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Not too long ago I got the idea in my head that an autoharp would be perfect to get my students enthused about reading lead sheets and learning chords. When I was about 10 years old our classroom teacher would sometimes let a few of us stay after school and play on an old autoharp. That is where I think I learned about primary chords and a lot of music theory that I didn’t learn in piano lessons. It made learning the guitar and playing lead sheets a lot easier for me.

I started checking on eBay to see if I could afford a used one. I know something about autoharps because I used them when I taught elementary music education.  Every time I started at a new school I would get out the dusty autoharp and tune it up.

For several weeks my husband and I checked eBay often. I didn’t want to spend much, $35.00 tops. I wanted a name brand autoharp in case I needed to buy some parts, one  with all the strings, and a hard case. I figured I could tell by the descriptions if they were playable, but we knew we were taking a chance.

I bought a 20-year-old Oscar Schmidt because you can still get parts for this brand. It was out of tune and a few of the strings are pitchy. But it sounds fine, at least for a $35.00 autoharp. For comparison, on Amazon you can see the cost of a new Oscar Schmidt 15 chord autoharp, so I saved a lot of money buying an old one. It did not come with a tuning wrench, but I picked up one at my local music store for about $6.00. You can also order one from Amazon. I have to tune it more than I want to because it has been so long since it was tuned. Every time I tune it, it stays in tune longer, so I have hope for it. Right now I don’t want to invest in a new set of strings, which will cost more than the autoharp! If you think you might want to buy a used one, be sure you are comfortable with how to tune it, and don’t pay too much! If you can tune a guitar, you can tune an autoharp. It just takes longer.

I made some song charts for my students with easy chords and used it with all ages at my last set of group lessons. The songs had one, two, or three chords, depending on the age of the group. One of my goals with older students was to bridge the gap between playing I IV V7  and C F G7. The students and I had a lot of fun, and I think they learned a lot. What was amazing to me is that my students had never seen one before. I guess they aren’t used in school music programs any more! 

Now I wonder if I can arrange some music for autoharp and piano! Would that sound weird?

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10 thoughts to “My New Autoharp

  • Dan

    Susan,

    In time, did your autoharp stay in tune?

    I just finished restoring an old ChromAharP, including replacing all the strings.

    Then I impulse-bought another one on Craigslist, supposedly only 3 years old.

    I just tuned the second one, then tuned the first one, and by the time I was done the second one was already back out of tune. Most strings were an entire 1/2 step flat.

    So I tuned the second one again, and by then the first one had some flat strings.

    Please tell me this gets better.

    Thanks,
    Dan

    • Susan Paradis

      Actually, mine has stayed in tune very well. But the first time I tuned it, I had to tweak it several days in a row then about a week later. Then it stayed in tune for a long time. Keep tuning it for a while and I bet it will eventually stay in tune. It really takes a while for them to adjust to a new area of the country.

      If yours is only a few years old, I would call up the company.

  • pamela vandewlaker

    Susan…I would be interested in a listing of your one-chord autoharp songs.

  • Anonymous

    What a beautiful instrument!

  • Lauren Averill

    Susan, you are such a talented, creative Renaissance woman. I look forward to seeing your emails each and every time. Just thought I’d pass that along. You are an amazing woman, my friend.

  • Megan Hughes

    Good idea! I have an old auto harp in my waiting room and have never tuned it much. It didn’t occur to me to use it to teach chords. Tomorrow it moves out of the waiting room and into the studio.

  • jgubler

    I used the autoharp at the beginning of my Kindermusik Classes. I sang a simple “Now it’s time to say hello, say hello, say hello…..Now it’s time to say hello–I’m glad you’re here today. Hello Suzy”, (then Suzy would sing back): “Hello Miss Jill”, and so forth around the room until I had sung every child’s name and they had sung back to me. They loved it. I used all I and V7 chords. Simple!

    • susanparadis

      Jill, I’m glad to hear that! Thanks for sharing a really good way to help children learn to sing on pitch.

  • Rhythm Express

    How lovely to see one of these in use. We had them at school in New Zealand in the 70s/80s and I purchased one a couple of years ago to use in my pre-school music classes. The kids love them, but neither parents nor children had ever seen one before! I’d love to try it out with my piano students so please do arrange some music for autoharp and piano!

    • susanparadis

      There is even an Autoharp camp for adults. They seem to be getting more popular lately. Auto harps have an interesting history!

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