The Harbison Harp Training Method is an oral training system for the Irish harp created over a lifetime’s experience of teaching by Dr Janet Harbison. The method embraces the total challenge of Irish harping today and aims to help restore the internationally acclaimed standards of excellence for which Ireland has been famous for a millennium.  

Since the early 1980s, Janet has pioneered the oral method of teaching and has published a syllabus, 6 tutor books (each representing an average year in harp training), with further supporting manuals) for technical training, traditional theory and harmony, accompaniment, arrangement, session participation and entertainer training. These are all a structured coursework to support (with examinations and certification) the students in their learning; their teachers in their teaching and the tradition of Irish harping as a creative traditional art form.


Proud trainer of many of Ireland’s celebrated performers today

Protegees include Michael Rooney, Grainne Hambly, Laoise Kelly, Lucia McGinnis, Lucy Kerr, Paul Dooley, Deirdre Macklin, Eister McKimm, Padraigin Caesar, and many more.  Many trained for performance careers as members of her Belfast Harp Orchestra, Irish Youth and Irish Harp Orchestras and now lead their own orchestras.

Former director of the Irish Harp Centre in Castleconnell, Co.Limerick, Janet Harbison is now based in London and in Derry / Londonderry, Northern Ireland where she is Visiting Professor (Irish Music) at Ulster University.


Teaching the Teachers

Teaching the harp – and the Irish harp orally - is a very special challenge when most of us harp teachers (over 40 years of age!) either learned unselfconsciously in the community of traditional musicians (without any formality – no classes or theory or technical guidance) or from a classical harp teacher (with technique developed for the big concert harp and limited notated resources from which to learn). The idea of ‘harp teachers’, regular lessons, summerschools and even harp workshops and masterclasses, is new and, as a science, continually evolving – and harp publishing has only been happening since the mid 1970s!  

With a tradition as old and noble as ours, this will certainly come as a surprise to many – and with most of our young folk now enveloped in the multicultural modern world of the internet, technological entertainments and social media, the challenge for teaching traditional music is at its greatest – forcing us ‘older folk’ to consider how we can deliver training to maintain the creative and improvisatory nature of our music as well as explore and appreciate the ‘fixed’ harp music repertoire from other players, books and recordings, to learn orally as well as from literate sources. 

So, for those of us currently in professional teaching practice, our style and methods of oral teaching have evolved almost entirely through our own intuition, personal experience and experimentation – And, many of us have managed to produce some exceptional students that are celebrated among the younger players of today.  So, there’s lots we’re getting right!

Observing how the different styles and methods of teaching have proven effective – both from my own practise as well as observing others, has shaped my approach and understanding – and store of strategies for dealing with all kind of learning issues when remedial action is needed. 

The aim for every teacher is to ‘get it right’ from the start, with maximum efficiency for every student, from every background (traditional or otherwise), of every age and ability.

In my teacher training courses I look at the main attributes:

P Development of the Physical attributes
– developing a healthy ‘technique’ with strength, agility, speed and control -

Development of Aural Acuity
– i.e. the training of the ear to hear the most subtle nuance and detail of ornamentation and tone – exactly as a wine-taster trains his tongue -

L Developing the sense of ‘language’ and ‘logic’ intuitive to our tradition
– toward the development of intuitive feel and individual style – and, finally, 

M Developing mental skills - including memory
– understanding how we respond to and use rhythm and momentum to propel the music; of  balance and structure toward the intuitive feel for where we are in the music, how many repetitions, what tunes to follow in a set, we create ‘triggers’ to help remember tunes – and how to address issues when the process is not fluent.


To consider the 3 goals of 

  1. personal development of the student
  2. informal creative and social participation of the student with others (as in a session)
  3. formal stage performance, solo or in ensemble  


How to create or adapt a training repertoire

  • Where to find repertoire
  • Introduction to the Harbison Harp Method – my books and strategy
  • How to arrange for your ensemble
  • How to create (and manage) a session
  • Remedial strategies for everything….


Click here for upcoming training courses 

 or email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for more details.


Find out more about The Traditional Irish Harp Tutors jh tutors 1 4

Traditional Irish Harp Tutor - Volume 1
This is a harper’s first tutor (designed for the average 12 year old beginner) starting from simple melodies with one-chord accompaniments and progressing to easy polkas, slides and slip-jigs, plus lots more.
Read more about what is covered in volume 1

Traditional Irish Harp Tutor - Volume 2
Building on from Volume 1, with more well-known tunes, the basic Harmonic Scale, Major and Minor Keys, plus lots more.
Read more about what is covered in volume 2

Traditional Irish Harp Tutor - Volume 3
How chording works, Introduction to Ornamentation, some great hornpipes, jigs and reels specially chosen to explore ornamentation, about the ‘Session’ from the inside-out, plus lots more.
Read more about what is covered in volume 3

Traditional Irish Harp Tutor - Volume 4
About style and the different types of repertoire, Accompany songs, Modern harp compositions, Composing yourself! Improving on Pentatones, plus lots more.
Read more about what is covered in volume 4

Traditional Irish Harp Tutor - for Junior beginnersjunior and adults tutors
This book is a supplementary Junior Beginner’s course preparing young harpers from the age of 6 to 11 to enter Levels 1 to 4 in the Harbinson Harp Training system (in which Level 1 is designed for the average 12 year old beginner).
Along with some training instructions, exercises, stories and pictures to colour in, and lots of beginners tunes
Read more about what is covered in Junior beginners

Traditional Irish Harp Tutor - Adult beginners
This is a supporting volume for live lessons with a teacher. This oral method of instruction is a structured approach to learning the Irish harp for students who do not come from the immersion environment of Irish traditional music. It will teach you to be creative and to ‘participate’ in the ‘language of music’; as in taking part confidently and competently the ‘session’ (social music-making with all instruments) and preparing you for formal solo performance (stage play).
Read more about what is covered in Adult beginners


If you are looking for a fun Harp Week...

Janet runs many Harp Weeks through out the summer find one that suits you.


Skype Lessons

If you would like to consider Skype lessons with Janet - please email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for more details.