Looking for Harp Lessons? Always wanted to Play Harp?

Alys Howe is currently located in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, and is available to teach private and small group lessons.  Alys has taught for various organizations across North America, and welcomes inquiries about workshops, or distance lessons online (via Skype).  You can also visit the workshops page of this website.

Alys teaches both pedal and lever harp (classical and Celtic styles).   She was the first overseas harp student accepted to the prestigious Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama (where she studied Traditional Scottish Music and Ethnomusicology) and has won awards in competitions of Scottish harp playing.  Alys went on to receive an MA (First Class Honours) in Performance of Traditional Irish Music, and has studied and taught at The Gaelic College of Celtic Arts, in Cape Breton. Through these programs, Alys studied with many of the most celebrated Celtic harp players of today (including Sileas, Wendy Stewart, Savourna Stevenson, Corrina Hewatt, Catriona McKay, Michael Rooney, Laoise Kelly, and Janet Harbison).

Alys Howe Harp Teacher Vancouver BC

Alys developed her classical background with teachers including  Elizabeth Volpe (VSO Principal Harp), Heidi Krutzen (VO Principal Harp), and studying both the pedal (concert or classical) and the lever (Celtic) harp with Sharlene Wallace at York University, where she graduated with a BFA Hons. in World Music Performance.  She has performed with various orchestras, including The National Youth Orchestra of Canada, Vancouver Symphony, Vancouver Opera, Vancouver Island Symphony, the orchestra that performed for The Opening Ceremonies of The Vancouver Olympics 2010, Vancouver Philharmonic, West Coast Symphony, Prince George Symphony, and the Nova Scotia Youth Symphony.

Alys Howe’s career as a teacher spans the breadth of Canada, from the East Coast of Cape Breton to the Sunshine Coast in British Columbia.  She has also taught at the undergraduate level for the University of Limerick.  A dedicated teacher and tradition-bearer, Alys combines the methodologies of classical technique with the style of Celtic, traditional, and folk musics of the world, encouraging harp players to discover their own creative vision.  Her group and ensemble classes provide a sampling of all the exciting things developing in the world of the Celtic harp today: varied repertoire, stylistic idioms, ornamentation, variation, and context in traditional music.  Students learn to analyze and recognize differences between three of the main strands of Celtic music; how to arrange traditional music for the harp, honouring where it has come from, while remaining open to where it can go.  After nearly two decades of teaching experience, Alys has developed her own unique teaching methodology that enables students to make rapid progress at the harp. Some of her students have received RCM gold and silver medals, continued studying pedal harp at the University of British Columbia, play at weddings and events, and perform concerts together in a special harp ensemble.


Alys Howe’s unique approach to teaching the harp

Drawing on Suzuki concepts, beginner harp students are encouraged to enroll in a preparatory group class.  This class introduces the fundamentals of healthy technique for the harp, and may also cover general musical orientation, as required.  These concepts are later developed in private lessons, or in combination of private lessons and ensemble classes.

Once students have acquired basic foundational skills, Alys recommends a balance of twice-monthly group classes with twice-monthly private lessons. It is most beneficial to take group lessons for repertoire, style, and ensemble skills; and to receive additional private lessons for technique and to work on individual goals.  Different skills develop in each learning environment, which are equally valuable to musicianship.


Benefits of group lessons:

  • they are social, supportive, motivating – and more fun!
  • students receive structured lessons, and increase their shared repertoire
  • music made in a group of harps is beautiful and inspiring, right away!
  • students learn from the advice and corrections the teacher shares with classmates
  • there are more options and opportunities for creativity (arranging and improvisation)
  • listening to classmates brings greater understanding and awareness of tone
  • rhythmic or note errors made in ensemble are immediately apparent, accelerating music literacy
  • students develop ensemble skills (musical communication, the ability to play with others, to count and play in time, and to harmonize correctly)
  • students become comfortable playing in front of others (before performing publicly)


Benefits of private lessons:

  • with direct, one-on-one supervision, students develop technical facility and correct individual issues, through the study of exercises and etudes
  • students take responsibility to set and work towards their own specific, individual goals (for example: taking the RSAMD distance Scottish Music exams, taking the RCM graded exams, learning a number of pieces to build musical repertoire, giving a performance of some kind)
  • students must practice! (no one else will be playing with them!)


Before your private lesson or group class:

Practice!  Practice does not always make “perfect”, but it does make “easier”!  It is important to understand that the daily habit of practice is what allows musicians to progress.  Lessons alone will not enable you to play the harp well.  Your teacher spends less than 10 percent of your musical life with you.  You are your OWN teacher the other 90 percent of the time!  So make yourself practice – no excuses!  It is recommended that students practice for a minimum of 2.5 hrs each week. (For example: 30 minutes five days a week). The harp is a challenging instrument, and to develop skill, you must make this commitment to yourself and your instrument!

  • Analyze how you have spent your practice time.  Keep a practice record so that your teacher can help you to practice more effectively and efficiently.
  • Have questions ready for your private lessons, and bring to your teacher’s attention what you would most like assistance with.
  • Set goals for each practice session, and discuss these with your teacher for the coming week.  Agree on goals for your private lessons.
  • Be punctual, and make a commitment to your regular lesson or class time.  The time you have booked with your teacher, and for your own learning, is valuable – and should be treated that way.
  • Trim your nails and wash your hands.


Missed Lessons

Alys Howe’s students pay for the time they have asked their instructor to reserve for them, so it is important to attend all lessons punctually.  If you know in advance you will be unable to attend a private lesson that you booked, please contact other students and try to arrange a lesson “swap”.  Provide as much notice of this to your teacher, as possible.  In the case of emergency or severe illness, your instructor may offer refunds or make-up lessons on a case-by-case basis.

Ensemble classes: there will be no make-ups or refunds for group classes that participants were unable to attend.  Please be considerate of your classmates, as your absence affects everyone in the group.


Student Testimonials

I have participated in Alys Howe’s group harp classes for several years. The classes are a stimulating and supportive learning environment, and a wonderful opportunity to explore musically creative adventures. Alys is dedicated and sensitive to different levels of ability and encourages her students to embrace new challenges “fearlessly”! Her passion for this beautiful instrument is infectious, and her skill as a teacher is evident in the progress we make. – Pamela

Enrolling in the group harp classes is a truly wonderful and unique experience. The classes focus on individuality and creativity within a group setting and allow the students to explore the dynamics in an ensemble.  Alys is an inspiring teacher and I am also inspired by my classmates! – Rosanna

Having recently completed a six week beginner group harp class with Alys Howe I can say that I was extremely happy with the course. I have taken private lessons in other instruments in the past and the group format had a number of advantages:

  • I learned a lot from other students. Others asked questions and encountered challenges that I didn’t (and vice versa) and the varying perspectives added depth to my learning
  • Being in a group deepens the dedication to practise since you are accountable to others as well as yourself
  • Being in a group creates greater confidence since you can share your progress and see that others are experiencing struggles and triumphs while they learn as well

Alys is a really wonderful, patient, and intuitive teacher who gracefully balances group instruction and individual attention in her course. As a first time harp player I was very grateful for her excellent class and highly recommend it to others thinking of starting out on this beautiful and challenging instrument. – Andrea

Thank you so much for teaching me harp!  You are the best teacher ever! – Vivian

I have long wanted to play the harp and searched for a teacher who would be demanding and encouraging at the same time. As an adult beginner, I wanted a teacher who was skilled at showing me how to correct problems, and who had structure to her lessons coupled with an eye for individual learning styles and so could make very practical suggestions for improvement. Alys is exactly this – she zeros in on each person. I began with group Beginner lessons from Alys, and have enjoyed continuing with the Harp Practice Ensemble. – Penny



Description of Group Classes with Alys Howe


  • All participants in group classes will need to rent or purchase a harp with 26 or more strings (full levers are recommended), for practice at home, and to bring to class.  (Review the info below about different harp makers and harps that are available in North America, by scrolling down this page).
  • Students will also require: a harp tuning key and an electronic tuner, a music stand, music paper and pencil, and the current music books used in your class.  A recording device is highly recommended.


Beginner Harp with Alys Howe

If you always wanted to play the harp, now you can finally get your fingers on the strings of this magical instrument!  This group class is for ages seven to adult, who have limited or no prior experience playing the harp. The main focus of this class is to build the solid foundation of technical skill, that is necessary to play this challenging instrument!  Topics covered will include: how to tune your harp, optimal posture and basic hand positioning at the harp, playing with relaxation and good tone, simple and enjoyable tunes to play (as a group, or solo at home), and scales and arpeggios with correct and fluid technique.  Course content will be taught by rote, so that students can watch their hands and develop awareness of their physical relationship to the harp; the ability to read music or to play by ear will be an asset but is not required (concepts of music literacy will be discussed as needed).  Usually, beginners are grouped with other beginners who have comparable prior musical experience.  Classes are always small, so that all participants receive lots of individual attention and support.  There will be an optional group performance to celebrate “graduation”.


Harp Ensemble “Group A” with Alys Howe

This social, supportive, and motivating group class will encourage harp players to participate at their own comfort level, and to expand their musical horizons through the directed learning of our class environment!  This class is for adults with prior experience playing the harp (children will be accepted at the discretion of the instructor). Topics covered will include: healthy posture at the harp; technical exercises to increase relaxation and fluidity, sound, speed, agility, and finger independence; playing in harmony; improvisation; arranging; composition; performance preparation (all group or solo performances are optional); and playing with confidence. The ability to read both bass and treble clef or to learn music by rote or by ear is necessary (concepts of music literacy may be reviewed, as required).  Students should be familiar with the following: tuning their own harp; playing scales and crossing over/under; placing; playing RH tunes with simple LH accompaniment; and counting simple rhythms (if in doubt, students can try one class, with the option of switching to the beginner level).


Harp Ensemble “Group B” with Alys Howe

This group class is for adults and young adults with extensive experience playing the harp, who are interested in performing publicly.  Topics covered will include: maximizing your technique to achieve controlled, dynamic and beautiful tone; playing with fluidity and relaxation; arranging and composing (for solo and ensemble); improvisation; practise methods; performance preparation (solo or ensemble); booking and advertising; and playing with confidence for events such as: concerts, auditions, master classes, church services, weddings, funerals, corporate functions, and other public engagements.  Students will be expected to participate in ensemble performances as they arise throughout the term.  Solo opportunities may be available.

Eligible candidates for this class have a strong background in music, have taken harp lessons for several years, know all “the basics” (including scales, arpeggios, fingering and placing rules, tuning, familiarity with all keys common to the lever harp, are comfortable with all time signatures, read bass and treble clef fluently, can quickly learn music by rote or by ear, are comfortable with memorization, etc), and are committed to practising a minimum of 1 hour at least five days a week.



What harp should I get?

Students often ask me for advice about what harp to rent or purchase.  If you are a beginner, it is usual to start on a lever harp (even if your goal is to play the pedal harp when you are ready).  I strongly recommend getting a harp with full levers (one for each string).  This will allow you to play in a greater variety of keys.  If you are purchasing a harp, keep in mind that a harp with a minimum of 34 strings will ensure that you do not need to upgrade to a larger lever harp, later on.  If you are not sure which harp to commit to, you might want to consider renting for a while.  Renting will allow you time to develop your ear and understanding of the instrument, so that when you some day run into your dream harp, you will recognize it!

The “Zephyr” (22 strings) or “Christina” (25 strings) by Triplett. These are good entry-level instruments, for harp players who don’t own a car.  They are light and portable: you could carry either model on the bus, or while riding a bicycle, and the Zephyr model even fits in the overhead storage of most airplanes.  These harps have excellent sound for their size, and will enable you to develop correct technique and play with proper tone.  These harps have enough strings to get you started as a beginner, and will always be great for travel. But you should expect to upgrade to a larger harp if you pursue the instrument long-term, because these models are limited in terms of left hand (accompaniment and bass).  I recommend getting the lap bar to help balance these harps, and the backpack case for carrying.  Triplett also make many wonderful large harps.  http://www.triplettharps.com/nylonharps/nylonharps.html

The “Ravenna 26” or “Ravenna 34” by Dusty Strings. Mainly I recommend the 26 harp for younger children to use, because it can be rented or purchased with “legs” (which makes it easier to balance than the Christina or Zephyr.  The Ravenna 26 has more strings than the Zephyr or Christina, but it is much less portable, so it is not suitable for adults without a car).  If you are an adult with a vehicle, I would recommend getting the Ravenna 34 instead of the 26 (so you won’t need to upgrade to a larger harp later).  The 34 is the best instrument I have seen for the price.  It is a great size and weight, and will meet the needs of everyone, from young learners to adult learners to professional performers.  If you plan to purchase a harp, I highly recommend you choose this model over any harp with fewer strings.  I recommend getting the “legs” for this harp rather than relying on the built-in stand – the legs make it easier to balance the harp while playing.  The Ravenna 34 is the model harp I most often recommend to all first-time harp owners and renters.  http://www.dustystrings.com/instrumentbuilding/harps/models/tabid/257/Default.aspx

The “FH 34” or “FH 36” by Dusty Strings. These professional model harps have respectively 34 strings (the same range as the Ravenna 34) or 36 strings.  They come in a variety of beautiful and exotic woods, which have slightly varying tonal properties.  I myself chose the 34 over the 36, because the 34 fits comfortably in the back seat of almost any car, while the 36 is often too large.  The 36 has two additional strings at the top of the harp, and I have found that the bass register of the 36 harps usually sounds superior to the bass register of the 34 harps – because the body of the 36 harp is larger.  Both models are lovely instruments, suitable for anyone. http://www.dustystrings.com/instrumentbuilding/harps/models/tabid/257/Default.aspx

Nova Scotia artisan Timothy Habinski, located in Bridgetown Nova Scotia, has a range of finely hand-crafted Celtic harps for rent or purchase (24 strings up to 40 strings).  The small harps are very light and portable with detachable legs, and the 34 string harps are designed to fit comfortably in the backseat of any car.  He also offers a wonderful “buy-back” program, helping those who purchase one of his student model harps to move up to one of his professional models later on.  Every harp will need regulating or repair work done at some point – we are so lucky to have such a talented craftsman right here in Nova Scotia!  http://www.timothyharps.ca/

Lyon and Healy Harps are the standard makers of pedal harps in North America.  They now offer a program that guarantees second-hand Lyon and Healy lever harps and pedal harps.  For more information, visit http://www.lyonhealycpo.com/

Heartland Harps “superlight” carbon fiber harps.  These harps are very light, which makes them perfect for travel.  I think the “Infinity” model weighs less than the Triplett Christina, but with 36 strings it is a full size harp.  Because these instruments are made from carbon fibre, they are very resistant to water, heat, bumps and scratches, damp ground, hot sun, etc.  Personally I find the lack of weight is actually a little bit uncomfortable for extended playing, but the benefits of this low-maintenance, hard-to-damage harp outweigh the drawbacks:  http://www.heartlandharps.com/

Diamond Harps, by British Columbia artisan Daniel Schmitt. These beautiful hand-crafted harps are available in varying sizes and beautiful finishes, customized to order.  http://www.highspiritsmusic.com/diamond-harps.php

Newsom Harps, by Canadian craftsman Jamie Newsom.  These lovely instruments are surprisingly light-weight, though the larger models require a car for transportation.  There are different styles and sizes of harp available. http://www.newsomharps.ca