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Guide to Harps

Harp : What is it?

Harps

A harp is a string instrument composed of a neck, a soundboard, strings, and a resonator. It produces a bright and warm tone when its strings are plucked by the first four fingers of each hand. It is used to produce sound effects such as arpeggio, glissando, and bisbigliando in classical music and German and Italian operas. It is also considered a social, political, and corporate symbol.

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Types of Harps

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Kinds of Harps include the following:

Pedal harp

  • A pedal harp is a modern and large harps used in solo, symphony orchestra, and classical music performances.
  • It is also called a concert harp.
  • It consists of 46 to 47 strings arranged in 6.5 octaves.
  • It has a six-foot height, a four-foot depth, and a 22-inch bass soundboard width.
  • It produces notes from three octaves below the middle C to 3.5 octaves above it.
  • The strings of its soundboard are made of nylon (highest), gut (middle), and copper (lowest). Their combined tensions amount to a ton.
  • Its string pitch is altered by mechanical pedal action.
  • Each note has a dedicated pedal connected to a cable or a rod found within the harp’s column.
  • Tiny discs on top of the harp rotate when a pedal is pressed by the foot.

Electric harp

  • An electric harp is a concert harp with a microphone pick-up fitted on each string base.
  • The pick-ups translate the strings’ vibrations into electrical signals to be fed to an amplifier.
  • It has the same dimensions as a pedal harp, only heavier.

Folk harp

  • A folk harp is also called a lever harp.
  • It is a small- to medium-sized harp made for playing traditional and folk music.
  • It is popular in Celtic, Scottish, and Irish cultures.
  • It can be played as a solo instrument or in small groups.
  • It is used as a beginner harp and as a political and social symbol.
  • It consists of 34 strings arranged in two to six octaves.
  • The strings can be made of gut, nylon, wrapped metal, fluorocarbon, or carbon fiber.
  • It has a range from two octaves below the middle C to 2.5 octaves above it.
  • Its string pitch is altered by manipulating the blade or lever found on top of each string.

Wire-strung harp

  • A wire-strung harp is made of phosphor bronze and steel rings. The traditional wire-strung harp is usually made of brass, gold, iron, or silver.
  • It is of Gaelic origin.
  • Also called a clairseach, it was a popular instrument in the 11th to 19th centuries played by Irish and Scottish Gaels.
  • It produces a bright and ringing tone.

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Choosing Harps (Buying tips)

Construction: For better sound quality and durability, choose a harp made with even pedals, a smooth finish,  a straight column, an intact soundbox, and a securely-attached base.

Tone: Choose a harp that produces the right balance between warm and bright tones to get a sound that is neither muffled nor brittle.

Size: Choose a small, compact harp with 30 strings or less for a beginner child harpist. This size allows the child to reach the pedals without difficulty. For intermediate players, choose a semi-grand harp with over 46 strings. If you are a professional harpist, invest in a concert harp with 47 strings.

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