Your Guide to the Celtic Harp

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Your Guide to the Celtic Harp

Some musicians are drawn to the Celtic harp after hearing enchanting harp music. The tunes lilting from the instrument are warm, melodic, and magical. The Celtic harp is also known as the lever, folk, and Irish harp, and conjures images of the emerald landscapes of Ireland. Before buying a Celtic harp, budding musicians should learn about its structure, how the instrument has developed over time, and how it differs from a pedal harp.


Structure of the Celtic Harp

The Celtic harp is typically small or medium, and designed for solo performances or small ensembles. Many harpists begin by playing the Celtic harp before moving on to the larger pedal harp. However, the Celtic harp is a beautiful instrument in its own right, and some people prefer it because of its size and sound. The lever harp is available in pitch ranges from two to six octaves, or 19 to 40 strings, with levers to change the pitch by a semitone. The most common Celtic harp has 34 strings to provide two octaves below middle C and two and a half octaves above. The strings of a Celtic harp are commonly made from gut or nylon, but there are also carbon fibre, fluorocarbon, and wrapped metal strings.


Developments of the Celtic Harp

Original folk harps were limited to the key in which they were tuned, and this led to their virtual extinction in the late 1800s. Musicians in the late 1900s resurrected the folk harp and demanded greater flexibility. They added levers, which enabled them to raise the tone of each string. The levers are attached to the harp and change the tone by pushing against the strings to shorten them. However, the Celtic harp still does not have a double action, which would enable musicians to flatten or sharpen a note while playing.


Celtic Harp vs. Pedal Harp

Levers and pedals require fundamentally different hand techniques. Musicians that wish to play a classical repertoire should use a pedal harp. Those that prefer to play traditional Celtic music should use a lever harp with the strings tuned appropriately. The quick tempo of Celtic music can be difficult to play, but it is more achievable with levers than it is with pedals.

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