The harp is a stringed instrument which has its strings
positioned perpendicular to the soundboard. All harps have a neck,
resonator and strings. Harp strings can be made of nylon (sometimes
copper-wound), gut (more commonly used than nylon), or wire.
The pedal harp, or concert harp, is large and technically
modern, designed for classical music and played solo, as part of chamber
ensembles, and in symphony orchestras. It typically has six and a half
octaves (46 or 47 strings), weighs about 80lb (36 kg), is approximately 6
ft (1.8 m) high, has a depth of
4 ft (1.2 m), and is 21.5 in (55 cm) wide
at the bass end of the soundboard. The notes range from three octaves
below middle C (or the D above) to three and a half octaves above, usually
ending on G. The tension of the strings on the sound board is roughly
equal to a ton. The lowest strings are made of copper or steel-wound
nylon, the middle strings of gut, and the highest of nylon.
The red strings in these pictures are all C. The
black strings in these pictures are F.
The pedal harp uses the mechanical action of pedals to change the
pitches of the strings. There are seven pedals, one for each note, that
are arranged in the following: D C B (left) and E F G A (right).
Each pedal is attached to a rod or cable within the column of the harp,
which then connects with a mechanism within the neck.
When a pedal is moved with the foot, small discs at the top of the harp
rotate. The discs are studded with two pegs that pinch the string as they turn,
shortening the vibrating length of the string. The pedal has three
positions. In the top position (see top picture), no pegs are in contact with the string and
all notes are flat.
In the middle pedal position the top wheel pinches the string, resulting in a
In the bottom position another wheel is turned, shortening the string
again to create a sharp.
This mechanism is called the double-action pedal system, invented by
Sébastien Erard in 1810. Earlier pedal harps had a single-action mechanism
that allowed strings to play sharpened notes.
Back to Orchestral Instruments
For high speed connections, here's a file that
plays on Windows Media Player in 320x240 size.
Click on the picture to start the video
This is Sally Pryce,
playing at her house in England.
The piece is Watching the White Wheat,
based on an old Welsh melody.
To find out more about Sally, please visit