How Does the Autoharp Work? Best guide 2021

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Some people learn to play a musical instrument in order to challenge themselves. This is why certain instruments are highly respected as they have steep learning curves. However, others want to have something they can fool around with without breaking a sweat. Something that they can make music with without thinking too much of it.

If you belong in the latter group, then you should check out the autoharp. This stringed instrument is known for being easy to play that it has always been a part of grade school music classes. Lots of people got to know the autoharp through this but, unfortunately, didn’t pursue the instrument thinking that it’s more of a plaything than an actual musical instrument.

With the rise in popularity of various folk instruments as of late, the autoharp might just be a great option to look into if you want something different to try. To get you started with exploring this instrument, this article will discuss some of its basic and key points as well as answers questions like ‘how does the autoharp work’ and ‘what kinds of music can the autoharp play?’

How Does the Autoharp Work

​How Does the Autoharp Work? A Quick Introduction

The fun thing about answering the question of ‘how does the autoharp work?’ is that it will also include a lot of basic points about the instrument. So let’s get to it right away.

Autoharps work by pressing buttons and strumming the specific strings to create a note. Depressed buttons are muted so they won’t make a sound even if the player hits them. That’s basically how to play autoharp: you use your dominant hand to pluck and strum while the other hand controls the buttons to damp the sound of the non-selected strings.

The autoharp is rather versatile in terms of handling. You can place it on your lap or any flat surface in front of you while seated or place it against your left shoulder to play it while standing. Players typically use finger picks that can be worn on the pointer and middle fingers as well as the thumb.

Like other string instruments, you can also find an electric autoharp. There are lots of autoharp models that are available in electric and even electric/acoustic versions, so if you want to explore your options, you can also look into those.

These shouldn’t be confused with Chromaharps, however. They may seem like the electronic version of the autoharp but that’s not the case. Chromaharp is actually a brand of autoharps that were created in 1968 to provide an alternative to the traditional autoharps that were difficult to play when placed against the left shoulder.

Oscar Schmidt, the best-known manufacturer of autoharps, soon followed suit and created their own versions, naming them the “Type B” autoharps.

What is a Diatonic Autoharp?

The standard autoharp has a chromatic tuning – where strings are tuned to the 12-note chromatic scale with strings tuned in half steps. They can play in up to seven keys and offer great flexibility.

Diatonic autoharps are the alternative tuning as they have their strings tuned in the whole steps in one, two, or three scales. As a result, some strings are doubled, so they create louder and brighter sounds.

Most autoharps have to be reconfigured to become diatonic autoharps and you can’t really change them back to the way they were before once tuned. However, the Oscar Schmidt “Wildwood Flower” model can be the perfect pick if you’re looking for this particular type of autoharp.

Changing Autoharp Strings

Changing autoharp strings can seem tricky due to the number of strings in such instruments. However, it’s not that difficult to do once you get down the basics. And if you know how to change the strings of other stringed instruments, you’ll have an idea of what to do.

The key things you should remember when changing autoharp strings are the following:

  • Do not snip the string unless it’s completely slack. It’s crucial not to alter the total         string tension on the body of the instrument as it can cause great damage. Loosen       the string first using a tuning wrench.
  • Count the number of turns you make when loosening the string. This information         will come in handy when restringing.
  • Cut the string on the curly part. This will further minimize any potential damage.
  • Be careful when pulling the string out and when slipping the new one in.
  • Prepare to take a couple of hours, especially if your autoharp has a lot of strings.

The Beginner’s Guide to Purchasing an Autoharp

There are lots of ways how you can go about in purchasing an autoharp. Generally, you can buy new or used depending on your budget and preference.

If you wish to buy new, you can always check out Oscar Schmidt’s website or other dealers online and offline. There are lots of places that sell these musical instruments brand new, so you can look into those. You can even find some good autoharps on Amazon!

Buying used is also a great way to get started. Some recommend checking with local schools if they’re selling their old ones. Online selling platforms like eBay and even your local Facebook Marketplace can also be good places to look.

Now that you already know the answer to how does that autoharp work, there’s a very good chance that you have an idea what kind of autoharp to look for. You can easily look up electric autoharps for sale or 15-chord autoharps depending on your preference and needs.

You should be more weary about autoharp prices, however. They come in a very wide price range so you might find yourself looking at a $12 used autoharp one moment and a $400 new one the next moment. Weigh your options carefully and try your best to gauge which one you think will be the best fit for your needs.

Final Tip for Used Autoharps

If you’re interested in used autoharps, try your best to determine if they’re still in good playing condition. Keep your eyes peeled for dents, cracks, and mold. Stay away from those as they may have already compromised the quality of the instrument.


Is my Autoharp a Type A or Type B?

Beginners may find it hard to tell Type A and Type B Autoharps apart but there are a few distinguishing traits to the two. The most notable is that Type B tends to have a more ergonomic design which makes it easier to play while upright. It also normally has 21 chords and doesn’t have a bridge.

Type As, on the other hand, have sharper edges and come with a wire bridge near the pins. They also tend to have enough room between strings that make plucking possible.

Is the autoharp easy to play?

The autoharp is believed to be easy to learn but mastering it can take quite a bit of skill.

How much is my Autoharp/Chromaharp worth?

It all depends on the quality and kind of instrument you have. First of all, they should be in good, playable condition to be actually worth anything. 15-string ones tend to be worth some money but 21-chord ones promise more.

What replacement battery for a Snark Tuner?

Snark tuners use CR2032 batteries.

The Final Word

After discussing how does the autoharp work and all of the other basic points about the said instrument, hopefully, you are able to decide whether it’s a good instrument for you to learn or not. While it’s not necessarily the coolest or most respected string instrument out there, it holds great promise of enjoyment.

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