Who Can Play the Autoharp?

Just about anyone! The autoharp is sort of like the Othello of instruments. Othello is a board game that claims it takes “a minute to learn and a lifetime to master”, and so it is with the autoharp. According to noted autoharp teacher Meg Peterson, “Everyone can play the autoharp at his or her own level. Young or old can ‘mash the button’ and stoke; school children learn basic harmonies and accompany singing; teen-agers can play favorite rock sequences and create unique strum patterns; and professional musicians can perform complicated and exciting melodies or rhythmic accompaniments” (Peterson, p. 2).

The autoharp is easy to get started on because you simply press a chord bar and strum the strings, but in the hands of a master, it is capable of surprising depth and intricacy. In fact, in the early going the hardest thing about the autoharp is getting it in tune, but tuning the autoharp, if you use an electronic tuner, is not overly hard. Fine tuners can make the tuning process much easier, so this is a feature to look for when buying an autoharp. Autoharps also usually come with either 15 or 21 chord bars. What you get depends on your budget. For additional autoharp information, click here.

The autoharp’s simplicity is particularly useful for elementary school teachers, and for students with special needs.

If you are a classroom teacher who wants to learn an instrument to accompany singing and is relatively easy to pick up the basics on, then the autoharp is the perfect instrument. This is true for anyone who wants an easy instrumental experience.

The autoharp is also ideal for teaching developmentally delayed students. Some students with special needs will find that an instrument like the guitar can be too challenging. This is particularly true of Down Syndrome students. The autoharp is a substitute for the guitar that is possibly within the reach of Down Syndrome and other developmentally delayed students. In the early stages, the order of least difficult to most difficult to teach goes: guitar, piano, then autoharp. In typical learner students, the difference in difficulty between the guitar and piano will probably not be noticed, but difficulty is a real factor when deciding which instrument to choose for your special needs child, and the autoharp is the easiest of the three to learn. I have special needs students who have low expressive language skills that do fine on piano, but it all depends on how good the student’s receptive language skills are, and therefore it is a matter of knowing your child.

There are many makers of autoharps, but the original is Oscar Schmidt.

Call Success Music Studio for autoharp lessons today.


Peterson, Meg. Mel Bay’s Complete Method for Autoharp or Chromaharp. Pacific: Mel Bay Publications, 1979.

© 2014 Geoffrey Keith