A harp is a string instrument, which is actually very ancient. That’s why it is almost synonymous with classical music, Celtic history, and cupid’s lyre. Over the years and in the modern era, the harp has evolved from its primitive shape, which might seem lackluster to some, to its current luxurious body, often associated with a bohemian lifestyle. Across the globe, each culture, but primarily the Irish, has its variation of this gorgeous instrument.
If I sparked your curiosity and you are interested in learning more about it, check out these facts about the harp I’ve put together to bring some awareness about its beautiful sound.
The harp is part of the string family. Also, it dates as far as 3600 BC, with origins in Europe, Asia, and even Africa. Some data says it may have even existed before 15,000 BC, although the proof is scarce and no definite evidence has come to light. The harp was mainly used as part of religious ceremonies, since some pieces were discovered in ancient burial grounds, and they were even painted on the walls of many Egyptian pyramids.
The earliest references to the instrument were found in Persia, where it was called a chang. It was an instrument associated with angels, which surprises no one since its sound is mild, kind and has a warm tonality.
Experts usually make harps with a robust triangular frame which is capable of withstanding the enhanced pressure of the specially designed strings. You play it by picking it with both your hands and, of course, each string plays a different note, in a different tonality.
As some of you suspect or might already know, the word ‘harp’ originated from an Old German language, called the Old Norse, and it means ‘to pluck.’ It held an important role in the Nordic cultures, and many references to the instrument can be found through Icelandic mythology especially.
Nowhere is there a more extensive or a more impressive variety of harps than in the old humankind’s cradle, Africa. The harp and its related instruments have a special place in the zoomorphic traditions of nearly one hundred African tribes and cultures.
One of the models can have up to 90 strings per instrument. This means you can play a wide range of songs on a harp. It can be classified, according to experts, into two categories: the frame harp, which is the most popular choice when it comes to contemporary musicians, and the open harp.
A modern harpist, as the person who plays it is called, uses only his or her first four fingers on each hand, to create sound. Artists pluck the strings near the middle, using the pads of their fingers, a process which can sometimes be painful if you play it for too long. Irish harpists, famous all around the world, use their fingernails to pluck the strings as some guitar players do.