The Autoharp – a great instrument!

Many years ago I have bought an autoharp, and since then this instrument is mainly stored in my cupboard – but every now and then I take it and play some chords on it. So I thought that I should also write about the autoharp in my blog.

The autoharp is a kind of zither with some buttons that allow to play chords with almost no effort.

Typically the strings are tuned chromatically, which allows to play in different keys. But there exist also diatonic autoharps that are tuned completely in one key, somtimes with two strings tuned to the same note.

It is very easy to use an autoharp to play chords and use it for accompanying. It is also very easy to play a blues on a autoharp. As far as I know the autoharp was used often to accompany songs in church – kind of a replacement for a much more expensive church organ.

The Carter family, especially Maybell Carter and June Carter, played the autoharp frequently to their songs.

Another singer that plays the autoharp and that I like very much is Penelope Houston – this is one example where you can see her with an autoharp:

Penelope Houston and Lout – “You Reel Me In” @ Broadway Studios, San Francisco, 10/12/09

My favorite CD by Penelope Houstons is Cut You – on this CD she plays autoharp, and the band does also include a good mandolin player who plays some fantastic melodies to the songs.

Playlist with more songs by Penelope Houston: Playliste Penelope Houston

Kilby Snow uses the autoharp to play the melody of a song and the to accompany his song:

Kilby Snow plays “Troubles”

The amazing Kilby Snow performs his version of “Troubles” on the autoharp. From the DVD “Shady Grove.” More info at

The following video shows a player with a very special styl, very smooth, playing the melody and also chords to accompany it. After an accident he could not play the guitar any more, but he is still able to play the autoharp. I have selected a nice version of the well known Wayfaring Stranger – you can find more examples in the youtube channel of gfharper:

Autoharp – Wayfaring Stranger

Noodling around with my Ron Wall Mountain Harp

Another youtube channel dedicated to the autoharp ist the channel of autoharpist. There you can find some instructional videos  and other interesting videos – here a little melody by the mandolin player Herschel Sizemore:

“Rebecca” played on diatonic autoharp

Written by mandolinist Herschel Sizemore, a great tune with an interesting rhythm.


youtube channel of gfharper with many autoharp videos:

youtube channel autoharpist with videos and instructions:

Homepage with instructions for learning the autoharp:

Informationen über die Autoharp von Alan Horvath:

Wikipedia (English) about the autoharp:

Wikipedia (Geran) about the autoharp:

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