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  • Learning to Play the Harp?
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All About the Harp


The Harp is a very old musical instrument that has been used in pre-Christian cultures and has been seen in paintings in Egyptian tombs dated from 3000 BC. During the time of the middle ages, the strings were made from animal gut, silk and horse hairs. Later brass and copper were added to make the strings stronger so that they could give more volume and longer tones.

Harps are still used today and they often vary in the number of strings they have. Each string is found attached to a pin of metal or a peg that is made of wood. Strings run to a soundboard and today these strings are usually made of metal or nylon. Strings are tuned by adjusting the attachment point, the peg or pin. The longest edge of the harp is known as the column and it contains rods for changing the pitch. These are attached to the pedals at the base of the harp. The soundboard is on the body of the harp which is hollow so that the body resonates with the plucking of a string.

The harp is unique among the string instruments. It is often tall (over 6 feet), made of wood and shaped similar to the numeral seven. Today the harp has about 47 strings of varying lengths which are tuned to the keys of a piano. Even though we think of harps as being very tall, today there is a great variety of harps including some that are small enough in size that they can be played by resting on your lap. The harp is played while you are sitting down. You place your legs on each side of the harp and it rests on the shoulder while you pluck the strings. There are also seven foot pedals at the base of the harp which are used to change pitch of the strings. The addition of the pedals was very important and greatly increased the popularity and use of the harp for playing in classical orchestras.

The first harp with pedals was known as a single action harp, which was developed in the 18th century. This harp included the pedals and the way it worked was that pushing down a pedal could change a note, for example a C flat could then become a C natural. The double action harp was developed in the 19th century and now included two disks for every string. This meant that a harp player could produce every key.


Today there are also harps of medium size that have levers instead of pedals and strings of nylon. These harps have the advantage of being less expensive and lighter than the pedal harps, however it is more limited in the sounds it can produce. Adjusting a lever will change the note of a particular string by a semitone. Both levers and pedals can alter the pitch of a note. Chromaticity can also be increased by adding more strings to the harp. The cross-strung harp is an example of this. Harps have really withstood the test of time when it comes to musical instruments with a range of different types available today.