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Mandolin Lap Harp Lessons For Intermediate Players

Mandolin Lap Harp Lessons for Intermediate Players

When I first picked up the mandolin lap harp, I had no idea how much joy and fulfillment it would bring into my life. My journey began on a rainy afternoon, when a friend introduced me to the enchanting sounds of this unique instrument. From that moment, I was hooked. The mandolin lap harp, with its delicate strings and harmonious tones, became my escape and my passion. Whether you’re looking to refine your skills or just enjoy the music, these lessons will help you take your playing to the next level.

The Evolution of the Mandolin Lap Harp

The mandolin lap harp has a rich history, blending elements from various stringed instruments. Originating from the Appalachian dulcimer and the European zither, it offers a unique sound that is both melodic and soothing. The mandolin lap harp has evolved over the years, incorporating modern techniques and materials to enhance its playability and sound quality.

Importance of Learning the Mandolin Lap Harp

Learning to play the mandolin lap harp is not just about mastering an instrument; it’s about connecting with a tradition and expressing yourself through music. It enhances your cognitive abilities, improves hand-eye coordination, and provides a sense of accomplishment. Plus, it’s a fantastic way to relax and unwind after a long day.

Essential Tools and Accessories

Before diving into the lessons, let’s discuss some essential tools and accessories that will make your learning experience smoother.

Tuning Devices

A good tuning device is crucial for keeping your mandolin lap harp in perfect pitch. There are various options available, from clip-on tuners to smartphone apps. My personal favorite is the Snark SN5X Clip-On Tuner, which is accurate and easy to use.

Picks and Finger Picks

Picks come in various shapes and materials. For the mandolin lap harp, I recommend using thin to medium picks for a lighter touch. Finger picks can also be useful for more intricate playing styles.

Music Stands and Sheet Music

Mandolin Lap Harp Lessons for Intermediate Players

Investing in a sturdy music stand and quality sheet music will enhance your practice sessions. Look for stands that are adjustable and can hold your music securely.

Understanding the Anatomy of the Mandolin Lap Harp

To play the mandolin lap harp effectively, it’s essential to understand its anatomy.

Strings and Tuning

The mandolin lap harp typically has 12 to 16 strings, each tuned to a specific note. Familiarize yourself with the tuning pattern and use your tuner to ensure each string is in pitch.

Soundboard and Bridges

Mandolin Lap Harp Lessons for Intermediate Players

The soundboard is the flat surface where the strings are stretched, and the bridges are the small pieces that hold the strings in place. Both play a crucial role in producing the instrument’s sound.

Fretboard and Markers

The fretboard is where you’ll press the strings to create different notes. Markers on the fretboard help guide your fingers to the correct positions.

Intermediate Techniques

Now that you’re familiar with the basics, let’s explore some intermediate techniques to enhance your playing.

Fingerpicking Patterns

Fingerpicking adds a layer of complexity and beauty to your playing. Here are some patterns to practice:

Basic Patterns

Thumb-Index-Middle: Use your thumb for the bass notes and your index and middle fingers for the melody.
Thumb-Index-Thumb-Middle: Alternate between your thumb and fingers for a more rhythmic sound.

Advanced Patterns

Travis Picking: This involves alternating your thumb between two bass notes while your fingers play the melody.
Arpeggios: Play the notes of a chord in sequence rather than simultaneously for a flowing sound.

Strumming Techniques

Strumming is another essential skill for mandolin lap harp players.

Downstrokes and Upstrokes

Downstrokes: Strum all the strings in a downward motion. This creates a strong, full sound.
Upstrokes: Strum upwards, typically hitting fewer strings for a lighter, more delicate sound.

Rhythmic Variations

Syncopation: Add variety to your strumming by emphasizing off-beats.
Palm Muting: Lightly rest your palm on the strings near the bridge to create a muted, percussive sound.

Mastering Scales and Arpeggios

Scales and arpeggios are the building blocks of music. Mastering them will improve your playing and improvisation skills.

Major and Minor Scales

Practice major and minor scales in different keys. Start slowly and gradually increase your speed as you become more comfortable.

Common Arpeggios

Arpeggios are the notes of a chord played in sequence. Practice arpeggios for major, minor, and seventh chords to add variety to your playing.

Reading and Interpreting Music

Understanding music notation is vital for any musician.

Music Notation for Mandolin Lap Harp

Standard Notation

Standard notation uses a staff with five lines and four spaces. Each line and space represents a different note.


Tablature, or “tabs,” is a simpler form of notation that shows you where to place your fingers on the fretboard.

Timing and Rhythm

Time Signatures

Time signatures indicate how many beats are in each measure and what note value receives one beat. Common time signatures include 4/4, 3/4, and 6/8.

Note Values and Rests

Whole Notes: Four beats
Half Notes: Two beats
Quarter Notes: One beat
Eighth Notes: Half a beat
Rests: Indicate silence for a specific duration

Practice Routines

Consistent practice is key to improving your skills.

Setting Practice Goals

Set specific, achievable goals for each practice session. This could be mastering a new technique or learning a new piece.

Creating a Practice Schedule

Dedicate a specific time each day for practice. Even 15-20 minutes daily can make a significant difference.

Warm-Up Exercises

Start each session with warm-up exercises to loosen your fingers and prepare your mind.

Expanding Your Repertoire

Learning new pieces keeps your practice sessions interesting and helps you grow as a musician.

Classical Pieces

Classical music offers a range of technical challenges and beautiful melodies. Pieces by Bach and Vivaldi are excellent choices.

Folk and Traditional Songs

Folk music is the heart and soul of the mandolin lap harp. Songs like “Shady Grove” and “Wildwood Flower” are must-learns.

Modern and Popular Music

Don’t hesitate to explore modern and popular music. Many contemporary songs can be adapted for the mandolin lap harp.

Playing with Others

Playing with others can be incredibly rewarding and educational.

Ensemble Playing

Duets and Trios

Start by playing with one or two other musicians. This helps you learn to listen and blend your sound with others.

Playing in a Band

Joining a band offers a new level of challenge and fun. You’ll learn to play different roles and adapt to various musical styles.

Accompanying Singers

Chord Progressions

Learn common chord progressions to accompany singers effectively. Practice switching between chords smoothly.


Harmonizing with a singer adds depth to the performance. Experiment with different harmonies to find what sounds best.

Performance Tips

Performing in front of an audience can be nerve-wracking but also incredibly rewarding.

Overcoming Stage Fright

Practice performing in front of friends and family to build your confidence. Remember, everyone makes mistakes, and that’s okay.

Engaging Your Audience

Make eye contact and smile. Engage with your audience by sharing stories about the pieces you’re playing.

Preparing for a Concert

Rehearse thoroughly and have a setlist prepared. Ensure your instrument is in top condition and tune it before the performance.

Maintenance and Care

Taking care of your mandolin lap harp ensures it stays in excellent condition.

String Replacement and Tuning

Replace your strings regularly to maintain a clear, vibrant sound. Always tune your instrument before playing.

Cleaning and Storing Your Instrument

Wipe down your instrument after each use to remove oils and dirt. Store it in a case to protect it from damage.

Common Repairs and Troubleshooting

Learn basic repairs, like fixing loose tuners or adjusting the bridge. For more complex issues, seek professional help.

Resources for Continued Learning

Expand your knowledge and skills with these resources.

Recommended Books and Online Courses

Books like “The Mandolin Lap Harp Companion” and online courses on platforms like Udemy offer structured learning paths.

Joining Mandolin Lap Harp Communities

Join online forums and local groups to connect with other players. Share tips, ask questions, and participate in group activities.

Attending Workshops and Festivals

Workshops and festivals provide immersive learning experiences. You’ll meet experts, attend masterclasses, and enjoy live performances.


1. What is the best way to tune a mandolin lap harp?
– Use a clip-on tuner for accuracy. Start by tuning the bass strings, then move to the higher strings.

2. How often should I replace the strings on my mandolin lap harp?
– Replace your strings every 3-6 months, depending on how often you play.

3. Can I use guitar picks for the mandolin lap harp?
– Yes, but mandolin picks are generally smaller and more suited for the instrument’s size.

4. What are some good beginner songs for the mandolin lap harp?
– “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” and “Amazing Grace” are excellent beginner songs.

5. How can I improve my fingerpicking speed?
– Practice slowly with a metronome, gradually increasing the tempo as you become more comfortable.


Mastering the mandolin lap harp is a rewarding journey filled with beautiful music and personal growth. By understanding the instrument’s anatomy, practicing consistently, and exploring various techniques, you’ll become a proficient player. Remember to enjoy the process and stay inspired. Happy playing!

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