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The harp is one of the oldest musical instruments, found in various forms all over the world. It is a chordophone (string instrument).

(Public domain image from Websters Dictionary 1911 Full size image (http://www.wikipedia.com/images/uploads/harp.png))

It may have been invented when people found that the sound of a plucked bow string sounded nice, and added extra strings to the bow. The oldest documented reference to the harp is as long ago as 3000 BCE, in Mesopotamia and Egypt. The harp is mentioned in the Bible, ancient epics, even in Egyptian wall paintings. Today, there are two main types of modern harps: folk and concert. Different kinds of folk harps are found all over the world.

The European harp first appeared in Ireland and is the national symbol, appearing on all its coins (http://www.irishcoinage.com/JPEGS/IE_1C.JPG) from the Middle Ages to the new Euro coins, 2002, and on all official Government of Ireland seals and stationery.

Harps are triangular and have nylon, gut, wire, and/or copper wound nylon strings. Harpists can tell which notes they are playing because all F strings are black and all C strings are red or orange. The instrument rests between the knees of the harpist and along their right shoulder. The first four fingers on each hand are used to pluck the strings: the pinky fingers are too short and cannot reach the correct position without distorting the position of the other fingers. Plucking with various degrees of forcefulness creates dynamics. Depending on finger position, different sounds can be produced: a "fleshy" pluck (near the middle of the first finger joint) will make a warm tone, and a pluck near the end of the finger will make a loud, bright sound.

There are two main methods of harp technique: the French (or Grandjany[?]) method and the Salzedo method. Neither method has a definite majority among harpists, but the issue of which is better is a source of friction and debate. The distinguishing features of the Salzedo method are the encouragement of expressive gestures, elbows remain parallel to the ground, wrists are comparatively stiff, and neither arm ever touches the soundboard. The French method advocates lowered elbows, fluid wrists, and the right arm resting lightly on the soundboard. In both methods, the shoulders, neck, and back are relaxed. Some harpists combine the two methods into their own version that works best for them.

The pedal harp has six and a half octaves (47 strings), weighs about 80 pounds, and is approximately 6 feet high and 4 feet wide at the widest. The notes range from three octaves below middle C to three and a half octaves above (landing on G). The pressure of the strings on the sound board is roughly equal to a ton. The lowest strings are made of copper wound nylon, the middle strings of gut, and the highest of nylon. The pedal harp uses pedals to change the pitches of the strings. There are seven pedals, one for each note. When a pedal is raised, all the strings of that note are lengthened a half-step, resulting in a flat. When it is lowered, the strings are shortened to make a sharp. This mechanism is called the double-action pedal system, invented by Sébastien Erard in 1810.

A triple harp features two outer rows of diatonic strings (natural notes), and a center row of chromatic strings (sharps). To play a sharp, the harpist reaches in between the strings in either outer row and plucks the center row string. This harp originated in Italy in the sixteenth century as a low headed instrument, and towards the end of 1600s it arrived in Wales where it developed a high head and larger size. It established itself as part of Welsh tradition and became known as the Welsh Harp. The traditional design has all of the strings strung from the left side of the neck, but modern neck designs have the two outer rows of strings strung from opposite sides of the neck to greatly reduce the tendency for the neck to roll over to the left.

The folk harp ranges in size from two octaves to about six octaves, and uses levers to change the pitches. The most common form is 33 strings: two octaves below middle C and two and a half above (landing on G). The strings are made of nylon or gut, except for a few special kinds strung with wire and played with the fingernails. At the top of each string is a lever; when it is switched down, it shortens the string so its pitch is raised a half-step, resulting in a sharp if the string was in natural.

In South America, there are Mexican, Peruvian, Venezuelan, and Paraguayan harps. They are similar to Spanish harps: wide on the bottom and narrow at the top, with perfect balance when being played but unable to stand independently for lack of a base. The Paraguayan harp is the most popular, and is Paraguay's national instrument. It has about 36 strings with narrower spacing and lighter tension than other harps, and so has a slightly (four to five notes) lower pitch. This harp is also played mostly with the fingernails.

Almost every other culture has a form of the harp. In Asia, the koto is a kind of lyre, a close relative of the harp. Africa has the kora. Ireland also has triple-strung harps, with three parallel rows of strings. In these harps, the left hand plays the left row of strings, the right hand the right row, and the middle row is simply there to reverberate. Spain has the chromatic harp, with two rows of strings crossed (but not touching) near the bottom of each pair of strings. Ancient Rome and Greece played lyres, similar to harps but not triangular. The Aeolian harp is played by wind blowing through the strings.

The harp is used sparingly in most classical music, usually for special effects such as the glissando, arpeggios, and bisbigliando. Italian and German opera uses harp for romantic arias and dances, an example of which is Musetta's Waltz from La Boheme. French composers such as Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel composed harp concertos and chamber music widely played today. Henriette Renie[?] and Marcel Grandjany[?] have composed many lesser-known solo pieces and chamber music. Modern composers the harp frequently because the pedals on a concert harp allow many sorts of non-diatonic scales and strange accidentals to be played (although many modern pieces call for extremely impractical pedal manipulations).

Lyon and Healy has developed an electric harp. It is a concert harp, but with pickups at the bottom of each string and an amplifier. The electric harp is significantly heavier than an acoustic harp, but looks the same.

Harps are a part of the mythologies of many cultures. In Irish mythology, a magical harp is possessed by The Dagda. In the Bible King David is a harpist, and angels sometimes play harps.

External links

Harp is a slang term for diatonic harmonica.

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