A really nice method + DVD has landed on my desk: "Je joue de la harpe avec Gribouille", by Isabelle Frouvelle. The only thing that worried me about it was that, if I was going to tell everyone about it, that meant I would have to pronounce "Gribouille", and the French "ouille" - as in "grenouille" - is very difficult for native English speakers to get their tongues around. But! "Je joue de la harpe avec Gribouille" is also available in several translations. You will find it in English as "I play the harp with Charlie the Kitten", in German as "Ich spiele Harfe mit Kasimir", in Italian as "Suono l'arpa con Scarabocchio" and in Spanish as "Toco el arpa con el gato Garabato". When I called Isabelle about the method, she had in fact just returned from Mexico, where she had been launching the Spanish-language version with the help of Mercedes Gomez.
Those of us who are old and hoary can usually cope with books of music - within reason - in foreign languages. This is because we can already read the book's main language, music. But small children cannot already read music, and they need to be able to understand everything.
"In the course of my teaching, I had tried many methods and always hit the same problem", Isabelle explained on the phone. "I couldn't find anything that provided a logical and clear introduction to reading music, as well as to harp technique, at the same time. Traditionally in France children have already been able to read music before they begin an instrument, because of the habit of doing a couple of years of solfège first. But now, more and more are beginning solfège and their instrument at the same time - and in any case, starting on the instrument is the norm in most other countries. So I have designed a progression of exercises and pieces, together with technical instructions and notation lessons, that all progress steadily together.
The method has existed for ten years now, and was first launched in French, and then in a German version. The idea to include a video to accompany the book came to me after I was giving concerts in and around Toulouse. A traditional music association had asked me to give a lever harp concert, by way of demonstrating what could be done on the instrument, and a girl in the audience came up to me to explain she couldn't find a harp teacher where she lived.
I agreed to give her some lessons using skype. This worked quite well, but there were obvious limitations, and I wanted to do something to help students who are forced to learn at a distance. So I filmed all the exercises and their accompanying explanations, so the students could clearly see and hear what they were supposed to be doing in close-up, and as often-repeated as they needed. We discovered that this, with a monthly lesson by way of checking everything was going well, sometimes worked better in the early stages than weekly lessons with no visual examples in between. When I launched the professional edition of the method, I therefore added a professionally-filmed DVD."
When I first began the harp, my dad had to stand over me for months, bribing me with maltesers: 1 malteser for practising at all, 2 for practising for an adequate length of time, and 3 for practising for long enough with the right attitude. It is a rare small child who will practice regularly and properly of his own accord, and their progress is usually faster when the parents also devote a certain amount of energy to their harp studies. If parents are not musicians themselves, this can be difficult for them, and it is marvellous to find a method that any adult can follow and help a young beginner to learn. The DVD (sold separately) is well-filmed, very clear, and contains helpful extras, such as how to tune the harp, and how to replace strings.