Harp Instruments

Harps come in several varieties, from folk harps that fit in your lap to massive orchestral harps capable of playing complex music. Each harp has its own strengths and weaknesses; the harpist must know what harp to choose for each situation. An orchestral harp, while more versatile, is overkill if you are playing simple folk melodies.


Celtic harps are a generic term to describe all harps that use levers instead of pedals to change pitch. These harps typically are quite mobile and have significantly fewer strings than the orchestral harps. Celtic harps may only play diatonically and do not have an option for playing chromatically in the middle of a phrase. The pitch can change with a lever, but the lever will change every pitch on the instrument simultaneously. Diatonic music is music that uses only the intervals between the white keys of the piano: A to G, without any sharps or flats. The two types of Celtic harps are folk and Irish harps.


The folk harp is a lever harp that doesn’t use wire strings; instead, the strings are made of nylon or gut. It is a classification of a Celtic harp, but it shouldn’t be confused with the Irish harp since the Irish harp has wire strings. These harps are the most common type of Celtic harps and are generally less expensive than Irish harps. These harps come in a variety of styles, from the amateur seven-string harp, to larger harps that have several more strings.


Irish harps are Ireland's national instrument. The harp strings are made of wire and used to play traditional Irish folk music. These lever harps can be found in bars and taverns across Ireland as musicians gather to play folk music for the customers. The Irish harp is a type of Celtic harp. In fact, since many people associate the word Irish with Celtic, many times this harp goes by the name Celtic harp.


The pedal harp is the type of harp used in the orchestra. It consists of seven pedals that the harpist can use to change individual strings up or down a half-step. The orchestral harp consists of several strings tuned diatonically when all of the pedals are in their default position. The harpist can create chromatic music by adjusting the pedals; however, each pedal applies to every octave variation of the note changed. For example, depressing the C pedal to play C sharp will change all of the Cs to C sharps.


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