Harps are multi-stringed musical instruments that have a long history in western culture. Unfortunately, this delicate instrument frequently has broken strings, requiring replacements. Before buying new strings, players should learn about the number of strings on each harp, their colours, and octaves.
Types of Harps and their Strings
There are several different types of harps, but the most popular are the lap harp, folk harp, and the pedal harp. The lap harp is small enough to balance on the lap, but may be one of the more difficult to play because of the multi-tasking necessary to play and balance at the same time. Lap harps generally have between 15 and 26 strings. The folk harp, also called the lever harp, is mid-size and works well for Irish, Scottish, and Swedish folk music. Folk harps have between 26 and 38 strings. The largest is the pedal harp, which does feature pedals, and almost equals the range of a piano. Pedal harps feature between 40 and 47 strings.
String Notes by Colour and Material
To make it easier for harpists to identify them, strings are different colours to correspond to different musical notes. Not every note has its own colour, but a few are separated by colour to help when playing. Red strings are "C" strings. Black, blue, or purple strings are "F" strings. White strings are used for the "D", "E", "G", "A", "B" notes on a harp. The first and last strings on a harp are usually red "C" strings, and the middle "C" string in the centre of the harp serves as a guide when playing. Strings are sold by octave, and vary in length and thickness accordingly. Strings consist of a range of materials, giving them different notes and octaves. Nylon, gut, and steel wire strings are used for the middle and high octave notes. Wound strings with a steel, fibre, or nylon core and a brass or nylon wrap serve for the bass notes.
Prevent Harp String Breakage
It takes a lot of effort to string a harp, so to prevent breakage try to keep the harp in a room with stable temperature year round. Temperature changes and even changes in air pressure can cause a string to snap. Be careful of over-tensioning the harp by pulling the string too tight. Some strings do tend to break more often than the others, higher note strings and natural gut strings are amongst them. Wire strings last a very long time and usually just need replacing because they get worn out. When a string breaks, try to replace it as soon as possible. Missing strings alter the tension on the harp frame and can cause it to shift.