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The Harp

Updated on December 26, 2010

The harp is a stringed musical instrument. It has a large triangular wooden frame. The modern harp has 46 or 47 strings of graduated lengths stretched be­tween the instrument's two sides, called the sound box and the neck. The third side, known as the pillar, con­tains rods that are operated by seven pedals at the base of the harp. The rods activate a mechanism in the neck that controls changes in pitch. Musical tones are produced by plucking the strings with the fingers. Harps of this kind are known as double pedal or dou­ble-action harps. They are generally tuned to the key of C flat major. Although the strings would follow the diatonic scale if played alone, use of the pedals makes it possible to play a chromatic scale, or all the notes in a given octave.

One of the oldest instruments in the world, the harp appears in Egyptian and Sumerian art as early as 3000 B.C. A form of the harp was also played by the ancient Greeks and Romans. During the Middle Ages a harp similar in form to the modern type was developed in northern Europe. By the 10th century the instrument had become very popular throughout the British Isles, notably in Ireland. The first pedal harp was invented by Celestin Hochbrucker in 1720. His harp was super­seded by the double-action harp, which was invented by Sebastien Erard in about 1810. After the intro­duction of Erard's harp the instrument began to be widely used in the orchestra. It figured prominently in the works of such composers as Berlioz, Liszt, Tchaikovsky, Debussy, and Ravel.

The harp is distinguished by its silvery tone. It is especially suited to the playing of the glissando, a rapid scale performed by sliding the hand quickly over the strings. Composers have frequently used the instrument to suggest celestial music. The harp is the national emblem of Ireland.


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    • profile image


      7 years ago

      That's so cool! I play the harp myself. I am so glad to find others who play the harp, or at least appreciate it as I do.

    • Several Composers profile imageAUTHOR

      Several Composers 

      7 years ago

      So beautiful, so moving, so soothing.

    • Paradise7 profile image


      7 years ago from Upstate New York

      Lovely hub, thank you! I had an old friend who was a harpist. I can still hear that music in my head, if I listen hard enough. It IS celestial.

    • tnderhrt23 profile image


      7 years ago

      The harp is an instrument that has always facinated me...its music captivates my soul. I enjoyed reading this hub, Thanks!


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