Stephanie Curcio Publications

Welcome to the online home of Stephanie Curcio Publications, specializing in repertoire and educational materials for both pedal and lever harps.

Lesson #3 - Understanding the Strings of My Harp

The strings of a harp are named, in an ascending sequence (longer to shorter strings):
 A B C D E F G.  This repeats as the strings move upward:  A B C D E F G   A B C D E F G, etc.

The number and range of strings varies widely as does the name of the lowest and highest string on any particular harp.  Smaller harps have fewer strings. Larger harps have more.  But all use the same sequence of string names, and the same color coding.

     The C's are red, the F's are black (sometimes blue or dark purple).
      In - between strings are neutral in color.
      A is two strings below C, hence A, then B, then C etc. in ascending sequence
      F is three strings above C, hence C then D then E then F

The RANGE of strings refers to the groups (FGABCDE) that are higher or lower.
A few builders identify string range by counting DOWNWARD from the top most string.
But MOST builders identify string range by OCTAVE.

An OCTAVE consists of 7 strings from an E moving DOWNWARD to the next F.

The TOPMOST F and any strings ABOVE it are considered to be FIRST OCTAVE strings.
     Some harps have only 2 or 3 strings above the topmost F.  
     Others go all the way up to E in which case there is now a full FIRST OCTAVE.
                 E1  D1  C1  B1  A1  G1  F1 (topmost F)
*** Exception: Concert grand harps have an additional two strings at the top that are ABOVE FIRST OCTAVE and are sometimes named 00F and 00G.

Below the topmost F  (F1):
The seven strings moving  DOWNWARD from E2 to the next F2 constitute the second octave.  
The seven strings moving  DOWNWARD from E3 to the next F3, constitute the third octave.
The seven strings moving  DOWNWARD from E4 to the next F4, constitute the fourth octave.
----and so on.

MIDDLE C resides in the 4th octave of both lever and pedal harps. 

Smaller harps have many fewer low strings because they require a great deal of tension that smaller frames cannot support.  

Low strings on a harp are made of different materials (wire, wound wire, etc.) and may have different color coding, e.g. bronze vs. silver color.  This varies greatly from builder to builder.




Little Lesson #2- I Just Got A New Harp (part 2) Mechanisms

Inserted through, and along the neck of your harp is a row of metal pins called TUNING PINS.  The back end of each pin has a square head which will fit into the head of the tuning key that came with your harp.  Into the front end of each pin a string has been inserted and wound forward to bring the string to pitch (there are a few harps that wind in reverse but they are rare).  Hence:

If you wind a string forward, the pitch will rise because you have tightened the string. 

If you wind a string backward, the pitch will lower because you have loosened the string. 

When tuning, turn in tiny increments and play the string you are tuning before and after each turn so you can hear and assess the changes you make.

Just below the tuning pin on the front side of the neck is another little pin on which the string rests.  This is the SET PIN because it sets the string in proper position. 
There may be LEVERS at the top of some or all the strings.  

The levers have two positions: down and up.
In the down position, the sound of the string is whatever pitch you have tuned it to.  
In the up position, the tuned pitch is raised by one half step (the smallest increment of change in our Western music system).  

When tuning, all levers must be down!  
This allows for what we call an open string - one that is not altered by the mechanism
We will discuss "How To Tune Your Harp"  in next month's Little Lesson.
There are two small DISCS at the top of each string along the neck, below the set pins.  The discs have two tiny pins projecting from them which are called DISC PINS. The string is set between the disc pins.

There are seven PEDALS at the base of the harp, one for each note name in our musical system:  D C B (on the left side)  E F G A (on the right side). 

Each pedal controls all the strings of one name.  Hence, the E pedal controls all the E strings on the harp, the C pedal controls all the C strings on the harp, etc.  

Each pedal has 3 positions: upper, middle and lower.
The pedals attach to rods that run up through the column (which is hollow) and attach to the mechanism inside of the neck that operates the discs atop each string.

If a pedal is in the upper position, the discs will not be engaged, i.e., none of the disc pins will be touching the string. The pitch in this position is FLAT.

If a pedal is in the middle position, the upper discs will have turned so that the pins are gripping the string, hence, shortening and tightening it and raising the tuned pitch by one half step. The pitch in this position is NATURAL.

If a pedal is in the lower position, both the upper and lower discs will have turned so that all four disc pins are gripping the string, hence, shortening and tightening it yet again, and raising the tuned pitch by one whole step (two half steps). The pitch in this position is SHARP.   

When tuning, ALL the pedals should be in the upper position.
All the pitches should then be tuned as flat hence:  Ab  Bb  Cb  Db  Eb  Fb  Gb  

We will discuss "How To Tune Your Harp"  in next month's Little Lesson.
See you then.


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