All posts by Susan

Tam Lin, and Other Fairy-Mortal Tales

treebranches

I promised myself I would not let another Halloween go by without publishing my collection of Tam Lin tunes.  In most versions of the story, it is Halloween night when our heroine must pull Tam Lin from his horse as the fairies pass by and hold him fast while he turns into all manner of things.  I have loved all things Tam Lin (including the many novels based on the story) for a number of years and being able to play the ballads on the harp is so much fun!  And they make for great programming in an set devoted to mysteries of the Celtic tradition.

So, with a few days to spare and without further ado, I bring you . . .

Tam Lin

Tam Lin is a legendary Scottish story, recorded in many ballads, which dates from at least the 1500s. The heroine’s story, one of pluck and courage, transformations, and the relationship between the fairies and mere mortals, has been the subject of innumerable versions.  This version of the tune is a traditional tune collected by BH Bronson.

Margery (or Margaret or Janet) sits calmly in a bower sewing when the thought of fresh roses sends her impulsively to the forbidden woods. After being seduced there by Tam Lin, she ultimately must rescue him from his enchantment at the hands of the Queen of the Fairies. To do so, she must pull him from his white horse and hold him tightly as he is transformed into a variety of beasts and then a brand of fire, finally covering his nakedness with her mantle of green as he comes back to human form in her arms.

Please click the title above, or any title on this page, to see or purchase the sheet music.

Lord Robinson’s Only Child

Lord Robinson’s only child is, of course, none other than Tam Lin.

This version of the Tam Lin ballad has an unnamed maiden walking her father’s grounds when a figure appears and demands to know why she is there. When she questions him he reveals himself to be the only child of Lord Robinson, and that he was stolen away by the faeries.

Another tune collected by BH Bronson, it has a pleasing lilt to it and sounds lovely on the harp.

Young Tambling

Here is another ballad for those of us bitten by the Tam Lin bug. I’ve added an introduction and ending to this lovely melody.  This version of the Tam Lin ballad was popularized by folk singers like AL Lloyd and Frankie Armstrong.   Another beautiful piece for harp, full of the drama rescuing Tam Lin from the Fairy Queen.

The Tamlin Reel

A rollicking reel, so fun to play!  What a nice way to break up a set of Tam Lin ballads in your programs.  I’ve shared the love between two hands, making it achievable even for advanced beginners.  There are some cool downward rolling chords for that spooky effect, and also some fun grace notes (leave them out until you can play the melody well without them).

Thomas the Rhymer

Often confused with Tam Lin, Thomas the Rhymer is another ballad about a man, in this case a harper, living with the Queen of the Fairies.  In this ballad told from his point of view, Thomas is a willing captive set free at the end of seven years and given the “gift” of truth-telling. This tune is a great fit for any program about fairies, the mysteries of Celtic lore, or, best of all, the adventures of harpers.

All of the titles, in green above, lead to the page where you may see and purchase the sheet music.

More Halloween Sheet Music for Harp

More Halloween Sheet Music for Harp

bench-forest-trees-path-2Witches and Fairies and Shape-Shifting, Oh My!

Before it’s completely too late for Halloween sheet music, here are a few more Celtic tunes you might enjoy!

The Witches’ HIll

This Scottish strathspey sound great on the harp and isn’t too difficult to play. The first verse features a simple accompaniment; choose to play only this version if you are a lower intermediate player.  The second time through, I’ve added grace notes, rolled chords and some parallel passages, none of them too hard for solid intermediate players.

Song of the Pooka

I first fell in love with this haunting tune on a Noirinn ni Rainn recording years ago.  Once I discovered it’s beautiful story, I knew I had to arrange it for harp.  It’s a staple for performances and fits beautifully into a performance of Celtic mysteries.

This is a very old Irish tune, written by a fisherman and fiddler from the Northwest coast of Ireland, who, when out fishing with his mates one day, heard the tune mysteriously playing in the middle of the ocean. Believing it have an otherworldly origin, he named the tune after the, Pooka, an Irish water spirit.  Later speculation tied the tune to migrating humpback whales.  Either way, the tune is haunting.

The Song of Fionnuala

Fionnuala was the only girl in a family of boy, resented and ill-treated by their father’s new wife.  The stepmother eventually turned the lot of them into swans.  I have set this tune with a left-hand that becomes almost a counter melody, with contrary and parallel motion.   Play it simply and beautifully. The text is by Thomas Moore.

The Lever Harp and Key Signatures

old hook harp closeup

Before I talk about the lever harp and key signatures, it might be interesting to think about why the technology of levers evolved at all.  The picture above is close-up of an antique harp in a museum in Europe.  See those funny hooks near some of the strings?  Those are early levers, awkward little beasts that required twisting.

The idea then was the same as it is now:  by putting pressure on a string, pinching if off against the neck of the harp, one can shorten it.  Shorter strings vibrate at a higher pitch, so we can thus create a “sharp”, for example, changing the F string to F#.  Doing this changes a harp from a strictly diatonic instrument (one which can play in only one key at a time, without any accidentals), into a much more versatile instrument.

However, hooks and early levers were not only difficult to use but not terribly accurate.  Yay for the luthiers who persevered over the course of the twentieth century to give use workable, accurate sharping levers! Modern levers are little marvels, allowing smooth changes and allowing the strings to ring true even when “pinched”.

Nowadays, most levers harpers, once they’ve cut their teeth on the first method book and endlessly plumbed the depths of the key of C, find music in other keys that they wish to play.  Perhaps you have reached this crossroads yourself?

As long as you still tune your harp in the key of C (with the levers down), you are stuck with keys going in only one direction: up.  This means sharps–and keys that use sharps–are the only next option.  Unless, of course, you start retuning your harp with flats, in which case you gain the versatility of one or more flat keys.

How is this possible?  On the simplest level, if you tune strings flat, you use some of the levers to create “naturals”.  You still raise levers, they still raise the pitch of the strings, but because the strings were flat to begin with, you are not creating sharps (that would require levers that pull up the pitch twice, which is why the pedal harp evolved . . . but that’s another story).

If you would like to begin to learn more about tuning your harp in flats (specifically, the key of Eb), you can read this.  If you would like to read about it in greater depth, I have created a free pdf about the lever harp and key signatures that takes you through the process of working from the key of Eb all the way to the key of E, lever by lever.  Along the way, you will be introduced to (or become reacquainted with) key signatures and the circle of fifths.  If you follow along on your harp a few times and fill in the worksheets, you will not only start to understand the theory better, but also become more confident that you can put it to good use. You’ll find the free pdf at the bottom of this post.

By the way, if you would like personal help with this or are otherwise ready to take your harp learning to a completely new level, I currently have a few openings for students (no waiting list for in-person or Skype lessons!).

You can also visit my studio site and read reviews from other students.Please contact me right away if you want to be encouraged and inspired.

Download your pdf here:

The Lever Harp & Key Signatures

 

Sheet Music for Harp: Ghost Stories

Leaves Are Falling, the Nights are Colder

. . . and It’s Time for Some Ghost Stories

The Celtic tradition is full of ghostly tales, many of which have come down to us with beautiful melodies. Whether you want to plan a Halloween program or just enjoy the Celtic mysteries, these arrangements are sure to please.

Binnorie (Two Sisters)

The Celtic tradition is full of ghost stories, but in this one from Scotland the harp plays a central role. When a passing harper makes a new harp from the golden hair and white breastbone of a lovely murdered maiden, it starts to sing the story of her cruel sister’s betrayal. This arrangement of the haunting tune includes a recurring motif as introduction and interlude, with three different verses. One of the verses features the melody in the left hand with floating chords above it.

The Lover’s Ghost (Cock’s Crow)

This English ghost ballad is one of my favorites. The tune is haunting and the story more sweet than macabre. This arrangement of this beautiful tune includes some left hand harmonics, harmony in sixths, and a recurring (but optional) lever change.

Wandering Spirit

Like the famous Butterfly, this tune is a slip jig, in 9/8 time. It’s a lot of fun to play and a great addition to your ghostly repertoire. The first verse features a rollicking open hand pattern in the left hand–it looks impressive but is not hard to master. There is also some fun parallel motion in the second verse.

Sweet William’s Ghost

This lovely tune is another ballad about a ghostly lover, a story with the usual tragic results. In spite of the sad subject matter, the tune itself is sweetly upbeat. This arrangement is accessible to early intermediate players, and features a lovely waltz pattern in the left hand. The second verse takes the tune into a higher octave.

Goodbye Nasty Pop-up Spam!

Let me first apologize to all my readers and visitors about the malicious adware that has been popping up (literally) for the past few weeks.  My web host could not find any signs of hacking with their scan of my site.  However, you don’t need hackers when a third-party plug-in you know and trust goes rogue . . .

The pop-up spam was the deliberate act of a WordPress Plugin I was using called Sweet Captcha.  The makers of this plugin betrayed the trust of thousands of bloggers by adding a malicious script from clkdeals.com (one of the worst adware distributors) to their plugin code.  Ah, the irony!  A plugin meant to prevent spam comments and robot emails using cute little images was actually creating the worst kind of pop-up spam, freezing browsers (including mine) as links on the site were clicked by unsuspecting visitors.

Spammers are getting more sophisticated all the time.  Again, my apologies for any annoyance and frustration you experienced at my site.  And thank you for your patience!

In case you need it, here is some help rescuing your browser from pop-up spam:

Windows

Mac

More info about Sweet Captcha, for any other bloggers out there.

 

Now we can all get back to doing what we love . . . playing the harp!

Fabulous Stretches for Harpists

After years of stretching and yoga, I thought I knew the best ways to stretch to support my harping, but I was wrong. Every harpist needs to see these Yoga for Musicians videos…

We’ve all heard it:  “Your body is your instrument.”  As an enthusiastic new (or seasoned) harper, no doubt you have felt the aches and pains that come from over-practicing. Or perhaps you play in a hospital or performed longer than you realized without a break and now you can feel that you went too far.  In spite of our best intentions, this happens too frequently. That’s where these stretches for harpists come in.

I’ve written  before on several aspects of keeping your body happy while enjoying your harp playing.  In fact, there are  pages here on My Harp’s Delight devoted to taking care of your body through  stretches for harpists, posture, and hand exercises.   I mention yoga as a wonderful practice for self-care.  Recently, however, I came across a video series by Kate Potter of yoga poses specifically geared to musicians and our unique issues.  Hands?  Arms?  Shoulders? Asymmetry?  She addresses all of this and more.  Best of all, her sequences can be done on your harp bench or a chair, require no special equipment–not even a yoga mat!–and feel really wonderful. Her use of a t-shirt or scarf to open the shoulders is genius. I suggest you try practicing that way if you have a tendency to roll your shoulders forward, as many of us do.

Of course these yoga videos are designed for musicians, not just harpists, but I think you’ll be amazed at how specific to harp they feel.

Here’s the first video, focusing on hands, wrists and elbows:

The second video allows you to stretch your neck and shoulders. I especially love the neck stretches and elbow “swings”.

The third video balances it out with leg, spine and core work:

I hope you will find some wonderful stretches in these videos to add to your harp toolkit. Your body will thank you!

Improvise with Seventh Chords in Open Voicing

Last month we improvised with some cool seventh chords, voiced “cluster” style (officially called closed position). For an even more lush, modern sound, let’s improvise with seventh chords in open voicing. We’ll use the same four chords: Cmaj7, Am7, Fmaj7, G7. Instead of playing the chord with four fingers in your left hand, we’re going to open them up and use three fingers of each hand.

In your left hand, play c, g and b (like the open voicing on a simple C chord, but with a b instead of the second c). In the right hand, play e b and e (the third, the seventh again, and another octave of the third). Between your hands, you’re now playing all the notes of a Cmaj7 chord, in an open (spread-out) voicing. You build the other chords the same way. Here they are spelled out for you:

 

Finger LH
4
2 1 RH
4
2 1
Cmaj7 c g b e b e
Am7 a e g c g c
Fmaj7 f c e a e a
G7 g d f b f b
chord degree 1 5 7 3 7 3

 

Notice that there are always two empty strings between your two hands, and you’ll find the positions more easily. Once you understand the pattern, you can of course play any chords in the key with the voicing. But for now, try to play through the sequence above, rolling the chords in each hand as one unit or playing arpeggios, until you get very comfortable with the progression.

Once you know the progression inside and out, you’re ready to embellish it with improvisation. To start, try adding “filler” notes in the right hand, e.g. the notes between the upper tones of one chord and the next. For example, between Cmaj7 and Am7, you might walk between and around the notes e and c. Just relax, experiment and have fun!

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This post is adapted from material that I originally published in the ezine, Notes from the Harp.

Improvise with Seventh Chords

For a lush and funky sound, we’re going to improvise with seventh chords. Here are the chords to use (familiar from Heart and Soul, but turned into sevenths); Cmaj7, Am7, Fmaj7, G7. Right now, you don’t even have to understand how those chords are constructed, because I’ll give you the notes.

Using just your left hand, place b on the bottom, then, c, e and g (the C major triad with a b added to the bottom of it). The b is the seventh, added to the bottom instead of the top of the chord (and thus they are “inversions”, one possible way to turn the chords upside-down). Don’t worry about your right hand right now, although you can of course play these chords with either hand. You build the other chords in the progression the same way. Here are the chords spelled out for you:

 

LH Finger 4 3 2 1
Cmaj7 b c e g
Am7 g a c e
Fmaj7 e f a c
G7 f g b d
chord degree 7 1 3 5

 

Once you understand the hand form, you may want to play seventh chords up and down the scale, all over your harp. Then, try to play through the sequence above, rolling the chords in your left hand, until you get very secure about which chord comes next.

To begin improvising, try playing any notes from the chord in your right hand as you play each chord with your left. Find pleasing notes that connect the chord tones, and you’re on your way to creating your own melody. Remember, there is no test . . . this is about having fun with sound!

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This post is adapted from material that I originally published in the ezine, Notes from the Harp.

Improvise with Pachelbel Canon

The idea that one would improvise with Pachelbel Canon is not too revolutionary; the whole piece is a series of variations that would have been improvised to begin with, as that’s what musicians in the Baroque era did.

So this is a  fun way to become more comfortable with that oft-requested piece AND learn to improvise at the same time. It’s especially useful to free up your right hand. Pachelbel’s Canon makes us of the same chord progression over and over:

I V vi iii IV I IV V

In the original key of D, that’s D A Bm F#m G D G A. Play just the root of each chord in your left hand. Notice that you go down a fourth, then up a step, down a fourth again, until you get to the final two chords. (Don’t have levers? The chords in C are: C G Am Dm F C F G).

Now for the fun part! With your right hand, you will be outlining the chord tones to create patterns. It will be easier to play and sound a lot better if you use inversions of the chords to keep them closer together and “under your fingers”. Here’s the progression with slash notation to show you which note is on the bottom of the inverted chords (say, D over A, and play A on the bottom, with D and F# above it, otherwise known as a 2nd inversion D chord):

canon chords D

(Click images for larger versions)

Or, in C:
canon chords C

Practice finding the chords in your right hand while playing those roots in your left hand. (Don’t rely on reading them; practice finding the shapes). When you know where they are and can find them reliably, you’re ready to play with them. Remember that the left hand simply plays the chord root on beat one; the right hand will fill the whole measure with notes based on the chord.

Here are some patterns to try:

*Play with rolled chords; two half notes per measure
*Start with the top note; play down and back up in a pleasing, regular rhythm
*Play the chord tones plus one extra “color” note in each measure (a note between two chord tones. If you don’t like how a note sounds, simply move on)
*Play the chord downwards in a triplet pattern (one triplet per beat)
*Create a meandering melody that wanders around the chords

Now its your turn. Anything can work. Regular rhythmic patterns will sound more classical, but how about some syncopation for a Latin canon? What rhythm would you use to make a rock-inspired canon? A dreamy New Age canon? Keep playing and experimenting, and you will stumble into new patterns for your right hand. Have fun and make it yours!

Pachelbel tango? Pachelbel bluegrass? Check out this video by “Pagagnini” for laughs and inspiration for improvising with the canon. The cellist is your left hand . . .

Pachelbel Madness

This is the original cool Pachelbel video, the Pachelbel Rant. Rob Paravonian demonstrates just how often this chord progression shows up in music, and you will laugh through the whole thing. Go ahead, watch it again . . .

Pachelbel Rant

This post is adapted from material that I originally published in the ezine, Notes from the Harp.

Improvise with the Blues

It’s fun and easy to improvise with the blues on your harp. The traditional blues progression is really quite easy. It consists of 12 bars in 4/4 time with a set progression. The simplest traditional chord progression is
I I I I
IV IV I I
V IV I I.

In the key of C, that would be
C C C C
F F C C
G F C C.

To keep that steady blues beat, you play the chord on all 4 beats of each bar, so you might think of it like this:
CCCC CCCC CCCC CCCC
FFFF FFFF CCCC CCCC
GGGG FFFF CCCC CCCC

Playing straight chords on every beat is tiring and can sound muddy on the harp, so it’s better to play open chords or alternate between the root and the other two notes from one beat to the next. To begin with, try playing just the chord roots (the note C for four measures, and so on).

Here’s another easy alternative that keeps the steady beat and is harp-friendly (click image for larger version):

Blues-Patterns

Right now, your goal is to play something in your left hand so simple that you can keep it going while you improvise with your right hand. So stick with chord roots if this pattern is too much to remember right now.

With your right hand, play only notes that are part of the chords you’re playing or even just play the chords twice on beat one and then rest for three measures.

If you’re an intermediate player, and that feels easy, you can get fancier. Remember, though, that the blues is very repetitive; you might only play on beats one and two with your right hand, for exmaple, and play a similar rhythmic pattern for every measure.

Here’s another intermediate idea:

Blues-RH

Now, you may have noticed I put some flats in there. If you know your chords, you’ll notice that some of the chords have become dominant sevenths in the process, though I haven’t marked them that way to keep things as simple as possible. If I’ve lost you, just go back to the easy level of this improvisation play chord roots in your left hand, play sparingly and without flats in your right hand, and have fun!

For those of you who want a little more depth, I’m going to explain a bit more. The thing that gives the blues its jazzy flavor is the blues scale, which also includes several flats. Here is the whole blues scale in the key of C (click any image for a larger version):

Blues Scale

The blues notes add the pizazz, but notice that their natural counterparts are also part of the scale. What’s a lever harpist to do?

For starters, on most lever harps, we need to use F# instead of Gb. Fortunately, the Gb is the least important blue note, so feel free to leave it out or save it for occasional punch.

You really need to play B-natural on the G chord and E natural on the C chord. One of my favorite ways to play the right hand is to put the Bb and Eb in the middle octave (right above middle C) and play with my RH in that octave when I’m on the F chord, but play up an octave to catch the naturals when I’m on the G chord. On the C chord, I also play up an octave so that I’m avoiding Eb, but I catch the Bb sometimes from just below that C. This is far simpler than it sounds and far easier than flipping levers all the time. (My right hand pattern above works this way).

If you’re up for a challenge, or you’re an advanced player, you can experiment with lever slides to ramp up the variations between the flats and naturals. If you get bored and ready for something different in your left hand, you try playing with the traditional blues bass line

blues-bassline

To make the bass line more playable, play every note with your thumb (with the thumbs-up position) and play C instead of Bb. (You can keep the Eb if you’ve set that in the middle register for your RH anyway). You may want the play the first two measures on line 3 up an octave higher, especially if you have a small harp. In that case, either leave the Eb out (play F), or play simple G and F broken triads in those measures (G B D B, F A C A).

If you’re struggling, go back to the easy chords and keep that beat going. The RH can really be so simple–play 2 eighth notes on beat one and then rest for the remainder of the bar and you’ll be in the blues groove. And if you have a playing partner, take turns: one person can play the chords while the other “solos”.

Have fun!

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This post is adapted from material that I originally published in the ezine, Notes from the Harp.