Deborah Henson-Conant

Telling stories with music at

The doors are NOW OPEN for “Hands on Harmony” – my foundational class for harpists where you learn the basics of harmony with your HANDS (and your mind, of course) – at your own pace!

“Hands on Harmony” is program for harpists that teaches theory and harmony completely from a harpist’s perspective.   Since I just recorded the welcome video last night, I thought you might enjoy seeing it.  This is the first video students see when they join the program:


Hands-on-Harmony is different from my other classes in that it started as a full-day virtual RETREAT where harpists went from the fundamentals of scales to the complexity of jazz chords all in one day.

We recorded that live retreat, and then edited it, created a PDF handout from the examples and outlined  the basic principles so people have a printable reference, and we chunked the video into bite-size pieces that harpists can now work through at their own pace and repeat as many times as they like.  Et voilá! “Hands on Harmony”

I originally gave the class in a single day so that people could really see and feel how harmony developed over time, expanding from very basic concepts that anyone with a keyboard or a harp could do before even learning to ‘play’ the instrument. (And as a special bonus, because it was all recorded live,  you get to see me get scruffier and scruffier as the day advances and I get more and more excited about one of my favorite subjects in the world: How music works!)

I wanted to do it a single day in part because I watched the way I, personally, learn.  With fundamental concepts, I want to see the whole thing first — in one fell swoop – and then go through it several times to make it my won ‘my own’ – and I wanted the students to know that they could sequester themselves in a room for day once or twice (or twenty times) a year and go through the program again and again, each time picking up more and seeing how they’re applying it to the music they play.

(This, by the way, is one of the things you learn)


What are “Harmony” and “Theory”?

For non-musicians, training in “Harmony” and “Theory” is basically training in the way music ‘works’ – and in particular, how chords work – how they’re built, how you can modify them, and because we’re also learning to play with them, “Hands on Harmony” also shows you how you can split them apart into the ‘roles’ of melody, accompaniment and bass.  Learning harmony helps you know how to create your own music, improvise music, play with others and even to understand better what a composer is ‘doing’ in the music you read, so you can collaborate better with them as a performer.

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(in this screenshot I’m showing how to quickly ‘grab’ this “sus 4” chord that sometimes stymies harpists)

Harmony on the Harp is Holistic

Did you know that the harp is the only instrument that physically changes key? This may be a little tricky to visualize, but on a harp you don’t just choose different notes to play in a different key like you do in other instruments.  The HARP actually changes key.

OK, yeah … this might be geeky harp harmony but to me it’s exciting because … well, because if I set it up right, my instrument does the thinking for me.

For example, on a piano, you play a C scale by starting on the C note and playing every white key.  You play a G scale by starting on the G note and playing all the white keys except when you come to the F, when you play the black key above the F instead, which is called F-sharp  To play an F scale you start on the F key and play all the white keys except the B key, where you play the black note BELOW the B key, which is called B-flat.  As you get to more ‘distant’ keys you have to trade out more and more white notes for the sharps or flats.  There are 12 possible notes in each octave and you have to choose which ones fit your key.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the piano – it’s the instrument I use for composing – but the way it’s structured doesn’t give you any help in understanding how harmony developed, since harmony developed from instruments more like the harp.

On the harp, shifting from key to key is completely different.  You want to play a G scale?  You shift a lever or pedal to make the F”s sharp and then the whole harp is now in the key of G, you start on the G and play a scale.  There are only 8 possible strings in each octave and you change them to resonate to the key you’re in.

This creates other pitfalls and complexities — but for learning concepts of harmony, it creates It's the most beautiful, literal, physical representation of how harmony works. Click To Tweet

You literally and physically change the strings themselves – the same string can take on one of three states at any time – so the G string, for example, can be a G-natural, a G-sharp or a G-flat – unlike the piano where those are 3 different strings (they’re actually more than 3 different strings on the piano, but don’t worry about that now). 

(in this screenshot I’m showing how many chords that look very complicated, actually show up naturally when you’re in a particular key – so when you know how to recognize them, you can just welcome them as friends rather than worrying about how to create them)

Morphing creates greater Resonance

This ability to morph as a whole instrument is one reason the harp is so intensely resonant. I guess you could say it changes key (or ‘modulates’ in  technical terms) holistically.

It’s also why traditional ways of teaching harmony can be confusing to harpists. They’re usually based on how harmony makes sense to pianists.  So trying to teach that way on the harp is a little like trying to train a cheetah to run fast by taking it shopping for running shoes – you’re missing the the natural abilities of the animal by forcing it to try to think and perform like a different animal.

Like trying to train a cheetah to run by buying it running shoes Click To Tweet

Viewed through the lens of how the harp actually works, harmony can be incredibly easy, exciting, logical – THRILLING!  Especially when you get to really SEE and FEEL the history of harmony in your hands, and how it’s developed over time from simple scales to the complex jazz harmonies we play today.

THAT’S the journey I take harpists on in “Hands on Harmony.”  It’s also why I think that harps should be used to teach harmony to everyone in every school and university … but that’s a bigger battle than I’ll take on today. For now, I’m focused on showing harp players  how to harness that power for their own playing – and “Hands on Harmony” is the class I created for that.

I created “Hands on Harmony” differently than how I’ve created other classes: I recorded it LIVE in a full-day retreat, then edited the videos and created the hand-out – so now you get to experience the energy of the live event, but all at your own pace.  Set aside your own retreat day and take it all in at once – or spread it out over a few weeks or months.

“Hands on Harmony” is open now, with a special $100 off price tag, so jump in now.  (And remember – if you’re already a Full-Level member of my Hip Harp Academy then you already have access to this class — just go look for it on your dashboard – it’s ready for you now!!! )