Autoharp: Functional Instrument in Therapy… say what!?

After having a very basic initial run down of the autoharp in my very first pre-clinic class last semester, I had a general gist of the instrument; However, I couldn’t help but think, “okay this is cool, but how in the world can I ever incorporate an autoharp into a session with a client?”  It didn’t help that our school’s autoharp that is available as a resource has been around the block a few times, was out of tune, and kind of clunky to carry.  I set it on the back-burner of my mind, and didn’t really retrieve this viable information until just a few months ago.

My current client has PPA-Primary Progressive Aphasia- which is a form of dementia that effects speech and language.  Working on simple words and phrases, and basic retrieval of words that were once automatic is declining.  After a few sessions of working  on the word “my” to later be inserted into a common phrase, “My name is _____.” I realized that he was lacking a visual cue that he needed to form the word.  He had been using a cabasa by rolling in on the inside of his hand to form the “mmm” sound, but continuing to the “y” sound was challenging him.  The use of my guitar was visually not enough for him (especially since I was partially behind a table.) What did I do you ask? …

I dusted off the autoharp, gave it a quick tuning over spring break, and have been using it in my sessions! I place in almost right in front of him during the exercise, and as a hold down the C button, I strum upwards and throw my hand in the air giving my client that visual.  It worked like a charm.  The instrument was new and different and it gives me the flexibility of not having to hold a guitar in my arms.  It was just the effect we needed for the session.

In another class I demonstrated the use of the autoharp in my sessions with my client, and I also came up with an alternate activity that could be used for a different population… say, kids?  The autoharp has a distinctive sound quality that could mimic many different sounds. I chose to use it as “water,” “raindrops,” or a “waterfall.” Have your group or child make rain finger’s stretched way up in the air…

(to the tune “row, row, row your boat”)

G Raindrops are falling down, falling all aroundWhat  a lovely sound they make D splashing to the G ground


Make a downward sound on the autoharp that mimic’s water falling down and the children can match the sound with their hand’s going down to the floor.

There are countless ways to use the autoharp in therapy. Here are a few quick facts:

  • It’s success oriented.  Just push a button and it makes the chord!
  • It’s easy for clients to play and there are numerous adaptive picks that can be used.
  • Nothing else sounds like it.  Clients will most likely enjoy it because it’s different.
  • It is portable- usually has a nifty case with a handle.
  • Can work in many settings (classroom, bedside, one-one-one)
  • Has more strings than guitar- sounds like it to!

It looks really intimidating to tune, and probably is difficult if it’s really far gone, however if it just needs a tune up the pegs barley need to be twisted to make a big difference.  Don’t think your going to have to sit there for hours cranking on each peg.  Just start with all the same notes and give them a tweak.

Not so long after I had this autoharp epiphany did I read a great post from Seems like it’s not so far fetched!

That’s all I got for the autoharp. Super useful. Super fun. Something different.



Filed under Activities, Musical Resources

2 responses to “Autoharp: Functional Instrument in Therapy… say what!?

  1. My sister is a Music Therapist….taught herself guitar and piano. She was just featured on the local news on Friday for Autism Awareness Month. She absolutely LOVES what she does. I think you have to LOVE this if you do it! Enjoy the clip

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