Major and Minor Thirds


In this first lesson we are going to have fun with thirds! It’s such a lovely sound and a way to transform any melody into a much richer sound and with added…harmony! There are two types of ‘thirds’ – a MAJOR third (an interval of four semitones - much easier to see on a piano keyboard than on the harp!) and a MINOR third (a squashed third as it has one semitone less).

In this lesson, you are going to work on two exercises for playing thirds, learn a short piece called 'Clouds', improvise your own tune in thirds, and learn a Yiddish song called ‘Tumbalalaika’. 

Thirds are not difficult to play. However, there’s a bit more to it if you want to make your thirds really ‘warm’ sounding, to make the upper or lower note louder, or to play with staccato or lightness to get a different ‘colour’.

Try these exercises 'Long Or Short' and 'Finger Or Thumb'.

Two Exercises on Thirds.pdf

Have a go at this piece 'Clouds' which starts in C major (blue sky, fluffy white clouds) and moves into C minor as darker clouds gather in the sky.

It is short and seems simple, but pay attention to the detail in the dynamics and don't forget to change between major and minor.

When you go back to the beginning to play it again, you'll need to reset your levers or pedals!


Try playing 'Clouds' again. This time, make your tone rounder and warmer. As you crescendo, apply more pressure to the strings.

Plant your feet on the floor and check your shoulders and neck aren't stiff. As you play, be free to move, like a cloud moving around the sky.

Lever harpists: Remind yourself where your first lever change is before you start.

Pedal harpists: Have your right foot ready on (or next to) the E pedal, and your left foot flat on the floor.

Now watch the video below and try Ellie's 'Free Thirds' and hear her play 'Clouds'.

It's really good to make up your own piece of music, using the techniques you've been working on. Put your harp into C minor and do some musical doodles using any of the following titles, or your own.


Train Coming!

Up, Up and Away

Falling Leaves

In this video, Ellie is having a doodle on those titles. You could take some ideas from Ellie or go off in a different direction!

Here is a Yiddish folk song from Russia. It's called Tumbalalaika and it's about love. You'll find two PDFs below; one for lever harp, one for pedal harp.

Listen to the song before you have a go at playing it yourself. Try to make the downbeat (beat 1) stronger and 'lift' the 2nd and 3rd beats.

Below is a link to a charming video of Pete Seeger and Ruth Rubin singing it (from the 1960s). You may even be asked to play this lovely song at a Jewish or Russian wedding!

Tumbalalaika Lever Harp.pdf
Tumbalalaika Pedal Harp.pdf

Grade 3 exam pieces which prominently feature thirds

Lever harp:

Les Pifferari (The Fifers) by Charles Francois Gounod (Trinity)

Alpine Waltz by Susann McDonald (ABRSM)

Rondo by Passler (ABRSM)

Lanterns by Fiona Clifton-Welker (Trinity)

Gentle Interlude by Paul Lewis (Trinity)

Pedal harp:

Serenade from Harp Solos Vol. 2 by Susann McDonald (Trinity)

Russian Lullaby by Linda Wood (ABRSM)

Alpine Waltz by Susann McDonald (ABRSM)

Rondo by Passler (ABRSM)

Lanterns by Fiona Clifton-Welker (Trinity)

Gentle Interlude by Paul Lewis (Trinity)

Complete and Continue