Thinking of buying a harp? A beginner's guide!

Thinking of buying a harp? A beginner's guide!

Buying a harp can be a daunting prospect. Whether you're buying for yourself, or your child, there are so many things to think about. Here we look at some questions to help get you started..! 

What type of harp? 

There are two main types of harp – lever harps and pedal harps. Lever harps are diatonic and have levers on the strings which can raise the string by a semitone. Pedal harps are fully chromatic and have 7 pedals, one for each note, which can raise each string by two semi-tones.  

It's usual to start learning on the lever harp and later progress (if you want!) to the pedal harp. Many people stick with the lever harp due to size and cost! That's not to say you can't start on a pedal harp. Lever harps are suited to folk music and some classical music. More advanced classical harp music requires a pedal harp.  

Lever harps come in a variety of sizes with two options – lap harps and floor harps. Smaller harps tend to be lap harps, with are very transportable and can be played on the lap. Larger lever harps are floor harps, as they sit on the floor and you lean the harp against your shoulder. It is always possible to place a lap harp on a stall or a table, making it a floor harp. 

There are also basic and specialist types of harp that don't have pedals or levers. Unless you are playing very specific repertoire like medieval music, it's always advisable to get a lever harp.  

Number of strings? 

There are lots of harps available with various number of strings. Usually lever harps have 22 to 36 strings, though you can get lever harps with 19 to 40 strings. A pedal harp generally has 47 strings, though different number of strings are available with these as well. 

A smaller harp isn't necessarily for beginners. In fact, smaller harps can be harder to learn on! The number of strings determines the range of notes available to you. 22 strings = a 3 octave range whereas 38 strings = over a 5 octave range. A good number of strings for lever harps is generally agreed on as 34. This is the minimum no. of strings needed for music exams, though the first couple of grades may be done on 27.  

That's not to say that fewer string harps don't have their advantages. Given the price of harps, it may be that you want something smaller and cheaper to start on, to see whether it's the instrument for you!  

Why are you learning the harp? What music do you want to play? Will you be travelling lots with the harp? These are great questions that will help decide on the best number of strings for your harp. If you are learning the harp to take graded exams, and to move onto a pedal harp, go for 34+ strings. If you want to learn and play the harp as part of music therapy, go for something smaller like 22 strings. In terms of travelling about with your harp, as a general rule fewer strings mean a lighter harp. It isn't always true as some harps are specifically light-weight, but is always true of bulkiness! 

Budget? 

Harps are expensive – unfortunately there's no escaping that! But there are some cheaper, more affordable harps as well as lots of finance options that help to make more expensive harps affordable.  

As a general rule, price does reflect quality. Cheaper harps tend to have a smaller, less rounded sound that more expensive harps. The levers can be harder to use compared with more expensive harps. However, they can be great starter instruments to whether the harp is for you. Then you can always upgrade when you're sure! 

To give you an idea of price, here are some starting prices of some of the harps we stock:

 No of strings EMS harps Camac Harps
22 £350 -
27 £875 -
29 £495 -
34 £1300 £1995
38 £875 £2295
47 - £11995

Which strings? 

There are three types of strings: nylon, gut and carbon-fibre. Nylon is the most common for lever harps. Nylon strings produce a bright sound and are more durable and less expensive than gut strings. Gut strings produce a warm sound and are the most commonly used strings on pedal harps. They can be affected more by changes of temperature and humidity, so are much more likely to break. Carbon-fibre strings produce the brightest sound of all the strings and are the most durable. However, they are more expensive!   

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