Harp

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Celtic harps
Musicians of Amun, Tomb of Nakht, 18th Dyn, Western Thebes. The musician on the right is playing an old Egyptian harp.
Lady with Harp: Eliza Ridgely, this painting shows an early kind of Pedal Harp. (Thomas Sully, 1818)

The harp is a musical instrument. It is the second biggest string instrument in an orchestra. It dates back to 4000 BC when the Egyptians used them in holy places. Christian artists often draw angels playing harps in Heaven.

Parts of harps[change | edit source]

Harp is a string instrument. Each string is tight, so it makes the right sound or note for that string. The strings are tied to the frame.

The frame is usually a wood triangle. It must be strong, so that the many tight strings do not break it.

The side of the triangle that leans on the player's body, is the sound-box. Empty boxes can make sounds louder.

The top side of the triangle has a lot of pegs in it. There is one peg for each string on the harp. The top of each string is tied to one peg, and twisted around the peg. The player turns the peg to make the string more tight or less tight. This is how the player makes each string make the right note. The bottom of each string is tied to the sound-box.

The last side of the triangle is called the pillar. The oldest harps from Egypt did not have pillars. If the strings were too tight, they would break the harp. Adding a pillar to a harp frame makes the frame very strong, so that the strings will not break it.

Playing a harp[change | edit source]

Harp players pluck the strings with their fingers. This makes the strings move so that the strings make sounds. Each string sound is a different musical note. Harp players play songs by plucking the strings in the right order and at the right time. More than one string can be plucked at the same time. When the harp player wants a note to stop, they touch that string softly, so that it stops moving.

Kinds of harps[change | edit source]

There are many different kinds of harps. The two main kinds are folk harps and pedal harps.

Folk harps are the older kind of harp. Each string makes one note. They are usually tuned so that playing each string in order sounds like playing all the white notes on a piano in order. This is called a diatonic scale. In some places, they are tuned so that playing each string in order sounds like playing all the black notes on a piano in order. This is called a pentatonic scale.

Folk harps can be found in many different sizes. The smallest ones can be less than half a meter tall. The biggest ones can be almost 1.5 meters tall, and have a foot so they can stand on the ground by themselves. They can be too big to be lifted by one person.

The number of strings varies on folk harps from less than 20 to more than 40.

Pedal harps were invented during the 1800's CE, by a man in France. This is the kind of harp that is used in a Symphony Orchestra. Pedal harps are about two meters tall and have about 50 strings. The lowest and highest notes on a pedal harp are the same as the lowest and highest notes on a piano. They are very heavy, and need more than one person to move them. The frame is usually made out of metal.

The pedal harp is tuned like the white keys on a piano (a diatonic scale). There are seven pedals to let the harp player play songs in different musical keys. Each pedal has three places. For the A pedal, place-1 makes all the A strings on the harp sound like A-flat. Place-2 makes all the A strings sound like a normal A (A-natural). Place-3 makes all the A strings sound like A-sharp.

Cross-strung harps are chromatic and consist of two rows of strings. They cross near to the middle of the string without touching. The strings are in the order of the piano keys (7 plus 5) or in the order of the 6-plus-6 system.

Things that are not harps[change | edit source]

Some instruments have the word harp in their name, but they are not really harps. The harp is such an old musical instrument, that people sometimes say harp when they mean any kind of instrument.

  • A blues harp is a harmonica (used to play jazz or blues music).
  • A Jew's harp is not a harp, and it is not Jewish.
  • An Aeolian harp is just a box with tuned strings on it. Nobody plucks the strings to make music. The Aeolian harp is placed outdoors where the wind blows. The wind makes the strings move so that they make notes.