What is a Harp?
by Joyce Rice and Deb Seymour
What is a harp? Is it the instrument played by angels floating on clouds? Or is it that tall, golden, half-hidden thing in the symphony orchestra? Maybe it's that squat and broad instrument in an Irish band or the stringed instrument accompanying an African storyteller.
The harp, in fact, is all those things. It can accompany a voice, a silver flute, or be backed by jazz bass and drums. It can have a body carved from a single chunk of wood, or one precisely constructed from 2000 hand-crafted or machine-tooled pieces. It can be played with only the hands or with both hands and feet, as in the case of a pedal harp. It can be played solo or as part of an ensemble. But no matter where, or what kind, or how it's played, the harp remains one of the most beautiful and fascinating instruments in the world.
In simplest terms, the harp is any plucked string instrument, usually triangular in shape, in which the plane of the strings is perpendicular to the soundboard. Zithers, auto harps, guitars and violins all have their strings running parallel to the sound board (or sound hole), which is their major difference from harps.
Although harps come in a huge variety of shapes, sizes, and weights, they all consist of three main parts: the sound board (or box), the neck, and the strings. The modern Western harp is triangular in shape. Most harps are between two feet (60 cm) to six feet (1m.80) tall and have 22 to 47 strings. Smaller harps may sit on your lap, but larger ones usually rest on the floor. Their strings may be of gut, wire, or nylon, in one, two, three, or crossed ranks.
Harps are found, in one form or another, throughout the world, in more sizes and shapes than almost any other instrument. The harp is one of the oldest instruments, known to have flourished in ancient Egypt, and one of the newest, as with the electric harp. The harp also occupies a colorful place in history. It has been celebrated by some nations and destroyed by government decree in others.
We invite you to learn much more about the harp through this Harp Spectrum website.
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