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What Is a Harp Musician?

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  • Written By: Anna B. Smith
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 07 November 2016
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A harp musician is an individual who plays the musical instrument known as the harp. The harp is a large, stringed musical instrument that is played by plucking individual strings with the fingers. The sound produced by this instrument is light and ethereal, and is beautiful in a solo performance or as accompaniment to a full orchestra.

The harp consists of multiple strings stretched across a triangular body that shorten in length as they approach the player, changing the pitch of the note played. The lower portion of the instrument is slightly curved and contains a hollow soundboard inside which the individual strings are tied. They connect to tuning levers fastened to the upper portion of the design. The instrument can vary in size from small models which can sit on a table top, to larger models that rest on the floor and exceed six feet (1.8 meters) in height.

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Each individual string on the harp plays a separate note, and is often color coordinated according to that note to aid the harp musician while performing. For example, every C note may be strung in red, while every F note may be blue or black. These notes may be changed by a half step in pitch using pedals or levers according to the design of the harp. Pedals may be pressed with the feet during a performance to sharp or flat individual strings on pedal harps. Lever harps are designed so that each string is attached to a metal lever along the top portion of the harp which, when flipped, shortens the string length and alters its pitch by one half step.

The instrument is typically leaned back against the shoulder of the harp musician during a performance. This construct allows the musician to reach each individual string with both hands while maintaining a full range of mobility. The strings are plucked by the fingers without the use of any additional instrumentation, such as a pick or bow, and may be played from either side. They are generally made from cat gut or steel wire, determined by their location on the sound board and the depth of the pitch. Many musicians develop thick calluses along the tips of their fingers after several years of playing this particular instrument.

Any style of music may be written for the harp and played by a harp musician. This instrument may be used to perform solo pieces written specifically for the harp, or may be incorporated into larger ensemble and orchestral arrangements. Harpists are also frequently hired to perform at formal social events and during weddings.

Musical lessons are required to learn to become a harp musician. Students must learn to read music written in the treble and bass clefs. They must additionally understand the concepts of rhythm, signature times, and tempo. New students may benefit from learning music theory and basic reading skills on the piano first before beginning the harp, which is often considered to be more technically challenging.

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