The Instrument

Home » The instrument

The harp, this very ancient instrument that can already be found in ancient Egypt. The shape of the harp has been distinctive since its inception: a triangular frame equipped with strings of varying lengths, arranged from the longest – the lowest – to the shortest – the highest. The harp was still found in the Middle Ages, but then it disappeared until around 1720 when an instrument maker invented the pedal system, which enabled it to achieve chromaticism (playing all the notes, like the white and black keys on a piano).

The pedal system

There are 7 pedals, each corresponding to a note of the scale. The first three pedals are operated by the left foot, and the other four by the right foot. By pressing the pedal corresponding to the note C, for example, all the C notes on the instrument are altered. Each string can play 3 different pitches.

General description

Most of the harp strings are made of gut, but the bass strings are made of metal and the highest strings are made of nylon. There are now BioCarbon strings available! The number of strings has varied greatly; ancient instruments had only 13.

How the instrument works

One end of the strings is fixed to the soundboard, a flat part made of spruce wood that forms the soundbox. This soundbox is like a large box: it is hollow, which allows the sound to be amplified (made louder).

The other end of each string is wound around a tuning peg, a type of screw that is tightened or loosened to tune the instrument. The set of tuning pegs is arranged on the upper part of the harp called the console, or swan neck due to its curved shape. This part also contains levers or the fork mechanism that changes the length of the string, and consequently its pitch.

The column is hollow and houses the rods connected to the pedals. This very sturdy element supports the entire structure and withstands the tension of the strings. The entry of the diatonic harp (pedal harp) into the symphony orchestra came late. It was thanks to Berlioz in his Symphonie fantastique (The Ball) in 1830. Debussy and Ravel were particularly fond of it, but the instrument is also highlighted by Rimsky-Korsakov, Bartók, and Britten, for example.