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Do You Know This Harp Chord?

There is one particular chord that my students and I grapple with frequently. It is used more often in harp music than perhaps any other chord. Yet it still can be a source of difficulty. Until we stop and examine the chord: what it is, how it is used,  how to practice it.

The chord is a simple triad, or three-note chord, like C-E-G. What is different about this chord is the arrangement of the upper notes. The chord is in open spacing, or open voicing. Instead of having the three chord tones as close together as possible, (see the first chord above) they are spaced apart (the second chord): C, then G, then E.

This open-spaced triad is one of the most often used, and most useful, chords in any harpist’s chord vocabulary.

Why? Because the wider spacing of the notes allows for the resonance of the harp. The tones are separated enough that we hear a rich full sound with distinct pitches. Play the two chords above and compare. The first chord will sound a little blurry, especially in the lower register of a large harp. The open spaced chord will sound complex but clear.

Both chords (and many others) have their uses in harp music, but the open spaced triad is a beautiful choice for an arpeggiated bass, or a simple chordal accompaniment to a melody. And by now in your harp studies, you will have played it thousands of times. If you improvise at all, you may find it is your “go to” chord for a left hand pattern.

For some people, it is not an easy chord to play. Visually, it is more challenging, possibly because the notes are farther apart on the staff, and there are often ledger lines involved, stretching one’s note reading skills.

It may be a physical stretch, as well. If the stretch of a tenth between the outer notes is difficult for you, be sure to work up to it gradually, the way you would with any physical exercise. Be sure to use your thumb and fourth finger. Start by playing octaves, then move your thumb up one string and play some ninths. Then move your thumb up again to play the tenths. Don’t play if it hurts; stop and consult your teacher. But if you feel just a gentle stretch, you’re probably on the right track.

Look through the music you’re playing now and search for open spaced chords like this. Are they giving you trouble? Put in some extra work.  Notice how they complement the right hand line.  Pay a little bit of attention to this chord, and watch your reading and playing improve!

Need some help? Try my free chord practice page at ARS Musica. And while you’re there, please check out some of the other resources to help you on your harp journey!

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