The Harmonica Gems Harp Blog | A Few Insights Into the Indispensable Harp
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06 Aug A Few Insights Into the Indispensable Harp

The harp is a stringed instrument found in variant forms all over the globe; its basic structure consists of a plane of strings situations perpendicular to the soundboard. Every contemporary harp is constructed with a neck resonator, but frame harps also include a forepillar. Those that do not have one are referred to as, “open harps.”

Harps have been known to vary dramatically in size: there are those dainty enough to be placed in the harpist’s lap and some which weigh hundreds of pounds, requiring the caress of a harpist with very long arms.

Closely related musical instruments include the wind harp, the autoharp, and the lyre, but they all deviate from the harp’s standard–that the strings must be perpendicular to the soundboard. Therefore, though some of them include, “harp,” in the name, they are in actuality more closely related to the family which includes the piano and harpsichord.

Variations of the harp exist indigenously on nearly every continent (with the exceptions of Australia and Antarctica), but the harp as we know it fell out of favor for some time with Western composers when it was popularized by Queen Marie Antoinette as feminine instrument. Fortunately, in more current times, the harp has been re-introduced into symphony orchestras and chamber ensembles, and it is typically played as a solo position.

The contemporary concert harp has been subject to several technical advances. The typical concert harp now features a set of pedals which are connected to either a rod or a cable within the primary column. This serves to allow the harpist to manipulate the strings’ pitches with greater ease and also gives modern harps a greater range.

There are several techniques to playing the harp which are typically dictated by the use of the hands during performance. Two of the more popular techniques are called the Salzedo method and the French method. The former involves more dramatic gestures with the hands during performance, keeping elbows constantly parallel to the floor, while the latter is less flamboyant–there are no gestures, elbows remain at an angle, and wrists may sometimes rest on the soundboard.

In general, all fingers are used in playing the harp except the smallest, as it is mostly too weak to actually strum one of the strings, but a few methods exist which call for the use of only three fingers and the thumbs emphasize each differently.

The harp is often associated with ballads, folk music, operas, and ballet, but it became a trademark of some 1970’s pop music. Feminine or not, it has become indispensible for all kinds of music to create dazzling effects and soothing sounds.

If you’re looking to obtain a harp of your own, be sure to visit Sylvia Woods Harp Center ( to find a great selection of the most elegant instruments available. Art Gib is a freelance writer.