Quick guide to popular Harps

The Harp

The Harp is a very popular instrument, not just in classical music, but in folk music as well. Some countries and cities, like Ireland, use a harp for their National Anthem. It is also their national symbol. We often see angels playing the harp. And in Egypt, we see the harp in sacred places of worship. In classical music, we see the harp playing solo roles often although they are also effective in accompanying symphonies. We also see harp in movies, particularly in fairy tales and anime, and we read a lot about it in books. It is played in many styles and it has many forms.

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Explanation of the Harp

The harp is basically a set of strings stretched over a frame and to play it, the harpist plucks or strums the strings. Each string represents one note. They vary in size from ornate orchestral models to models with pedals, and to small varieties.

The strings of the harp are drawn tight and tied securely to a wooden frame. The tightness is for the purpose of obtaining the right sound or note. Thus to be tight, the strings need to be strong. The same goes with the wooden frame. The frame is usually a wood triangle. It needs to be strong as too many tight harp strings can break it.

The side of the triangle that rests on the body of the harpist is called the sound-box. Empty boxes can make the sound louder. The top of the triangle has a lot of pegs in it. The top of the triangle has many pegs in it, each to wind or twist a string to tighten or  to loosen it, the bottom of the strings are attached to the sound box. The pillar strengthens the frame of the harp and without the pillars. The strings can break the frame of the harp.


How to Play the Harp

The harpist plucks the strings with his fingers in order to play a song. The strings can be played one string at a time or more at the same time. By touching a vibrating string, the player is able stop the sound.

There are many different kinds of harps. Basically, as stated above, there are two kinds: the folk harp and the pedal harp. The folk harps first appeared as early as 4000 BC. The harp is tuned to a diatonic scale so a set of strings plays all the white notes in a piano; or to a pentatonic scale so a set of strings plays the black notes.

Harps were commonly used in ancient Mediterranean countries like Egypt and Mesopotamia. They also appeared in Rome and Greece. There were also horizontal harps that were played by putting the instrument on the lap of the player, many are depicted in Indian art, with the strings towards him and were plucked using a plectrum. Nowadays horizontal harps are few and can be found only in isolated areas of Burma, Africa and other Middle East countries. From Middle East countries, the harp found its way to medieval Europe particularly in Celtic and Gothic societies appearing with a slender neck and a shallow sound box.

Harps can be really big, even taller than some humans and they can stand on the ground by themselves. Sometimes, to move a harp, two or more persons need to carry it. Thus the harp can be one of the biggest if not the biggest instrument in Classical symphony orchestra.

Pedal harps were invented only lately for use in symphony orchestras. These are very tall – about 2 meters in length and have about 50 strings. The lowest and highest notes are also the lowest and highest notes in a piano. The frame is made of metal usually and is tuned to a diatonic scale via pegs and pedals. There are 7 pedals that allow playing at different keys.


How Much a Harp Costs

A harp is purchased not just for music but as a house décor. Thus they do not come cheap. Folk harps may cost around $5,000 while Pedal harps may cost up to 50,000. Some harps can be bought for hundreds of thousands of dollars and they make incredibly beautiful house decor. Collectors buy antique harps for millions of dollars.

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