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How Do You Play A Mandolin Lap Harp

How Do You Play A Mandolin Lap Harp

How Do You Play A Mandolin Lap Harp

The mandolin lap harp, also known as a zither, offers a unique musical experience. It combines the melodic charm of a mandolin with the simplicity of a lap harp. Learning to play this instrument can be an enjoyable journey. Let’s dive into the steps to get you strumming away in no time.

Table of Contents

Introduction to the Mandolin Lap Harp

What is a Mandolin Lap Harp?

A mandolin lap harp is a stringed instrument that sits comfortably on your lap. It blends elements of the mandolin and the traditional lap harp. This instrument typically features a set of strings stretched over a wooden frame. The strings are plucked or strummed to produce sound. The design allows for easy playability, making it accessible for beginners and experienced musicians alike.

Brief History and Evolution

The mandolin lap harp has roots in both the mandolin and the zither family. Mandolins originated in Italy during the 17th century. They evolved from earlier stringed instruments. The lap harp, or zither, has a long history in Europe, particularly in Germany and Austria. Combining these two instruments creates a hybrid that offers rich tones and versatility.

Distinctive Features and Design

The mandolin lap harp features a flat body with strings running parallel to the soundboard. The number of strings can vary, but it often has 15 to 36 strings. The strings are usually tuned to a diatonic scale, which simplifies playing melodies and chords. The instrument’s compact size and lightweight design make it portable and convenient.

Getting Started with the Mandolin Lap Harp

Choosing the Right Mandolin Lap Harp

Selecting the right instrument is crucial for a positive learning experience. Consider factors such as build quality, sound, and ease of play.

Factors to Consider

When choosing a mandolin lap harp, look for a well-constructed body made of quality wood. The sound should be clear and resonant. Check the string tension and ensure the instrument stays in tune. A beginner-friendly model with fewer strings might be a good starting point.

Popular Brands and Models

Several brands offer reliable mandolin lap harps. Some popular ones include Oscar Schmidt and Appalachian. These brands provide instruments that balance affordability and quality, making them suitable for beginners and seasoned players.

Essential Accessories

Having the right accessories can enhance your playing experience and help maintain your instrument.

Picks and Finger Picks

Using a pick can make plucking the strings easier and produce a brighter sound. Finger picks, worn on the fingertips, allow for more precise control. Experiment with different picks to find what feels most comfortable.

Tuners and Metronomes

A tuner is essential for keeping your mandolin lap harp in tune. Clip-on tuners are convenient and easy to use. A metronome helps you keep a steady tempo while practicing. Both tools are invaluable for developing your musical skills.

Basic Music Theory for Mandolin Lap Harp Players

Understanding Musical Notation

Learning to read musical notation opens up a world of possibilities. It allows you to play a wide range of music.

Reading Sheet Music

Sheet music provides a visual representation of the notes you need to play. Each note corresponds to a specific string and fret on your mandolin lap harp. Start with simple pieces and gradually progress to more complex compositions.

Tablature for Mandolin Lap Harp

Tablature, or “tabs,” is an alternative to traditional sheet music. It uses numbers and lines to indicate which strings and frets to play. Tabs are often easier for beginners to understand and follow.

Basic Chords and Scales

Chords and scales form the foundation of music. Learning them will enhance your playing and allow you to create your own melodies.

Common Chords

Chords are groups of notes played together. Start with basic chords like C, G, and D. Practice transitioning between them smoothly. This will help you play a variety of songs.

Major and Minor Scales

Scales are sequences of notes played in ascending or descending order. The major scale has a happy sound, while the minor scale sounds more somber. Practice both to develop your finger dexterity and musical ear.

Techniques for Playing the Mandolin Lap Harp

Strumming Patterns

Strumming adds rhythm and texture to your playing. Different patterns can change the feel of a song.

Basic Strumming Techniques

Start with simple downstrokes. Strum all the strings in one smooth motion. Once you’re comfortable, try alternating between downstrokes and upstrokes. This creates a more dynamic sound.

Advanced Strumming Techniques

Experiment with syncopation, where you emphasize off-beats. Try palm muting, where you lightly touch the strings with your palm to dampen the sound. These techniques add variety and interest to your playing.

Fingerpicking Techniques

Fingerpicking allows for intricate and expressive playing. It involves plucking individual strings with your fingers.

Basic Fingerpicking Patterns

Start with a simple pattern: thumb, index, middle, ring. Assign each finger to a specific string. Practice slowly, focusing on evenness and clarity.

Advanced Fingerpicking Patterns

As you improve, try more complex patterns. Incorporate hammer-ons and pull-offs, where you use your fingers to create notes without plucking the string. This adds fluidity and expression to your playing.

Using a Pick

A pick can produce a bright, clear sound. Learning to use one effectively can enhance your playing.

Holding the Pick Correctly

Hold the pick between your thumb and index finger. Keep a firm grip, but don’t squeeze too tightly. Experiment with different angles and positions to find what feels most comfortable.

Different Picking Styles

Try alternate picking, where you alternate between downstrokes and upstrokes. Experiment with tremolo picking, where you rapidly alternate strokes to create a continuous sound. These techniques add versatility to your playing.

Learning Songs on the Mandolin Lap Harp

Beginner Songs

Starting with simple songs builds confidence and familiarity with your instrument.

Easy Folk Tunes

Folk tunes often have simple melodies and chords. Songs like “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” and “Oh Susanna” are great for beginners. They help you practice basic strumming and chord changes.

Simple Pop Songs

Many pop songs have straightforward chord progressions. Try playing “Let It Be” by The Beatles or “Stand By Me” by Ben E. King. These songs are fun to play and recognizable to many people.

Intermediate Songs

As you gain confidence, challenge yourself with more complex songs.

Classic Rock Songs

Classic rock songs often have interesting chord progressions and rhythms. Try “Hotel California” by The Eagles or “Wish You Were Here” by Pink Floyd. These songs will help you improve your strumming and fingerpicking skills.

Traditional Melodies

Traditional melodies often feature intricate fingerpicking patterns. Try playing “Greensleeves” or “Scarborough Fair.” These songs will help you develop precision and expression in your playing.

Advanced Songs

Advanced songs require more skill and practice. They often feature complex arrangements and techniques.

Complex Classical Pieces

Classical pieces offer a great challenge for advanced players. Try playing “Canon in D” by Pachelbel or “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” by Bach. These pieces will help you develop your technical skills and musicality.

Modern Compositions

Modern compositions often blend different styles and techniques. Try playing songs by artists like Andy McKee or Tommy Emmanuel. These pieces will push your playing to new levels and inspire you to create your own music.

Practicing and Improving Your Skills

Daily Practice Routine

Consistency is key to improving your skills. A daily practice routine helps you make steady progress.

Warm-Up Exercises

Start with simple warm-up exercises. Play scales and arpeggios to loosen your fingers and get into the groove. This prepares you for more challenging practice.

Skill-Building Drills

Focus on specific skills each day. Practice chord changes, strumming patterns, and fingerpicking techniques. Use a metronome to keep a steady tempo and track your progress.

Joining a Community

Playing music with others can be motivating and inspiring. It provides opportunities to learn and grow.

Online Forums and Groups

Join online forums and groups dedicated to mandolin lap harp players. Share your progress, ask questions, and get feedback from other musicians. Websites like Reddit and Facebook have active communities.

Local Music Clubs and Classes

Look for local music clubs and classes in your area. Join a group or take lessons to improve your skills and meet other musicians. Playing with others can be a rewarding and enjoyable experience.

Performing with the Mandolin Lap Harp

Solo Performances

Performing solo can be a fulfilling experience. It allows you to showcase your skills and express yourself.

Preparing for a Solo Performance

Choose songs that you enjoy and feel confident playing. Practice them until you can play them flawlessly. Record yourself to identify areas for improvement. Plan your performance and visualize yourself on stage.

Tips for Stage Presence

Make eye contact with your audience and smile. Use body language to convey emotion and connect with your listeners. Stay relaxed and enjoy the moment. Remember, the audience is there to support you.

Playing in a Group

Playing in a group can be a fun and enriching experience. It teaches you to listen and collaborate with other musicians.

Coordinating with Other Musicians

Communicate with your fellow musicians. Discuss the song structure, tempo, and dynamics. Listen to each other and adjust your playing accordingly. Practice together regularly to build cohesion and chemistry.

Group Dynamics and Harmony

Pay attention to the overall sound of the group. Blend your playing with others to create a harmonious and balanced performance. Experiment with different arrangements and harmonies to add variety and interest.

Maintenance and Care for Your Mandolin Lap Harp

Regular Cleaning and Upkeep

Keeping your mandolin lap harp clean and well-maintained ensures it stays in good condition and sounds its best.

Cleaning the Strings and Body

Wipe the strings with a soft cloth after each use to remove dirt and oils. Use a damp cloth to clean the body, avoiding excessive moisture. Polish the wood occasionally to keep it looking shiny and new.

Storing Your Instrument Properly

Store your mandolin lap harp in a cool, dry place. Use a case or gig bag to protect it from dust and damage. Avoid exposing it to extreme temperatures or humidity.

Troubleshooting Common Issues

Knowing how to address common issues can save you time and frustration.

Tuning Problems

If your instrument goes out of tune frequently, check the tuning pegs and strings. Tighten loose pegs and replace worn-out strings. Use a tuner to ensure accurate tuning.

String Breakage and Replacement

Strings can break over time, especially with frequent use. Keep spare strings on hand and learn how to replace them. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions or seek help from a professional if needed.

Instrument TypeMandolin Lap Harp
Number of Strings15-36
TuningDiatonic Scale
Popular BrandsOscar Schmidt, Appalachian
Essential AccessoriesPicks, Finger Picks, Tuners, Metronomes


Q: How long does it take to learn the mandolin lap harp?
A: The time it takes to learn varies. With regular practice, you can play simple songs within a few weeks.

Q: Can I play the mandolin lap harp without reading music?
A: Yes, you can use tablature or play by ear. However, learning to read music can enhance your playing.

Q: What type of music can I play on the mandolin lap harp?
A: You can play a wide range of music, including folk, classical, pop, and rock.

Q: How often should I tune my mandolin lap harp?
A: Tune your instrument before each practice session to ensure it sounds its best.

Q: Is it necessary to take lessons to learn the mandolin lap harp?
A: Lessons can be helpful, but many people learn through online tutorials and self-study.


Playing the mandolin lap harp offers a unique and rewarding musical experience. From choosing the right instrument to mastering advanced techniques, this guide covers everything you need to know. With dedication and practice, you can enjoy the beautiful sounds of this versatile instrument. So, grab your mandolin lap harp and start making music today!

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