On the Virtues of the Autoharp

by Kimberly on July 16, 2009 · 7 comments

I hurt my finger on vacation. A marble bathroom sink top fell and tore off the top of my left hand ring finger (though not completely off…the ER doctor was happy my fingertip was “still attached”).

It took four stitches to hold my finger together. They just got removed this week. I can do most everything right now…

…except play the guitar.

If you are a music therapist, or music therapy student, I think I just heard you groan. Yes, I cannot play my guitar right now. Which sucks, because I use my guitar EVERY DAY at work.

I don’t yet know when I will be able to play my guitar. But that’s okay, because I will be using my autoharp, instAutoharpead.

Remember the autoharp? Remember sitting with your elementary school music teacher, the autoharp sitting on the floor in front of you? You would press on the white chord button with your left hand, then cross your right hand over your left and strum with a pick. Voila! Instant music.

The autoharp is actually a very useful instrument for a music therapist, for several reasons:

  • It is very portable.
  • It is easy to play. Just press a button and strum.
  • The chords can sound richer than guitar chords because you have so many strings at your disposal.
  • The range is extensive. You can easily play full chords using all the strings, high chords using the upper strings, or low chords using the lower strings.
  • You can easily play a variety of dynamic changes based on how you strum.

Now, to be fair, there are a couple of downsides to the autoharp:

  • It can be a pain to tune. (On the flip side, once you are used to tuning, it only takes about 5-10 minutes. And you only need to tune it as needed, which means you can go months without a tune-up.)
  • If you’re used to playing songs on the guitar, it will have to practice the songs on the autoharp (unless, of course, you know the chords. But, if you are like me, the muscle memory in my hands know the guitar chords, which does not transfer easily to the autoharp. Thus, I will be practicing).
  • You have to learn how to pick on the authoharp. A much easier task on the six-string guitar than on the 30+ string autoharp.

So, for the forseeable future, I will be dusting off my autoharp and re-practicing the songs I know. Who knows…maybe it’s time for you to dust off yours, too.


{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Roia July 28, 2009 at 5:49 am

Yow! I’m so sorry to hear of your injury. Thank goodness it sounds as if you’ll have full function of your finger again, but, geez, what a trauma.

I’m not a fan of autoharps, I have to admit, but I would imagine they’d be helpful in this situation. I think I’d also just do a lot of singing and maybe use drums and other rhythm instruments. Sometimes when I play non-leading instruments (for lack of a better description), it feels as if I’m getting a different perspective on my clients’ experience (since I work with people who often have/use a very limited musical repertoire).

Hope your finger heals quickly!
.-= Roia´s last blog ..Supervision: Part II: Peer Supervision =-.

Kimberly July 28, 2009 at 9:14 am

Thank you, Roia. It seems to me that we are both using instruments that work best with our different populations. The autoharp has been great for me as I work on self-regulation and sensorimotor goals, but might not be the most appropriate instrument for the goals you are addressing. I guess it’s good us music therapists have lots of instruments to choose from!

Projector Lamp : October 26, 2010 at 5:28 am

bathroom sinks that are made from ceramics are always the best choice. they last longer and very strong”;’

Dumbbell Set Weights · November 12, 2010 at 6:30 pm

well, our bathroom sink is always made from stainless steel because they are long lasting ,-*

Name April 6, 2011 at 10:10 pm

I don’t believe that most people know the autoharp well enough to appreciate them. They are great for playing rhythm or melody and a great accompaniment to singing. I now play one, along with various instruments. I have four autoharps and another on the way (got three from ebay) and I love to play them! I have witnessed them played in hospitals, schools, and nursing homes, as well as on stage, and almost everyone loves the music that they produce! I would think that it’s the perfect instrument for music therapy. I hope that the finger is all healed up! Keep on harpin’!

Linda August 27, 2011 at 6:37 pm

Glad to read this, not so glad about your poor finger which I hope is all healed up now!!
I’m also a music therapist, and I’ve hurt my left elbow, and playing the guitar seems to be hindering its healing. I was thinking of buying an autoharp, but that’s been easier said than done. I also came across some videos about using the QChord with the client and therapist playing together, which I like. Do you think one may be better for that purpose than the other? The QChord has more functions than I need (I need just a chord accompaniment!) but it might be fun to explore those. As far as a client doing the strumming portion it would seem to me that the strings are a nicer option for the tactile feel. Decisions, decisions… lol Your thoughts?

Kimberly August 30, 2011 at 12:47 pm

I definitely think there is a place for both. I have some experience with a Qchord, but like you mentioned, I like the tactile quality the autoharp provides. Plus, in general, I prefer an acoustic sound when possible. That said, if I had a lot of clients with significant physical challenges, the Qchord would be a very nice option as they could easily make quality music and could have a level of instantaneous feedback. Hope this helps! ~Kimberly

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