Saturday, October 8, 2016

An Early Christmas Present

Adam loves to spoil me. There -- I've said it. He's not a perfect husband. But if I want something, generally all I have to do is mention it, and he's on it! (I have to be careful what I mention.) For years I've been making muttering sounds about wanting an autoharp.

Well, he bought me one!
 My elementary school music teacher played an instrument like this. She set it on her lap and led us in fun songs. I remember her teaching the boys and girls to sing "There's a Whole in My Bucket, Dear Liza" back and forth.
It came with a lovely case. In fact, the instrument was new, but Adam bought it on Ebay from a relatively new seller for an extremely good price. (He'd bought it for his girlfriend, and they broke up. Sad story.)
 It came with all the good extras: a tuner and clamp, a tuning pin, several finger picks, and even keys to lock the case.
 And the most important pick -- the thumb pick. It's pretty.
 Autoharp playing was brought back to mind recently when a friend mentioned she played one, and she loaned it to me for a week. I fell in love. It's not the most elegant instrument, but I adore it because it's portable! I love my piano very dearly, but that I can neither carry it with me somewhere nor cradle it in my lap are significant down sides.
An autoharp can be played flat in the lap, but then (for some bizarre and poorly engineered reason) you must cross your hands. Hmm. The Carter family way of playing is to hold the autoharp up to one's chest, nestle it near one's ear, crank the left hand around to exert pressure on the chord keys, and strum vigorously with the right hand.
Here's a video of Sheryl Crow playing "Ring of Fire" -- a Carter/Cash family favorite:

Crow simply strums the autoharp and doesn't use any finger picking. Strumming is all I can do now too.
I would be remiss if I failed to share MayBelle Carter playing. Let's hope she doesn't catch those eyelashes in her strings .... Notice how high she holds the instrument! That's some good ole mountain sound. Notice that she picks some on the upper strings to give that melody.

So, thanks to my dear husband for this gift -- it is technically ... I think ... a Christmas gift, but it will be well-used by then :)
If anyone longs to hear more autoharp music, below is a video of the  Mountain Laurel Autoharp Championship. Some pure and beautiful picking on some gorgeous instruments:

If you scoot forward to 26:13 on the video, you'll see Lucille Reilly, the winner. She's fabulous!


  1. What a great present!! I have heard of them but never seen them. It is a bit like a Zither. I saw an instrument called a Cosmic Drum when I was in France and I'd really like one!!x

  2. I had never heard of this instrument. But I like big harps and this is much more practical. My daughter has already started planning Christmas dinner in her new flat which will be too small for the number of people she has invited but will be a great experience for all of us. I don't usually think about Christmas until mid-December!

  3. My music teacher Mrs. Klokee had one! Fun!

  4. What a great gift! I had a teacher in elementary school who played one.

    I started listening to the musicians, and loved #5, I watched until the player at 26:13 and had to go back and see if she is the one I liked, and she is. I hadn't remembered her name, just the #5.

    Happy music making ~ FlowerLady

  5. What a fine gift! Adam is probably hoping you have a few Christmas carols ready to go for Christmas Eve services!! Have fun!

  6. I listened to some of the Mountain Laurel video, and I've never heard anyone get so much music out of an autoharp before! Thanks for showing us what can be done, and for sharing your new treasure. (though the real treasure is that man Adam :-) )

  7. These were fun to watch! My hubby bought me an older one many years ago. It kept going out of tune. Probably needed new strings, but with that many strings I couldn't really afford to replace them! :) Have fun with yours!

  8. This is so cool!!! Is this the same as the zither? I remember my elementary music teacher with a zither --- and yes, she played that same hole-in-the-bucket song, perhaps because of its easy chords.

  9. Yes to an autoharp, they are lovely instruments. The Carter Family Fold is two counties away from me and music still goes on every weekend.


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