Posted on Leave a comment

How Do I Start Playing Double-Strung Harp? [Double-Strung Harp FAQ S1:E6]

Hi, I’m Cynthia Shelhart. You can call me Cindy. And it’s time for some #DoubleTalk. Double-strung harp, that is!

Welcome back to our FAQ series on the double-strung harp. Last time, in Episode 5, we took a workshop view to explore all kinds of music that you can play on double-strung harp. (Did you miss the episode? Hey, we missed YOU. Make sure you’re subscribed for future episodes, OK?)

This time in Episode 6, it’s the magic moment you’ve all been waiting for. Your double-strung harp is on its way, or maybe it’s even already arrived at its new home. It’s time to take those first steps—and it can be easier than you think. Today we’ll take a look at “How do I get started playing double-strung harp?”


Let’s start with some good news about technique.

If you already play single-row harp, if you already play lever harp with a single row of strings, you’re halfway there. The same familiar technique that you use for single-row harp is the same that you use for double-strung harp: the same placing for your fingers, plucking the string, closing and replacing, fingering conventions, these are all the same. So, you’ve already made a great start there.

And an ideal place to start, I think, is if you already play at an intermediate level—if you can play independent parts with both hands together at the same time. The double-strung harp has enough new and different things about it, for your hands and your eyes and your brain, that it helps if you can get some of the other stuff out of the way, the basic harp technique that you know from single-row harp. And if you can play hands together playing independent parts, well, you’re just putting the ball in your court.

But if you’re brand new to harp, the double-strung harp IS still doable; you’ve just got a little bit more to cover. I’d recommend harp lessons to get you up to speed with basic harp technique. And you CAN do this. I would recommend doing a little research, and making sure that you find the right teacher to help you out with both things at the same time. (And I’ll have a little bit more on that later.)

Single-Row & Familiar Repertoire

Speaking of familiar stuff, you can use familiar single-row repertoire to help you get used to your double-strung harp: not just technique, but also the music that you already play.

This helps you get used to the feel and the look of 2 rows of strings. And you might be surprised to know that when you’re playing double-strung harp, it’s not just all overlapped in the same range all the time. It also includes playing hands separated, with right hand high in the melody range, and left hand a little lower, like the single-row harp. So this will also fit right in with playing double-strung harp, if you bring your single-row repertoire over.

This also helps you get used to the sound of 2 rows. If you do a slight move of your left hand up an octave, so that you can play the melody, the same right hand melody, in the left hand, at the same time, you’re actually playing in true unison. And this is something that you can’t do on a single-row harp; you have to have a double- or triple-strung harp to be able to do that. So the two unison rows of strings allow you to play the same thing in the same range. And this is a great way to get used to the sound of 2 rows.

“Double Vision”

Now there’s one more thing that everybody gets a little bit concerned about when their double-strung harp arrives, and that’s something that we nickname “double vision.” And this is a temporary disorientation from looking at the two rows of strings, instead of one. And this DOES go away with time; please be patient with yourself, but also know that the time that this takes to go away varies with individual harpists. So for you, it may be something that goes away very quickly, or it may take you a little bit of time. But again, please be patient with yourself.

The main thing that we’re looking to do is to decrease your visual dependence on the strings. And there are some things you can try:

  • One is to focus on 1 row of strings at a time. You may, for example, want to focus on the left-hand row of strings (and I’m speaking about a harp on your right shoulder); the left-hand row of strings would be closer to your head and, by extension, your eyes. Or, it might work out better if you look at the right-hand row. That means that you’re looking at the row of strings that you usually play the melody on, and this is closer to the same plane as your eyes, at eye level. So, one row might work a little better than the other on a given day. And sometimes you need to change that around a little bit, depending on the piece, or depending on the day.
  • You could also try playing lower than usual on the strings, temporarily. Usually, we play in the middle of the strings (so that we have the best sound, and activate all the harmonics on the strings). But, temporarily, it’s totally okay if you want to experiment with playing a little bit lower on the strings. It might be easier to see the strings if you look at them with the soundboard nearby.
  • You can also experiment with angling the harp differently on your shoulder, so that the peripheral vision that we use for looking at the harp strings (you know, not looking with your neck cranked around to cause it some pain), we want to make sure that you’re using peripheral vision like you do on any other harp. But, maybe angling the harp a little differently on your shoulder can help you find that “sweet spot” for your peripheral vision.
  • You can also try changing your environment. You can change your lighting, the floor covering, maybe putting a different piece of fabric or a rug down in the area where you’re looking down at your strings. There might be other background distractions. Try changing your environment around a little bit.
  • And finally, you could actually try playing with your eyes closed from time to time, to help develop your sense of touch and your muscle memory to get used to the distance between the 2 rows of strings, and the distance between the strings themselves. Many Welsh triple harpists, just like their contemporaries who played wire-strung harp (from Ireland and Highland Scotland), were also blind. So they played without the benefit of being able to see the strings. And maybe that might work for you, to try it out a little bit while you’re getting accustomed to the look of the 2 rows of strings. And your ears will tell you when it’s right. 

Make Mine a Double & Working Together

So, if you found today’s tips helpful, I’ve got a lot more music and information for you in my best-selling method book for double-strung harp, which is called Make Mine a Double. It’s available on my website,, along with other music books, sheet music, and CDs—all for double-strung harp. And that’s also where you can contact me if you’re interested in working directly in 1:1 lessons, or small group workshops. I’d love to hear from you.

Wrapping Up

So whether your double-strung harp is on its way, or that new harp is just waiting patiently for some love in your harp room,  I hope that these tips on getting started are helpful for you. 

Thanks for joining me today for Episode 6 of the double-strung harp FAQ series. If you liked what you heard today, make sure you subscribe, so you can be notified of future episodes. And if you want to be the first person to get some more Double Talk, go to my website,, and sign up for my mailing list.

And you definitely want to stay tuned and make sure you’re subscribed for next time; I’ve got a whole new double-strung harp series coming up for you, and you’ll find out all about it in the next video. You won’t want to miss it. See you next time!

Posted on Leave a comment

Performance Video: Con Cassidy’s/The Dusty Millar (Trad. Irish/Scottish, arr. Shelhart)

I learned this jig/slip jig set from Altan’s CD The Red Crow. Con Cassidy’s is an Irish tune, while The Dusty Millar is common to both Scottish and Irish traditions, and is related to a Robert Burns song by the same name.

Recorded in April 2021 at St. John’s United Church, Chesterton IN, for the 2021 Gebhard Woods Dulcimer and Traditional Music Festival.

Learn more at

Posted on Leave a comment

Which Music Can I Play on Double-Strung Harp? [Double-Strung Harp FAQ S1E5]

Hi, I’m Cynthia Shelhart. You can call me Cindy. And it’s time for some #DoubleTalk. Double-strung harp, that is!

Welcome back to our FAQ series on the double-strung harp. In the past couple of videos, Parts 1 and 2 of Episode 4, we took a look at the double-strung harp’s family tree, all the way from late Renaissance chromatic harps to the 20th century birth of the modern double harp. If you missed those episodes, we’re sorry we missed you! You need to make sure you subscribe, so you can be notified of future episodes.

This time, it’s a very special Episode 5— can’t wait to share it with you. It’s actually ripped from the pages of a workshop that I just taught. And I thought this would be a great way to share a glimpse for you of what it’s like to work with me in a workshop. So sit back, relax, and enjoy a very special FAQ Series Episode 5, where I answer the question: “Which music can I play on double-strung harp?”

Which music?

Which music can I play on double-strung harp? This is really a concern or a question that people have.

At first, I have a very short answer: I say, “The easy answer is, almost ANYTHING!”

And then after that, there’s an easy answer with a short disclaimer: “ALMOST anything, if it works for your HARP, and works for YOU.”

We’re not just talking about musical elements like melody, or harmony, or genres or styles here. We can actually dig a little deeper, and talk about the actual source material of where the music really comes from.

For example, if a piece of music is written down in permanent form—somewhere—it usually comes from 1 of 3 categories of the source material: a composition, an arrangement, or a transcription. This means that, for compositions, you’re playing something that’s exactly the same, that somebody has written down, and the expectation is, you will play it as written. Or, maybe you are going to adapt music in the original source, and it will be different from its original form. So let’s compare those two things quickly.

Compositions for double-strung harp

For compositions, you’re doing something that’s exactly the same as the composer intended, whoever they were (and whenever they were). The double-strung harp is a new and growing instrument. And that means that we are excited about it! It also means that we have a small and growing number of original compositions written for the double-strung harp. That’s not a whole lot of repertoire—YET. We’re working on that.

So it’s important, when we are thinking about growing the double-strung harp, to take advantage of our instrument’s potential (which is amazing, by the way, I think you would all agree with that). We need to grow our repertoire by also adapting music from other instruments, from other sources. That’s why I’m personally active as both a double-strung harp composer and arranger, so I can help add to the repertoire that’s available for our instrument, and help bring other people into our world.

Arrangements & transcriptions for double-strung harp

There are two types of musical adaptations where we would change the music around a little bit (or maybe a lot) to make it work for us and our double-strung harps. Those are arrangements and transcriptions. This is a time honored practice, by the way; this isn’t something like, “oh, we’re messing with it, that’s not a good idea.” This is something that people have been doing for centuries, since the beginnings of musical history, in all different cultures.

Arrangements are pretty closely related to the original compositions. They can actually be a little simpler, or they can be made more complex than the original. And the arranger might make musical changes in the fingering, for accidentals, the range, etc., that work better on the non-native or non-original instrument. And this is also what happens when we adapt music from, say, our single-row harp libraries, or from other kinds of harps (pedal harps, wire-strung harps, etc.). When we take that music and adapt it for double-strung harp, we are making arrangements.

Transcriptions are another kind of arrangement that are intentionally even closer to the original. They are played as written. And this isn’t just for classical music, as you might expect; this could be anywhere from Western classical music to jazz and rock. I did a couple of arrangements/transcriptions on my first CD. One was a jazz piece by Chick Corea called Children’s Song, and the other was an arrangement of a Southern rock tune by the Allman Brothers called Little Martha. So you never know what might you might be inspired to try, with arrangements and transcriptions.

(Of course, in this process, we’re also making sure that we respect intellectual property, and observe copyright law as needed, if this music isn’t in the public domain. Very important.)

Arrangements + arranging = more repertoire!

So once we understand that arrangements—and ARRANGING—are our friends, and they’re acceptable in the musical community, we can take on almost any kind of music we like (including the arrangements in today’s workshop, in our Irish music workshop), as we adapt and play original musical source material from a wide world of genres and styles. So again, to make the the the appropriate answer: you can play ALMOST anything, if it works for YOUR double-strung harp, and works for YOU.

Wrapping up

Thanks for joining me in this special Episode 5 of the Double-Strung Harp FAQ Series. If you liked what you heard today, please make sure you’re subscribed, so you can be notified of future episodes. And if you want to be the first to get some more Double Talk, more news from my website, go to that website and sign up for my mailing list at And we’ll get the word out to you as soon as it’s available.

In Episode 6, coming up, it’s that magical moment: you’ve got your double-strung harp and you need to know what to do next. So we’ll answer the question: “How do I start playing double-strung harp?” See you next time!

Posted on Leave a comment

Consider the source: compositions, arrangements, & transcriptions

In previous videos and posts, we talked about the history of the double-strung harp as an instrument. But did you ever consider that a specific piece of music has its own history?

We might know about its musical elements—its melody, rhythm, harmony, texture, and form—and its genre or style. But we can dig deeper, all the way to its source.

Same or different?

If a piece of music is written down in permanent form, it usually comes from one of three categories of source material: compositions, arrangements, and transcriptions. This means that you’re playing music that’s either the same as or different from its original form. Let’s take a closer look at these categories.

Same: compositions

A composition is a piece of music that’s originally written for a specific instrument or ensemble. Whether or not you know who the composer is, you’re expected to play their music as written, on the same original instrument (or with that same ensemble).

Different: arrangements and transcriptions

If you’d like to play a piece of music that wasn’t originally written for your instrument, this implies that you (or someone else) will make some changes to the source material. There are two types of music adaptations: arrangements and transcriptions.

  • Arrangements are closely related to compositions, and can be simpler or more complex than the original. The arranger might make musical changes in fingering, accidentals, range, etc. that work better on the non-original instrument.
  • Transcriptions are arrangements that are intentionally closer to the original, and played as written. Transcriptions are created in many musical genres, from Western classical to jazz and rock. (The term “transcription” is also used to describe process of writing down music that doesn’t already have musical notation (from a live performance, improvisation, sound recording, oral tradition, etc.).

Stay tuned

I’ve got more to share about compositions, arrangements, and transcriptions in next week’s Double-Strung Harp FAQ Series video, “Which Music Can I Play on Double-Strung Harp?” Watch this space!

Posted on Leave a comment

Performance Video: The Clergy’s Lamentation/Spagnoletta (att. O’Carolan/att. M. Praetorius, arr. Shelhart)

I think of these tunes as “The Attributed Set.” Very little is known about The Clergy’s Lamentation, which is popularly attributed to Turlough O’Carolan. Spagnoletta is likewise attributed to Michael Praetorius, publisher of the dance tune collection Terpsichore (1601), and composer of the Christmas carol Es ist ein Ros’ (Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming). All origins and arguments aside, they make a great set.

Recorded in April 2021 at St. John’s United Church, Chesterton IN, for the 2021 Gebhard Woods Dulcimer and Traditional Music Festival.

Learn more at

Posted on 2 Comments

Three’s company: Irish music and the double-strung harp

Have you noticed that the Irish have a preference for things that come in threes? And that’s not just limited to three-leaf shamrocks, or the green-white-orange Irish flag.

The Irish have been using the “triad form” (arranging ideas by threes) for centuries, including in the Old Irish collection Trecheng Breth Féne “A Triad of Judgments of the Irish”, or “The Triads of Ireland”, from the 9th century. (Learn more in Triads of Ireland on Wikipedia.)

The Three Musics in History

And even earlier, Irish mythology used the number three in the story of the good god The Dagda and his magical harp (his greatest treasure), whose music could cause listeners to laugh, weep, or fall asleep. These three moods, or qualities, are sometimes called the “Three Noble Strains” or “The Three Musics” of harp music:

  • Geantraí (“joyful music“)
  • Goltraí (”sorrowful music“)
  • Suantraí (“lullaby music“)

You can hear the modern Irish and Scottish Gaelic pronunciations of these terms here.

Later, these “noble strains” became the “three musics” required of ancient harpers in Ireland and Gaelic Scotland. In his first book, The Ancient Music of Ireland (Dublin, 1840), music collector Edward Bunting included the Old Irish spellings of these terms (geantraigegoltraige, and súantraige) which he learned from harpers at the 1792 Belfast Harp Festival.

You can learn more about the harp in Irish mythology in Scottish harper Ailie’s Robertson’s blog post.

And my US harper friend Jo Morrison wrote a 3-part tune to, in her words, “embody the three types of music required of ancient harpers, the music of joy, sorrow, and sleep.” This tune is the title track of her CD The Three Musics.

Good Things Come in Threes

So what do “The Three Musics” and the double-strung harp have in common? Easy—the number THREE!

When I created The Technique Triangle™, the easy way to make your double-strung harp “sound more like a double,” I literally based it on 3 basic techniques. Once you master these 3, you can use them in endless combinations, in a wide variety of music… which includes Irish music!

In my upcoming Irish music workshop for double-strung harp on February 12, we’ll learn 2 brand-new arrangements: a lullaby (suantraí) and a dance tune (geantraí), with the help of the Technique Triangle.

(Spoiler alert: Split Technique is awesome in helping you play Irish dance tunes on your double harp!)

I invite you to join us for the February 12 Irish DSH Workshop—registration is open through February 9.


Posted on Leave a comment

Where Do Double-Strung Harps Come From? [Double-Strung Harp FAQ S1E4Pt2]

Hi, I’m Cynthia Shelhart. You can call me Cindy. And it’s time for some #DoubleTalk. Double-strung harp, that is!

Welcome back to our FAQ series on the double-strung harp. Last time, in Part 1 of Episode 4, we took a first look at the double-strung harp’s family tree: from late Renaissance chromatic harps, to the Welsh triple harp in the 18th century. If you missed that episode, make sure you subscribe, so that you can find out about future episodes.

This time, in Part 2, we’ll keep exploring the roots of the modern double-strung harp. This will include the 19th century Welsh triple harp’s revival, and the 20th century “big bang” that gave birth to the modern double-strung harp. Let’s get started on Part 2.

The Welsh Triple Harp: 19th Century Survival

Unfortunately, by the 19th century, the Welsh triple harp was actually, despite its earlier popularity, in danger of extinction. The pedal harp was gaining favor, and there were a shortage of harpbuilders building the old (by that time) triple harp.

Also, despite our modern conception of harps being angelic and good and pure instruments, the Methodist religious revival in Wales gave harps and harpists kind of a bad rep. Triple harps were lighter and easier to travel with; they didn’t have a heavy metal mechanism. So the harps were frequently taken to fairs and taverns, and played along with fiddles. And people used to dance to their music, and dancing was extremely anathema to the Methodists.

So these triple harps got a bad reputation. And the triple harpists felt pressure after religious conversion and pressure from the church, sometimes even to the extent that they abandoned their harps. Harps were buried in peat bogs, they were burnt, or even just left to rot—for example, underneath the harpist’s bed, never to be played again.

Fortunately, there were two main sources of keeping the Welsh triple harp tradition going in the 19th century. One very important tradition is from 2 families of the Welsh Gypsy (or Roma), the Wood and Roberts families. These families played triple harp, and brought the triple harp from the north of Wales to the south. So now the entire country had exposure to the Welsh triple harp.

And a noblewoman named Augusta Waddington Hall, whose title was Baroness (or Lady) Llanover, established Llanover House as a center for Welsh language and culture, including music. She was amazing. She was the ultimate “Welshophile.” She employed triple harpists and harpbuilders, she donated triple harps as competition prizes, and collected folk music. She was a major contributor to the survival, and later the revival, of the Welsh triple harp and its music.

The Welsh Triple Harp: 20th & 21st Century Revival

But, unfortunately, despite the best efforts of Lady Llanover and her daughter, by the early 20th century (here we go again!) the triple harp and traditional music in Wales had nearly been abandoned once again for the pedal harp and classical music. Fortunately, once again, we have a couple of exceptions that kept everything going and and kept things going to the modern day.

One great exception was a remarkable harpist and woman named Nansi Richards-Jones. She learned the triple harp and traditional music from harpist and harpbuilder Thomas Lloyd, and she grew up listening and dancing to the music of the Wood Gypsy/Roma family in Wales. As she grew in popularity, she toured Britain and America, playing both the triple harp and pedal harp on her left shoulder. She toured these countries in the early 20th century, and she held the title of Royal Harpist to the Prince of Wales from 1911 all the way until her death in 1971. Nansi inspired many next-generation triple harp players, including Dafydd and Gwyndaf Roberts of the Welsh group Ar Log (who were later inspirations to Robin Huw Bowen, who we’ll talk about in a moment), and also Llio Rhydderch, who was a student of Nansi’s.

And as I mentioned, Robin Huw Bowen not only was inspired by students of Nansi Richards, but also himself studied with a link to the Welsh Gypsy/Roma tradition. He studied with Eldra Jarman, who was the great-granddaughter of John Roberts. So, we have 2 Gypsy/Roma triple harp connections, with Nansi with the Wood family, and Robin Huw Bowen through Eldra Jarman with John Roberts. Robin Huw Bowen is probably the most well known traditional player of the Welsh triple harp today; other current triple harp performers include Elinor Bennett, Eleri Darkins, and Gareth Swindail-Parry of Wales, and American Cheryl Ann Fulton.

But, just as important: you can’t have triple harp players if you don’t have triple harps to play. And one harpbuilder in particular was extremely important in this revival; he was a gentleman named John Weston Thomas. He was a master harpmaker who singlehandedly resurrected harpmaking in Wales in the mid 1960s, including the Welsh triple harp. He taught himself to build harps from museum instruments and looking at old illustrations, because at the time, he was the only harpbuilder left in Wales, and one of only 3 in all of Britain. His innovative perpendicular design made triple harps more stable and long-lasting for the next generation. He was awarded the BEM (the British Empire Medal) for harpmaking by Queen Elizabeth II in the New Year Honours in 1983.

The Double-Strung Harp in Wales

And here we finally meet our instrument, the modern double-strung harp. In 1989, a collaboration between Welsh-Australian harpist and singer Gwenda Davies, and the harpbuilder John Weston Thomas, started them discussing in late 1988 or early 1989 about a Welsh traditional double-strung harp, with levers on both sides. Because Davies was a singer, she wanted a harp where she could easily change keys with preset levers, instead of having to retune the strings, like the older triple harps and older historical harps required. Also, as a Welsh harpist, she wanted the new harp to keep the same 2 unison rows of the Welsh triple harp.

The resulting harp in 1989 was called the “Gwenda” by John Weston Thomas. He had fulfilled both her wishes, for the two unison diatonic rows and full levers on both sides. Davies played it in Wales before bringing it home to San Francisco, California in the early 1990s. And now she lives and teaches and performs in her native Australia. Thomas unfortunately made only one other Gwenda double harp before his death in December 1992. But he did go on to inspire and train a number of apprentices to keep the triple harp tradition going.

In a letter I received from Gwenda Davies in 2005, she says: “The personal enjoyment I gained from playing the Gwenda harp is mainly related to the increased complexity of sound textures, especially when improvising or accompanying my singing. It works particularly well on the Welsh triple harp techniques of doubling.”

Double-Strung Harps in North America

Not long after Thomas’s build of the Gwenda double harp, in 1992, the first North American double-strung harps were built by two harpist and luthier teams in North America: harpist Laurie Riley, and luthier Steve Triplett of Triplett Harps in California; and harpist Elizabeth (Liz) Cifani, and luthier Gary Stone, of Here, Inc., now known as Stoney End Harps, in Minnesota.

Fun fact here: I actually introduced Laurie Riley to Liz Cifani. Liz was my teacher at that time; I introduced them at the 1990 conference of the International Society of Folk Harpers and Craftsmen in Minneapolis, Minnesota, at Augsburg College. And coincidentally, Riley and Cifani—you know it—shared an interest in Welsh harp music, (It’s all starting to come together!)

After the conference, a phone conversation between the two of them inspired both players to design instruments that could play Welsh triple harp repertoire, without retuning or using a third chromatic row of strings. Laurie Riley turned to Triplett Harps, and Liz Cifani contacted Here, Inc., and by the summer of 1992, these collaborations had produced the first modern double-strung harps built in North America. In 1993, both these harpists released the first recordings to include double-strung harp, alongside their other harps: Cifani’s solo CD Bella Stella, and Riley’s duo CD with Michael McBean, Double Image.

While Riley and Triplett, and Cifani and Stone, were not the first to invent the modern double-strung harp, they were certainly the first to launch this new instrument in North America. And today, Stoney End Harps, Gary Stone’s company, is the world’s oldest continuous builder of double-strung harps.

The Double-Strung Harp: My Connection

Finally, I’d like to share my own connection with this story, in the double-strung harp family tree. My double-strung harp adventure began in graduate school at The Pennsylvania State University. This is where I studied harp, and directed the Early Music Ensemble. And, among other things, I played Baroque continuo on an arpa doppia built by Tim Hobrough.

Later, after grad school, I returned to my native Midwest, and I worked for a time for harpbuilders Lyon & Healy in Chicago. And that’s when I met and studied lever harp with Liz Cifani. In the summer of 1992, when she got that first double-strung harp from Gary Stone, hers was made of cherry wood; this was Gary Stone’s very first double, and this is the model now known as the “Lorraine.” When I saw that harp, I immediately placed an order for my own double-strung harp,

Gary built the next harp, his second double-strung harp, for me. This one was made of walnut wood, and I received it in September 1992 at the Fox River Valley Folk Festival in Geneva, Illinois. And, later that year, this harp inspired me to write my composition Walnut Welcome, which is one of the first compositions written for solo double-strung harp.

While I didn’t invent or design one of the first double-strung harps, I’m proud to be a pioneer double-strung harp performer, teacher and composer. In addition to that first harp by Gary Stone, I’ve played double-strung harps by Dusty Strings, Rees Harps, Argent Fox Music, and other builders. I’ve released 2 of the first all-double-strung harp solo CDs, written a best-selling double-strung harp method book, and launched a new series of double-strung harp arrangements. And at the time of filming this video, I’m getting ready to celebrate my 30th anniversary with the double-strung harp in 2022. And I’ll be sharing more with you soon about that celebration.

Wrapping Up

So, I hope you’ve enjoyed climbing the double-strung harp family tree, and learning more about the history and the evolution of the modern double-strung harp—about its historical multi-row harp ancestors, its Welsh triple harp cousins, and the “big bang” of the double-strung harp in Britain and North America in the 20th century.

If you liked what you heard today, please make sure you’re subscribed, so you can be notified of future episodes. And if you want to be the first for more double-strung Double Talk, please sign up at my website,, and sign up for my mailing list.

Next time, on Episode 5, we’re going to visit Inspiration Station…we’re going to find out which music you can play on double-strung harp. See you next time!

Posted on 1 Comment

Where Do Double-Strung Harps Come From? [Double-Strung Harp FAQ S1E4Pt1]

Hi, I’m Cynthia Shelhart. You can call me Cindy. And it’s time for some #DoubleTalk. Double-strung harp, that is!

Last time, in Episode 3 of our double-strung harp FAQ series, we talked about how to choose the best double-strung harp for you—whether it’s your first one, or your next one. If you missed that episode, make sure to subscribe, so you can be notified for upcoming episodes.

And if you see me looking down today, I’ve got a ton of notes for you, because we have a lot in store on Episode 4. This time, we’re going to climb the family tree of the double-strung harp! We’ll explore the roots of the modern double-strung harp, which is a hybrid of historical & traditional multi-row harps and modern lever harps. And we’ll take a look at how it evolved to play chromatic music, key changes, and polyphony, while creating the double-strung harps that we’re familiar with. 

Late Renaissance Chromatic Harps: Spain & Italy

So, let’s take a walk back in history. We know that there were probably some medieval double-strung harps; these were tuned in unison, probably to play early polyphony (more than one voice at a time), overlapping in the same range. But, by the late Renaissance, music had become more chromatic—with accidentals, and playing in different keys—and chromatic harps came along to help solve those challenges for evolving music. 

Chromatic harps came first from Spain to Italy. These harps were cross-strung, meaning that the strings crossed each other like a letter X. There were two rows: one of them was diatonic, like the white keys of a keyboard instrument, and the other was for the flats and sharps, like the black keys on a keyboard instrument. 

The Italian instrument ended up being a little different. Because their harps’ soundboards and sound boxes were built more narrowly, these needed to have parallel strings, rather than the cross-stringing of the Spanish chromatic harps. These harps in Italy had 2, or even 3 rows (again, with parallel stringing because of the narrower soundbox), and they were called the arpa doppia. The name “arpa doppia” comes from the doubled number of strings—even if it’s not exactly doubled, it means “extra number of strings.” The outer row of the arpa doppia was a diatonic row, again, like the white keys on a keyboard instrument, and the inner row was chromatic. And they traded places in the middle, so that either hand would always play a diatonic row on the outside, and reach in from either side into the inner chromatic row. 

The 17th Century Italian Triple Harp

By the time music had evolved into what we now call the beginning of the Baroque era, around the year 1600, the arpa doppia had evolved also, into a larger Italian triple harp. There were still 2 parallel, diatonic, unison rows, with a chromatic center row. The center row was at first an incomplete middle row. It was used in the middle register of the harp, where the harpist would use that area of the harp for playing continuo harmony chords. Later, the middle row, the chromatic row, extended to more areas of the harp; more higher and lower strings were added to the third inner row.

And to play accidentals, the harpist needed to reach into the middle row from either side, similar to the earlier arpa doppia. Now, there were no sharping levers on these harps. So if a new key was needed, the harpist would have to retune all the strings as needed in the 2 outer rows. 

The larger Italian triples were used primarily as bass or continuo instruments, playing harmony, and they played low on the strings. These were extremely tall instruments, and the player would sit lower than the height of the harp, and play low on the strings near the soundboard, to bring out the resonant bass of this larger instrument. But later on, harpists, especially skilled harpists, were also used for playing more higher-range, solo passages. The most famous from this time is the solo in the aria, “Possente spirto” in Monteverdi’s opera L’Orfeo (1607).

17th Century Italian Triple Harps in France & England

The larger Italian triple harps soon made their way across continental Europe, especially to France, and then traveled to England. In 1625, a French triple harpist named Jean le Flelle came to London. He was in the large retinue of Princess Henrietta Maria, who came from France to become the Queen Consort of King Charles I of England. She liked to spend money, and she was a patroness of the arts. So, she brought Jean le Flelle along with her. And a few years after she became queen, le Flelle himself became a court musician. This was in 1629.

One of his fellow court musicians was the composer and musician, William Lawes. If you’ve ever heard of his Harp Consorts, which were composed for violin, viol, theorbo, and harp, these were probably composed for le Flelle’s ensemble at court. They were composed for this large Italian triple, and this was right around the time that le Flelle joined the party, so they were probably composed for le Flelle and his ensemble in the court of Charles I and Queen Henrietta Maria. 

The 17th & 18th Century Welsh Connection

When le Flelle came to London and came to court, there were already other harpists and harpbuilders active in London. They came especially from Wales, which already had a historical connection with the harp. Older harps from Wales were single-row harps. And, unlike the continental harp, Welsh harps (the single-row harps) were played on the left shoulder, so that the left hand played the higher treble strings, and the right hand played bass strings. 

King Henry VIII annexed the country of Wales in 1536. So the traditional moneyed patrons, the gentry of Wales, who would normally be the patrons of these (Welsh) harpists, and by extension, harpbuilders—these folks all went to London where the king was, where their new government was, and where all the action was. And Welsh harpists and their harpbuilders followed their traditional patrons to London.

When they came to London, le Flelle’s new triple harp at court was the latest thing, the latest fashion in music, and it was quickly adopted by these Welsh harpists and their builders at that time. It was the new thing, the new fashion, and they wanted to be a part of it.

In 1660, Charles Evans was the first known Welsh player of the Italian triple to become part of the court musicians. He was appointed to the court of Charles II, following the Restoration, after the English Civil War. 

By the 18th century, the triple harp had become redesigned—and really, transformed, having more strings in its chromatic row. The shoulder of the harp (near the shoulder of the player) on larger Italian harps was much, much higher, and the harpist sat down low. The new, transformed harps, the triple harps in the 18th century, were changed so that they were lower at the shoulder, and much easier for the harpist to reach the upper-range strings. So they would be able to play more virtuosic passages in the treble range of the harp. The design of the harp was almost flip-flopped, in a way; the shoulder became lower, and the bass strings, the long bass strings, had a tall, high “head.”

This harp became so popular among the Welsh, and later in Wales, that it became known as the Welsh triple harp, despite its Italian origins. Like the earlier Welsh single-row harps, these new Welsh triple harps were also played on the left shoulder, using the left hand for the treble row and the right hand for the bass strings. This new Welsh triple harp was more popular in northern Wales, at first; in southern Wales, they kept playing the older, single-row Welsh harp until the 19th century.

This (the Welsh triple) is the harp that is known to be the ancestor of the most characteristic sound of the Welsh triple harp, and later with a double-strung harp. This is, of course, what’s called “the unisons,” later called “doubling” (or my term, echoing), and this was used in arrangements of Welsh airs with variations. This is where the strings of the two outer rows, the diatonic rows, were tuned the same, and they echoed or “doubled” each other back and forth; they were referred to as “the unisons.”

In 1736. Handel’s famous Concerto in B-flat for harp, was premiered by Welsh triple harpist, William Powell. This was not premiered on a pedal harp, although it’s played a lot on pedal harps today. It was premiered on a triple harp. And later, it was frequently performed by the most famous of the 18th century Welsh triple harp players, John Parry.

Wrapping Up

So, wrapping up for today, that’s a first look at the historical roots of the modern double-strung harp—from the late Renaissance Spanish chromatic harps, to the 18th century Welsh triple harp. Next time, in Part 2, we’ll continue on with the Welsh triple harp and its 19th century revival, and move ahead to the 20th century “big bang”: the beginnings of the modern double-strung harp. 

If you liked what you heard today, please make sure that you’re subscribed, so that you can be notified about future episodes. And if you want to be one of the absolute first to get some more Double Talk, head on over to my website,, and sign up for my mailing list. 

And again, next time, make sure you tune in for Part 2 of the double-strung harp’s family tree. See you next time!

Posted on Leave a comment

One drummer drumming: hand independence for double-strung harp

The day after the 12th day of Christmas

Yesterday, January 5, 2022, was the 12th (and last) day of Christmas for many folks. And in the Christmas carol The 12 Days of Christmas, the gift on day 12 is the noisiest thing that anyone EVER gave their true love. (What were they thinking?)

I love the Muppet version with John Denver. Guess who sings LOUDLY about the 12 drummers drumming?

Today (the day after the 12th day), Christmas is over, and it’s a little quieter. (Maybe the other 11 drummers went home after the gig.) Now, it’s just you. Back to ONE drummer drumming. (OK, or one harpist strumming. You get the idea.)

But there’s still a lot going on. Musically speaking, any harpist wears a lot of hats. Even when you’re playing on your own, you’re actually a 1-human band or orchestra. You play melody AND harmony, AND you’re also the rhythm section (bass and percussion—yes, you’re a drummer, too).

And when you add a second row of strings? Holy multitasking, Batman. How do you put it all together?

Hand independence (and coordination)

Ever wonder why it’s so hard to rub your stomach and pat your head (or walk and chew gum) at the same time? Or why it’s hard to play 2 different parts (left & right hands) at the same time? 

Your brain DOESN’T want to do 2 different things at once. It naturally wants to match one hand to the other, instead of letting each do its own thing. And it probably tells your dominant hand that it should take the lead. Every. Single. Time.

Sure, you can play a single line of music with one hand, or even the same melody with both hands, and it’ll sound great. (It’s a harp, after all.) That’s how we start. Eventually, though, you might want to do something more. And playing a piece of music with “something more” not only involves hand independence, but also coordination between hands. You’ll need to put those parts together.

The more you can develop hand independence and coordination (doing different things with each hand as you play, as you play both hands together), the more confidence you’ll have in playing more complex music, and playing at faster tempi in general.

And the best news of all? You’ve already got the ideal instrument to help you on your way to hand independence—your double-strung harp! My signature framework, The Technique Triangle™ for double-strung harp, teaches 3 techniques that help you make the most of 2 hands AND 2 rows of strings.

Unison Playing and Echo Technique = “Same”

Everyone wants to start with Echo Technique, the unique effect most associated with the double-strung harp. Awesome—it’s also the best introduction to the instrument. Why? Same is easier than different! 

Our hands naturally want to move in the same direction when playing the harp, so it makes sense to start with both hands playing the same notes before moving on to independent parts. Unison playing, the ULTIMATE “same thing” approach, is easiest because both hands play the same pitches and rhythms, and both parts move in the same direction (this is described as moving in parallel motion).On a diatonic double-strung harp, playing in unison also uses the same fingering for each hand (“mirror” fingering), which eliminates any differences between hands.

If you’re used to playing single-row harps with hands separated, you’ll also find unison playing useful when learning to play DSH with hands overlapped in the same plane. The easiest way to overlap is to place and play the same notes in each hand; this feels familiar, like the “home row” in touch typing. Unison playing, with its “home row” orientation and parallel motion, can also help a new player adjust visually to the double harp. 

After unison playing, Echo Technique is the next easiest approach to the double-strung harp. Both hands still move in parallel motion (easier than contrary motion), and play the same pitches, while the melodic rhythm is sometimes modified slightly for smooth echoing.

Because Echo Technique is also the foundation for Split Technique and Overlap Technique, you will continue to see “echo-style” passages as techniques progress from same to similar and different.

Split Technique = “Similar”

After Echo Technique, Split Technique is the next easiest technique to play on the double-strung harp. Split Technique describes the process of dividing a melodic passage between hands on the two unison rows of the harp. This helps you play repeated or similar notes, extended scale passages, and complex ornamentation with increased clarity and speed.

Split Technique is often used to alternate repeated notes between hands in fast or complex music that doesn’t need accompaniment; this includes traditional dance tunes like jigs, strathspeys and reels. These tunes were originally composed for fiddle, pipe, whistle or flute, which use a bow or the tongue to articulate repeated notes. It can be tricky to play repeated notes on a single-row harp, because the player must replace fingers on already vibrating strings. On a double-strung harp, you can divide the repeated notes between two rows to prevent them from buzzing or “canceling each other out.”

Because not every melody has repeated notes, or conveniently moves in consecutive steps, you’ll eventually need to move your hands in opposite directions, or contrary motion. In Split Technique, fingering and placing become less similar between hands, as you begin to play different pitches and rhythms in each hand. 

You can think of Split Technique as a similar middle ground, between the same of Echo Technique and the independent or different aspects of Overlap Technique.

Overlap Technique = “Different”

Overlap Technique, the third and final part of The Technique Triangle, completes the hand independence progression from same (Echo Technique) to similar (Split Technique) to different. You can use both rows of the DSH to play independent parts, including echoed notes and split melodic passages, which overlap in the same range of the harp. You can also set sharping levers on either string row for different tunings, making accidentals easier.

As pitches and rhythms (and their fingering and placing) vary between hands, you’ll find more occurrences of contrary motion (playing in opposite directions) in Overlap Technique. It can be challenging enough to play in contrary motion on 1 row of strings, with hands separated—now, we begin to play in opposite directions on 2 overlapping rows.

Like playing unisons in the same plane, this is a physical difference that may take some getting used to. But the potential difficulty lies in contrary motion itself, not necessarily in playing overlapped contrary motion. This takes practice and time, at slow tempi—eventually, it’ll click! (Speaking of click: don’t forget your metronome… see below.)

And if you’re ready for an extreme “brain twister” for contrary motion, try playing a two-part round! 😜 My DSH method book, Make Mine a Double,  includes the French children’s song Frère Jacques as an Overlap Technique etude (along with 80 other exercises, etudes, and arrangements).

Practice and the “M” word (metronome)

You may need to practice some pieces or passages by playing hands separately. Pieces or passages with interlocking parts, such as repeated notes or two-handed ornaments (see Chapter 3), may need to be practiced hands together (very slowly to start!). The practice approach depends on the musical context, and the individual harpist. Think of rubbing your stomach and patting your head at the same time: some people learn to do this right away with both hands, and others are successful after they practice the actions separately first, then in combination. 

To isolate the alternating rhythms of Echo Technique, you may also like to try “drumming” the rhythms on your lap, the soundboard of your harp, or another horizontal surface. As you count aloud (a metronome is handy here), find and practice the spots where you play right hand or left hand alone, and the places where hands play together. For more information on this practice technique, check out the “Drumming the Rhythm” section of Ann Heymann’s book, Coupled Hands for Harpers.

And if you’d like to have some fun with hand independence, I invite you to join me in my upcoming Irish DSH workshop on February 12.


PS: If Beaker can make friends with his metronome, so can you. Just sayin’. (Watch your tempo, though!)

It all starts with the metronome… just ask Beaker!
Posted on Leave a comment

Performance Video: Jamaica/Nonesuch (English Country Dances, arr. Shelhart)

This pair of English country dance tunes from the Playford collection has been a favorite of mine for many years. I learned Jamaica from the playing of Boston-based dance band Bare Necessities.

Recorded in April 2021 at St. John’s United Church, Chesterton IN, for the 2021 Gebhard Woods Dulcimer and Traditional Music Festival.

Learn more at