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Orchestral Instruments

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).

pedals of the harp

Each pedal is attached to a rod or cable within the column of the harp, which then connects with a mechanism within the neck.

top of the harp

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.

mechanism of the harp


In the middle pedal position the top wheel pinches the string, resulting in a natural.
pedals of the harp

mechanism of the harp


In the bottom position another wheel is turned, shortening the string again to create a sharp.
pedals of the harp

mechanism of the harp

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. 

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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

click to start 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