1738), the most famous early Irish harper. We will see an 18th-century manuscript version, comparing it with one in an Irish music collection from the 1800s, now in the USA. We will also work on our first melodic ornament, from Edward Bunting’s harp ‘Graces’ in his 1840 publication: The Ancient Music of Ireland.

25 Feb

Session 4

Carolan’s rambles to Teague — 2 of 2

We will recap. the work we did in session 3. Now, we may also work on fleshing out the melody by adding a simple but historically plausible 'lower hand' to the hand that is playing the melody.  

04 Mar

Session 5

Diarmuid Ó Dúda [‘Dermot O’Doudy’] — 1 of 2

This session will introduce you to a song air notated directly from the playing of an old Irish harper in the 1790s. You will now begin to understand why Bunting’s published arrangements are not reliable sources for anyone interested in old Irish harp music, and why his field transcriptions – such as this one – are so vital because they are much closer to what the old Irish harpers played. Diarmuid Ó Dúda is a great piece to work on to further develop your new-found early Irish harping skills.

11 Mar

Session 6

Diarmuid Ó Dúda [‘Dermot O’Doudy’] — 2 of 2

We will recap. the work we did in session 5. 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

  • compare and contrast early and modern Irish harps, their repertory and how they are played
  • learn appropriate posture, hand position, and playing techniques for the early Irish harp
  • be taught three simple, beautiful melodies using appropriate playing techniques
  • work on fingering and playing one or two simple melodic ornaments
  • acquire vital skills for exploring handwritten, historical sources
  • discover plausible – but surprisingly simple – historical accompaniment techniques based on the latest scholarship in the field

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