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In spite of its name, the autoharp is not a harp at all—instead, it's a chorded variant of the zither. Two versions of this instrument were patented in the early-to-mid 1880s, with the second of the two surviving to eventually become the modern autoharp. Today, the autoharp enjoys a modest but loyal following and is commonly used as a student instrument, where it is particularly helpful in learning chords. What makes an autoharp different from a zither is the addition of chord bars and dampers. When you press one of the autoharp's chord keys and give it a strum, any string not belonging to the chord you've pressed is silenced, so the sound of the chord is played "automatically." Originally created for accompaniment, the autoharp is still often thought of as a rhythm instrument, but it's also a rewarding melody instrument to a musician who takes on the challenge of mastering it.
The autoharp is mostly heard in country, folk and bluegrass music, following in the footsteps of the legendary "Mother" Maybelle Carter, matriarch of the Carter family, whose frequent appearances on the Johnny Cash Show showed just how amazing this instrument could sound in the hands of a skilled player. Rhythm Band makes autoharps primarily focused at the educational level. Their ChromaHarp is especially versatile—it's a classically-styled autoharp with 15 chords and a traditional layout, making it suitable for performing as well as learning. For younger music students or just for fun, the Music Maker is also a great instrument to experiment with; it uses printed inserts to help teach concepts and is playable by even the smallest hands. Both instruments have solid hardwood tops to produce a consistent tone. Whether you use it as a learning instrument, an accompaniment or invest the time to master the melodic potential of the autoharp, you can get great results out of this classic stringed instrument. Perfect for musicians of all skill levels, the autoharp will quickly become a favorite.
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