How to Play the Autoharp

Play the Autoharp

How to Play the Autoharp. The autoharp is an instrument that uses the same concept as other muted instruments by pressing down on strings with a wooden bar covered in felt. Patented by German-born American C.F. Zimmerman in 1882, the autoharp was produced first in Philadelphia and later in Boston. Although Zimmerman is credited with the first American patent for the autoharp, there is debate as to whether he actually invented the instrument or made a copy of a similar instrument found in Germany.

Position your autoharp on your lap or up next to your body. If you hold it up you'll need some type of strap to wear around your neck and shoulders.

Use bare fingers or purchase a pick for your index and middle fingers and thumb of your right hand.

Purchase music with chord charts for the autoharp. Ask for help from a music store associate to find beginning autoharp pieces.

Push down the button indicated by the chord chart in the music with your left hand.

Strum strings with the picks on your right hand while continuing to hold down the button with your left.

Let the tone ring as you move your left hand to the next button and hold down before strumming with your right hand.

Advance to a pick and strum method when you become comfortable holding down the string and strumming to the rhythm of the music. Pick and strum takes a little more practice as you have to learn exactly when you need to move to the next button to change chords between pick and strum.


Keep your instrument in tune with a tuning wrench and an electronic tuner. Practice your autoharp while singing along. One of the best ways to learn how music feels is to sing and play at the same time. This will help you learn natural movements from one chord to the other as you are singing.

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