SM130: First Steps

Sheet Music for Harp
First Steps -
An Introduction to Playing the Wire-Strung Clarsach
Karen Marshalsay

Cover ImageThis book is aimed at beginners and those with some experience (on any type of harp) and provides an introduction to the techniques involved in playing on wire strings. The essential characteristic of wire harps is their long resonance but it also means that certain notes have to be damped out and this concept needs to be thought about right from the start. First Steps contains traditional tunes, from both the Gaelic and Scots traditions, tunes composed by Karen, studies and exercises along with information about the music

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Artist Profile and catalogue of works - Karen Marshalsay

Contents & Introduction


A brief guide to reading music
Tuning your clarsach
Obair Latha (Karen Marshalsay) a first tune
Fixed positions, damping and the C major scale
Fixed position exercise
Uamh 'n Oir (Trad Gaelic)
Dh'fhalbh an Triùir Mhaighdeanan (Trad Gaelic)
Olaf's Reel (Karen Marshalsay)
1s and 0s / Thinking about rhythm (Obair Latha)
Coupled Hands Technique
Queen Mary, Queen Mary (Trad Scots)
Thig am Bàta (Trad Gaelic)
Saky Saky Pirn Taes (Trad Scots)
Hishie Ba (Trad Scots)
The Three-Legged Clàrsach (Karen Marshalsay)
The Owls of Alnwick Castle (Karen Marshalsay)
    using the thumb choke, half scratch,
    bee’s plait and break.
The Robert ap Huw manuscript
Edward Bunting
Sources of Scottish repertoire and further study



This book is the forerunner of a longer work focussing on fingering patterns from the Robert ap Huw manuscript and Edward Bunting’s The Ancient Music of Ire/and (1840). I realised while working on that book that a shorter, introductory work was also needed. This is intended for those new to the wire-strung harp, whether or not they have played other types of harp before. Students can work at their own pace, and those completely new to music are encouraged to take it slowly and enjoy the learning process!

While this book is obviously written for those who are learning to play the wire-strung harp, it will also be of interest to players of bray, gut and nylon harps. I use this stopped fingering style on the bray harp, and also on modern gut-strung clarsachs, as it is a technique which enables the player to produce a clean sound with crisp articulation and to decorate traditional tunes very effectively.

Much of this book has been developed during my teaching at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, the National Centre of Excellence in Traditional Music (Sgoil Chiùil na Gaidhealtachd) based in Plockton High School, a beginners wire course at the Edinburgh International Harp Festival, a mixed gut and wire course at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig on Skye, and of course numerous fèisean and festivals. My own playing has developed through the folk world of fèisean, workshops and individual lessons, and I am indebted to my teachers Alison Kinnaird and Bill Taylor for their inspiration and generosity over the years.

The tunes in this book are a mix of traditional Gaelic and Scots airs, and tunes which I have written in the Scottish style, often especially for learners. The section at the back gives more information on sources and further study of both wire-strung harp and Scottish traditional music.

Karen Marshalsay
Glasgow 2009

Library Information

Title: First Steps - An Introduction to Playing the Wire-Strung Clarsach
Contents: see "Contents" panel above
Composer/Arranger: Karen Marshalsay
Instrumentation: Wire Strung Clarsach
Level: Beginner
Format: Stapled
Size: A4
Total Pages: 22
Weight: 120gm
ISMN: --
Our Ref: SM130
Publisher: Marsharp Music
Edition/Year: 2009
Origin: UK (EU)

Sample page

Sample of the music