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What Is a Triple Harp?

The triple harp is also known as the Welsh triple harp, owing to its popularity in Wales.
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  • Written By: Andrew Kirmayer
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 05 August 2014
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A stringed instrument that originated in Italy, the triple harp began to be played in the British Isles in the early 1700s. It was first brought to Wales, then to other regions later in the century. There are a total of 95 strings on the instrument, arranged into three rows, with 37 strings on the bass row, 34 strings on the middle row, and 27 on the treble row. The strings in the two outer rows are tuned together, while the third row consists of strings that are chromatically tuned separately from the first two rows. While other types of harps became popular in the 20th century, the triple harp is played by people who have kept the tradition going.

Players lean the triple harp on their left shoulder as they use it to make music. The left hand is used to play the treble notes on the harp. Bass notes are plucked with the right hand, and the instrument is capable of sounding five octaves in total. As with other stringed instruments, the technique for playing has to be mastered. One technique that harpists learn is to rapidly play corresponding notes on each outside row in unison, which produces the sound characteristic of the instrument.

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The triple harp was introduced in North Whales in the late 1700s and notable musicians of the time helped to spread its influence, including Augusta Hall and John Parry. Carrying the instrument around on their backs because it was light enough, harp players brought the instrument to taverns and local fairs, so groups such as Methodists were against it and contributed to limiting its popularity. Traditional musicians revived the playing style and sound of the triple harp in the early 20th century, such as Nansi Rchards-Jones who took it on and taught others who passed on the skills to other players.

Since it became so well known in Wales, the instrument is commonly called the Welsh Triple Harp. Many old versions of it are preserved with the original craftsmanship. The harp was known to have been played in Wales even after other areas of Europe lost interest in it. In the 21st century, the tradition is maintained by experienced recording artists around the world, including in Wales and the United States, who use it to compose contemporary music. The triple harp has been used to record a variety of music on albums, by teachers in music schools, and by musicians in orchestras.

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