I play and teach piano, and I would like to learn the harp. Does my knowing piano give me an advantage in playing the harp, or does it not matter? Are they anything alike? Thanks a million! Btw I am speaking of a small harp, not a huge pedal harp, something with about 22 strings.

  • Maybe the theory for piano would help but I think that coordination would have to be achieved for playing the harp.
    – user30646
    Commented Oct 20, 2016 at 23:25

4 Answers 4


Just for supplement: Non-pedal harps are either tuned to a fixed key, or have a mechanism (called hook) for each string, to modify its pitch a half tone upwards. This takes some preparation, so chromatic changes are not possible on the fly, but only in longer breaks. Harps with hooks were often manufactured in Bohemia.

Contrary to the piano the strings also sometimes require to be muffled by the palm for which there is a special notation, as I learned from a recent question.

Also note, that tuning a harp is frequently necessary and due to the high number of strings takes considerable time.


Harps are written in concert pitch on a grand staff. If you read piano music, you can read harp music. Musical concepts like phrasing, articulations, dynamics, etc. will be similar on the harp and the piano (and other instruments for that matter.)

Technical details are very different. A harp is quasi-diatonic (at least the big orchestral harp) in that it has 7 notes per octave. There are 7 pedals that raise notes by a half-step; the "native" tuning is in Cb. A pedal raises or lowers all notes with the same name by a half-step. This limits the type of phrases easily played. Also, harpists do not use the little finger which means that common piano idioms are not playable.

  • But lever harps only have two positions for each lever. That gives you the choice between either natural and sharp, or else flat and natural, for each string - depending on how you tune the harp. Often the harp will be tuned to Eb major with all the levers down (flatted), so you can flip levers up to get all the keys up to E major.
    – Simon B
    Commented Oct 21, 2016 at 15:36
  • What are the reasons the little finger isn't used? Seems to me that if we have one, it might as well be brought into play (literally!).
    – Tim
    Commented Oct 21, 2016 at 18:13
  • The little finger is not used in normal concert harp playing because it's thought to be too weak. But that's a weak excuse, and the little finger is used in many folk harp traditions. I use it myself for my contemporary harp. Commented Oct 23, 2016 at 17:21
  • The second paragraph mostly concerns a harp type, which was explicitly excluded in the question. I'm somewhat astonished this answer was accepted nevertheless.
    – guidot
    Commented Oct 23, 2016 at 17:22

One similarity between harp and piano that hasn't been mentioned is the spacial distribution of the tones. Like a piano, and unlike most other instruments, on the harp you have a scale under your fingers going from low to high in one direction, with the spacing not all that different from a piano. So if you can plunk out a scale on the piano, you can pluck out a scale on a harp, pretty much.

On the other hand, as mentioned above, there are lots of differences. Another one is that, with the harp, both hands have the thumb playing higher notes (for a given hand position) than the fingers, unlike the piano where the right hand has the thumb playing lower.


Having a background in piano is very helpful for learning harp! It doesn't contribute much in the way of execution, but for theory and understanding musical concepts, I think it is the best "gateway" instrument to harp. :)

  • Yep, the same goes for Accordion Sheet Music, Celesta Sheet Music, Handbell Sheet Music, virtually all types of sheet music written for instruments that read in the Grand Staff. Commented Nov 11, 2023 at 15:17

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