The HARBISON HARP METHOD is Janet Harbison's oral training system for traditional Irish harpers that has evolved over a lifetime’s playing and teaching experience.  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 over a millennium.  

The Learning Priorities of the HARBISON HARP METHOD are that every student:Camera 10 Mar 2010 029 SMALL

  • Learns the ‘Language of Music’ as a spontaneous native speaker from the total Irish repertoire and style so the student becomes an arranger and composer as well as a performer of a 'fixed' repertory arranged by someone else;
  • Develops the necessary physical technique (deportment, agility, strength, control, speed) to ensure safe and healthy performance;
  • Approaches the experience of music holistically so its role in everyday life; from self expression in a solo situation to participating in the communal ‘session’ is fully experienced; from the performance of formal (fixed) music to improvisation, from enriching the home environment to serving the community, church, schools, care facilities, commerce and country.
  • Encourages collaboration with all other instruments by embracing the common tunes known to all other traditional instruments, and encouraging group/ formal ensemble performance;
  • Establishes the player’s creative freedom with arrangement and accompaniment by presenting options from the outset with respectful approaches to works of the old harp repertoire;
  • Learns harmonisation and accompaniment intuitively through aural training
  • Learns good taste and encourages the development of personal style
  • Learns the ‘etiquette’ of musicianship and session participation;
  • is introduced to literacy after fluency by relating sound to visual shapes;
  • is encouraged to consider professionalism


The System is presented in 3 phases

Phase 1  involves 4 Levels to ‘compentency’ (with each level achievable by an average student starting at the age of 12 years and having regular weekly lessons through the school year) and 2 further 'access' or 'introductory' Levels for Junior Beginners (students from age 7 - 11) or Adult Learners (with a broader music repertoire including some American folk music and light classical).  The 'introductory Levels) are supported with 3 'Preliminary Level' examination options. All Levels are accompanied by Tutor Books, each with supplementary tune books for friends and family members to participate in communal music-making. 

Phase 2  involves a further 4 ‘Advanced Levels’ in the 'Arts of Harping' taking the student from ‘Competency’ to ‘Mastery’. 

The 'Arts of Harping' represent the 9 Repertoires:

1 Story Music (Improvisation accompanying poetry and storytelling: Goltraí, Geantraí, Suantraí) 
2 Historical Repertoire (17th and 18th Centuries, including Carolan)
3 Lamentations and Slow Airs
4 The Romantic & Folk Repertoire (19th and 20th Centuries)
5 The ‘New Irish’ (or Formal Modern) Composition Repertoire
6 Dance Music Repertoire
7 Song and Harp Accompaniment
8 Sacred and Ceremonial Music
9 Music for Health Well-being (Palliative improvisation)

and the 7 Skills:

1 Articulation (traditional harp technique)
2 Style (form, lift and flow)
3 Interpretation (ornamentation and variation)
4 Arrangement
6 Improvisation
7 Composition.

All of these 'Arts' represent aspects of harping that are offered to the student in the Harbison Harp Method.  After Phase 1 graduation (for which the Tutor Books are designed), students are invited to choose 2 'Arts' for each of the exam levels until, at Level 8, they choose their 'Master Programme' of entirely their own choice of repertoire for a final examination.  Level 8 Graduates will have shown a significant mastery of harping and can be confident at presenting themselves to the world as 'Masters of the Arts of Harping'.  

Phase 3: Training for the 5 Professions:

Performance (Stage and Studio) 
Background Entertainment
Ceremonial (Sacred and Secular) 
Palliative Harp Care

The HARBISON HARP METHOD is unique in that it maintains the oral and creative nature of the Irish tradition ensuring that every performer is fully equipped to participate in all artistic, social and professional aspects of the tradition.  It also teaches literacy after fluency is established - so creativity can be spontaneous and intuitive - and musicality is as natural as nature.