Glossary N-Z

by Patrica Jaeger, Joyce Rice and Harper Tasche



Click here for glossary A-M


neck: The harmonic curve of the harp, connecting the column to the soundbox. [back to article]

notation: The written representation of music using staves and other markings to represent pitch, rhythm, and expression. Modern music uses stemmed oval noteheads on five horizontal lines (enclosing four spaces) identified by a clef; historically, one to six lines were used, noteheads were square, triangular, or diamond-shaped, and rhythm and expression were suggested using a variety of markings. [back to article]

nylon strung: A harp with strings made predominantly of monofilament nylon, a chemical substance patented by Dupont. Many folk or lever harps are nylon strung in their middle and upper registers, with nylon-wrapped wire in the low registers; many pedal harpists use nylon solely in their uppermost registers. [back to article]

[Back to top of page]

octave: An interval of a tone and the tone eight notes (six whole tones) above it with the same name. [back to article]

oral tradition: Passing on of music that is not written down, but is learned through listening and playing. [back to article]

organology: In music, the study of engineering and scientific aspects of instruments, and their historical and cultural use. [back to article]

[Back to top of page]

Paraguayan harp: Generally, any South American-style harp characterized by a large soundbox with a rounded base, very light weight, closely-spaced light tension strings (usually nylon), a relatively flat harmonic curve, and with the strings running up through the center of the neck, which are tuned with gear-style tuners (like a guitar). Almost all harps of this style are played with the fingernails, in very rhythmically intricate music. This is the national instrument of Paraguay, and is commonly found throughout South America, Central America, and in parts of Mexico. [back to article]

pedagogy: (from the Greek paidos (child) and agein (to lead). The art and science of teaching. For example, in a music conservatory, the Pedagogy of Theory course teaches a student how to instruct future students he may have, in the theory of music. [back to article]

pedal felt: Narrow strip of special felt, of a density used also in pianos and on billiard tables, that is wrapped around each pedal at the point where it encounters the wood of the pedal slot, helping to lessen any contact sound. [back to article]

pedal harp: A harp of any size or style which uses pedals to obtain semitones. Most pedal harps are larger and considerably heavier than lever harps. Common sizes of pedal harps are petite, with approximately 40 strings or less and standing around five feet tall; semi-grand, with approximately 45 strings and standing 5-1/2 feet tall; and concert grand, usually with 47 strings and standing six feet tall. [back to article]

pedal markings: On music for pedal harps, printed or hand-written indications of which pedal the foot needs to engage. Such markings are also meant to show precisely when the pedal should be moved, to avoid noise from strings or from the pedal movement itself. back to article]

pedal rods: Carbon steel rods that ascend through the column of pedal harps, connecting the pedal movement at the base, through a number of gears, to the action in the neck. [Note: Camac harps have changed this system. Watch for upcoming article.] [back to article]

pedals: A mechanical means to raise the pitch of each string by one semitone, which is engaged by the player's foot. Pedals are attached to the plinth (or base) of the harp, and are connected to steel rods which run through the column of the harp and through a series of gears. These gears transfer the motion of the pedal to forked discs which slightly bend each string and shorten its sounding length. Most contemporary pedal harps are double action, meaning each pedal can raise the pitch of a string twice (by a semitone each time). Since the double action pedal harp is tuned in all flats, this allows the player to move a single pedal to obtain, say, G flat, G natural, and G sharp from the same string. There are seven pedals on a pedal harp, one for each note of the diatonic C major scale. Moving the G pedal to its "flat" position changes all the G notes on the harp to G flat simultaneously, moving the pedal to the G sharp position changes all G notes on the harp to G sharps, and so forth. [back to article]

pedal slide:changing the pedal after playing a note and while the string is still vibrating. Rapid chromatic changes can thus be made, such as when one plays a string whose pedal is all the way up (in the flat position) and then pushes the pedal down through the natural to the sharp position without touching the string again. [back to article]

pedal spring: There are 7 powerful springs inside the base of pedal harps, with the function of allowing the player to set the harp pedals into the sharp, natural, and flat positions for each of the 7 pedal letters. The springs enable the pedal to move to the stretched or expanded position of the sharp mode (at the bottom of the slot), to the natural mode (middle) and finally to the inert or flat mode (at the top) with a light foot pressure or release by the harp player. [back to article]

pentatonic: Literally "five notes," pentatonic primarily describes a diatonic scale in which two of the notes are not used. For example, playing just the black keys of a piano (F# G# A# C# D#) produces F# pentatonic which omits the fourth and seventh notes in the scale. Pentatonic melodies are common in a great deal of traditional music, notably from Oriental cultures. [back to article]

pillar or column: The vertical part of the triangular shape of a harp. The top of the column attaches to the neck; the base attaches to the soundbox. [back to article]

plectrum: A small tool used to pluck stringed instruments. It may be plastic, wood, horn, metal, etc. [back to article]

Pleyel: A musical instrument manufacturing company in Paris during the 19th and early 20th centuries, known for their fine pianos (Chopin used a Pleyel piano, for example) and also for re-designing the cross-strung harp based on the pedal harp, for use in highly chromatic solo and orchestral music of the Romantic period. Most of the Pleyel cross-strung harps were large and had a reinforced metal frame. (See cross-strung harp.) [back to article]

plinth: The base of the harp, which in pedal harps houses the pedal mechanism and is removable.The term is common in sculpture, where a statue requires a plinth on which to stand. In the U.S. , the term "base" is usually used in connection with harps, but in the UK, "plinth" is often used. [back to article]

polyrhythmic: Simultaneous use, in music, of more than one rhythm or meter. [back to article]

psaltery: A class of ancient and medieval stringed instruments, still in use today, having a flat soundboard over which are stretched a number of strings. Zithers are also in this class. [back to article]

[Back to top of page]

rebuilding: Can include any of the following: new neck, rebuilt baseframe (should include resetting the column block), action re-riveted, soundboard replaced. (Karen Rokos). [back to article]

regulation: A harp technician performs a regulation to be sure that all the mechanisms are correctly aligned for correct pitch control when the pedals or levers are moved. He or she also works to eliminate buzzes and to maintain the overall health of the harp. It includes replacing pedal felts on a pedal harp. A pedal harp has over 70 feet of moving parts that change the pitch of the strings. (Peter Wiley). [back to article]

Renaissance music: Music of the period from 1430-1650, preceded by the Middle Ages or Medieval, and followed by the Baroque. [back to article]

root (of a chord): The lowest note in a chord built of thirds. In the chord G-B-D, for instance, G is the root. If the notes are inverted, such as B-D-G-, or D-G-B-, G is still called the root. [back to article] root position: A chord is said to be in root position when its root is at the bottom and the notes are a third apart, as in G-B-D. [back to article]

rubato: Flexibility of tempo which includes slight quickening or slowing. [back to article]

[Back to top of page]

sacred: Connected with worship. [back to article]

scordatura: A term which means tuning any stringed instrument differently from its normal tuning, for example, tuning a Bb in one octave and a B natural in another. [back to article]

Scottish harp: Most traditionally, a medium-sized harp (30-34 strings) which rests on the knee or the floor. It has gut strings tuned diatonically, which are played with the finger pads. In modern times it often has blades or levers to obtain semitones. [back to article]

secular: Not associated with worship.

semitone: An octave in Western music is composed of 12 semitones, or every black and white key on a keyboard. On harps, which are strung diatonically, there are sometimes whole tones between each string and sometimes semitones (as in the white keys of the piano). [back to article]

sequence: The repetition of a motif or phrase at different pitches (see imitation). [back to article]

sharp: 1) Higher than the desired pitch, as when tuning. 2) Raising a pitch by one semitone, indicated by the symbol "#" either in the key signature or immediately preceding the note to be raised (as an accidental). [back to article]

shawm: The early European ancestor of the oboe, used until the 17th century. It was a double reed instrument, made of a single piece of wood, curving in a bell. There were several sizes from sopranino to bass. [back to article]

single action: Pedal harps that allow one alteration of a semitone per string, with pedals. This invention is credited to a Bavarian instrument maker, Hochbrucker, in the early 1700s. It allowed the player to raise any desired pitch by one semitone throughout the range of the harp (for example, all notes "F" could be made "F#" at once), without needing the hands to do so. Dilling model harps are also single action, but instead of pedals, these have one lever per note located on the top of the neck, which are moved by either of the player's hands." [back to article]

single strung: Harps with one course or row of strings. [back to article]

solfege: (from the French) Vocal exercises that are sung either to a vowel, or to the syllables of solmisation (do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, ti). The term has also come to mean instruction in basic music understanding, such as intervals, clefs, signatures, etc. When a student is sight-reading music, using syllables to represent music tones can help him or her remember sounds as the syllables recur, and also demonstrate intervals. As the human voice sings the various tones, a process begins to link that sound with the note symbol, a valuable step in transferring the printed page into audible sound. The use of syllables for designating tones is very old, from ancient China, India and Greece; the modern system of solmisation originated with an Italian monk, Guido d'Arezzo (c. 990-1050 AD). (For a deeper explanation see a reference book such as the Harvard Dictionary of Music.) [back to article]

soundbox or sound chamber: The hollow part of the harp attached to the column base at its lowest point, and to the neck of the harp at its highest point. [back to article]


sound holes: Modern European and American harps have sound holes, necessary to all hollow wooden instruments, located at the back of the soundbox, toward the player. In some other countries, however, the sound holes may be located low or high on the soundboard itself. [back to article]

soundboard: In harps, the flat surface of the soundbox, through which the strings pass, to be knotted underneath. A good tone wood must be chosen, and various woods such as willow, birch, pine and spruce have been used, but the finest is generally thought to be Sitka spruce. This tree grew very slowly in northwest U.S. forests, and therefore has rings very close together. Expert luthiers believe this gives the best tone to musical instruments. Where tone is not as important as ruggedness and resistance to radical climatic changes, such as in the modern electric harp, poplar is the choice for soundboards. [back to article]

staved back: When the soundbox of a harp is styled with a number of flat surfaces towards the player, as opposed to a rounded back, it is called a staved back. [back to article]

string gauge: A device not unlike a wire gauge that a player can use to determine the size or thickness of a harp string. Less precise than a micrometer, it is nonetheless very useful to the player and quite inexpensive. [back to article]

string rib: A strip of wood going down the length of the harp soundboard, into which are drilled holes for the strings to emerge from their knots underneath. From there they are stretched upward to the neck of the harp. [back to article]

[Back to top of page]

tablature: The general name for a system of music notation for various instruments. The tones are indicated by letters, figures, or other symbols rather than notes on a staff. [back to article]

temperament: Fixed-pitch instruments like harps and pianos, so called because they have separate strings for each note, cannot be perfectly in tune in every key simultaneously because of the physical nature of musical vibration. Through the centuries, numerous philosophers and music theorists have spent much of their lives attempting to find ways to make fixed-pitch instruments sound as in tune as possible, and have devised various different precise sets of intervals, called temperaments, to assist with tuning. Every temperament has its own sound, or feeling; a careful listener can easily hear, but not necessarily recognize, differences between temperaments if the same chord is played first in one and then in another. Many historical harps appropriately use these historical tuning systems, such as the Pythagorean with pure 5ths, or mean-tone tuning with pure major 3rds, and most traditional music uses tuning systems which can sound unusual to Western ears. In modern Western music, the overwhelming majority of fixed-pitch instruments use "equal temperament" at "concert pitch" (see separate entries). As the reader might surmise, tuning and temperaments are rather technical and complex subjects, and we encourage anyone interested to see W. Apel's "The Harvard Dictionary of Music" or other music reference books. [back to article]

tetrachord: Series of notes within a perfect fourth. [back to article]

timbre: Quality of sound, such as woody, shrill, mellow, etc. Same as tone color.  [back to article]

tonic: The first note, or keynote, of a scale, after which a key is named.
[back to article]

transpose: To play or write music at a different pitch or key from the original one. [back to article]

treble register: The part of the harp above middle C, which is usually written in the treble, or G, clef and played by the right hand of the harp player. [back to article]

triad: A chord of three notes: a root, a third above it, and a fifth above the root. In a major triad the third is four semitones, or a major third, above the root (F-A). In a minor triad, (F-Ab), the third is three semitones above. [back to article]

triple-strung harp: A harp with three courses of (usually gut) strings, in which the outer two rows are tuned identically in a diatonic scale and the inner row is tuned to provide all the additional semitones of the chromatic scale. The triple-strung harp usually has no blades or levers. Historically the triple-strung harp was found most commonly in Italy. In modern times the triple-strung harp is the national instrument of Wales. [back to article]

troubadour: Historically, a wandering player or singer. Troubadour lever harps, first built in 1961 by Lyon & Healy, were among the forefront of the folk/lever harp's recent renaissance. [back to article]

tuning key: The individual metal key for each harp, used to turn the tuning pin so that the string will have the correct pitch. Harp players tune their own harps, and must do so frequently. In early Ireland it was a capital crime to steal a harper's tuning key. [back to article]

tuning pin: The tapered metal pin going through a hole drilled in the neck of the harp. One protruding end is squared off to receive the tuning key when needed. The other end, emerging on the string side, receives the string through a small hole, and the string is then wound around the pin until it is at the correct tension and pitch. From the tuning pin, the string descends to the bridge pin. [back to article]

Tyrolean harps: Single-action pedal harps used in the Tyrolean area of Austria and also Bavaria. Their soundboxes have a curved "banana" shape, and the single action enables semitone changes of the same nature as lever harps. The folk music of these countries is full of polkas, marches, waltzes and other dances. The single-action pedal harp is well suited to play this kind of music, solo or in ensembles. [back to article]

[Back to top of page]

vihuela: Spanish name for an early stringed instrument, most often the lute or a six-string guitar [back to article]

[Back to top of page]

Welsh harp: a large floor harp (4-1/2 octaves or more) with three courses (rows) of usually gut strings, which is the national instrument of Wales. (See "triple strung harp.") [back to article]

Whistling sounds:sliding as rapidly as possible up or down on the wire strings with the flat of the left hand, allowing no vibration. (C. Salzedo) [back to article]

wire strung: A harp with strings made of any of a number of types of metal wire, including brass, phosphor bronze, or steel, for its entire range. Wire-strung harpers often play with their nails. Because of the long lasting tone of these strings, some harpers employ special damping techniques. Many other harps have wrapped wire strings for their lowest notes, and gut or nylon strings for their upper notes. (see Irish harp, gut strung, nylon strung.) [back to article]




End of Glossary N-Z

Click here for Glossary A-M

Scroll to reach upper or lower text navigation bars.


Please contact Patrica Jaeger
with any glossary questions or concerns.



Click here to view glossary biblography

glossary graphic
glossary graphic
glossary graphic
glossary graphic
glossary graphic
glossary graphic
glossary graphic
glossary graphic
glossary graphic
glossary graphic
glossary graphic
glossary graphic


Home | What is a harp?
Historical Harp | Folk and World Harp | Pedal Harp |
Harp Building | Harp Works | Non-Harps |
Camps & Concerts | Links | Glossary |
Donate! | Get Involved! | Contact Us | About Harp Spectrum

Copyright 2002 - 2014, Harp Spectrum All Rights Reserved