Harp Terms Glossary
A brief definition of terms used within the harp community relating to harps or harp accessories. Please note that many of these terms have different definitions in other fields or for other instruments. This glossary is only intended to cover a term as it directly relates to harps.
Acoustic Harp - a harp that can be played without amplification. Most harps are acoustic harps. Acoustic harps can have pick-ups installed but as long as the harp can still voice properly without amplification it is an acoustic harp.
Arch - the curved part of the harp at the very top through which the tuning pins pass. Also called the Harmonic Arch or Neck. See Parts of the Harp.
Bag - in reference to a harp, this is a carrying case that is padded and soft. A harp bag both protects the instrument and makes it easier to carry.
Bridge Pin - the notched pin which is in-between the tuning pin and the sharping lever on the arch of the harp is the bridge pin. The bridge pin is used to align the string as it passes into the sharping lever. See Parts of the Harp and About Levers & Pins.
Carbon Fiber Harp - a harp entirely or primarily made of a carbon fiber polymer. Carbon fiber harps are lighter than wood harps and for some people this is an overriding advantage. Carbon fiber harps, however, do not have the same qualities in voicing as wood so we do not build them. See Carbon Fiber Harps.
Carbon Fiber Strings - this is a misnomer. When people say "carbon fiber strings" what they mean to say is "fluorocarbon strings." Fluorocarbon strings are a type of ultra-light strings made of (surprise!) fluorocarbon. See Types of Strings (on our Rees Harps site) for more information on these strings and for an explanation of why we do not use them on our harps.
Carved Overlay - hand sawn or laser cut wood ornamentation that is applied to the surface of element which is being ornamented. We use carved overlay because it "pop" more clearly under stage lighting and we prefer the tactile feel of it.
Celtic Harp - a term often used to describe a lever harp.
Cents - one hundredth of a half step. A measurement seen on a chromatic tuner.
Chromatic - any instrument able to play all the notes of the scale (as in both the white and black keys on a piano.)
Chromatic Tuner - an electronic tuner that is capable of detecting all the notes of the chromatic scale. Chromatic tuners are used to make tuning harps easier.
Column - the part of the harp that goes from the base of the soundboard to the arch. Also called the pillar. See Parts of the Harp.
Concert Harp - any type of harp that is of the highest quality and intended as a concert instrument for the type of music best suited to that type of harp.
Decals - thin colored paper or plastic which is stuck to the surface of the harp as an decoration. While this is common among harp lutheries, we do not use them.
Diatonic - an instrument that is set to play only in a single key.
Double Harp - a harp with two parallel rows of strings.
Dynamic Range - the variation in intensity of volume of which an instrument is capable. A wide dynamic range gives the player greater artistic option and freedom of expression.
Electro-Acoustic - an electrically amplified harp that can be played either with or without its electronics active. See The Grand Harpsicle® Harp.
Electro-Harp - an electrically amplified harp that can only be played with its electronics active.
Equalizer or EQ - an electronic device that provides balance to compensate for distortion or an unbalanced voicing.
Floor Harp - a harp that is played while it is sitting on the floor. This distinguishes these harps from smaller harps that are held between the knees or on the lap. Some floor harps are too low to be comfortably played while sitting in a standard height chair. Traditionally, players sat on lower chairs but in recent years we tend to use a low stool under these harps. Even harps which are raised up on a stool are, however, still called floor harps.
Flurocarbon Strings - a type of ultra-light string made of flurocarbon. Sometimes these strings are mistakenly called carbon fiber strings. See Types of Strings (on the Rees Harps site).
FOB - the acronym for Freight on Board. The point at which the item being shipped becomes the property of the receiver.
Glissando - a continuous slide upward or downward on the strings of a harp.
Gut Strings - strings, usually for a pedal or pre-pedal harp, made of sheep gut. See Types of Strings (on the Rees Haps site).
Hand-painted - ornamentation that is painted, by an artist, by hand onto a harp.
Hard-shell Case - generally called harp trunks. These cases are hard on the outside and firm enough so that a harp can be checked aboard an airline or shipped as air freight. Harp trunks are usually quite large, heavy and necessitate, at the very least, a mini-van or large SUV to be transported.
Harp - this term can cover any member of the harp family.
Harp Cart - a small, usually collapsable cart, that is utilized to move a harp so that the player does not have lift the weight of the harp, in its harp bag, for any great distance.
Harpsicle® - a registered trademark of Rees Harps Inc, used in association with our Harpsicle® Harp Line.
Harmonic - an overtone accompanying a primary tone at a fixed interval caused by the vibration of other strings responding to the plucking of a single string. Harmonics are an effect that harpers can specifically play to add expression to a piece. A too strong, constant or random harmonic on a harp can, however, be one of the causes of what people refer to as a "muddy" voice.
Harmonic Arch - the curved part along the top of the harp through which the tuning pins pass. Also called the Arch or the Neck. See Parts of the Harp.
Harper - a term generally in use to describe a person who plays any type of harp other than the pedal harp. In all cases, harper is not a gender specific term.
Harpist - a term originally used to describe a person who plays the pedal harp but now often used to describe players of all types of harps. Harpist is not a gender specific term.
Harp Slave - someone who loves a harp player very much and is willing to carry their harp for them.
Harp Strap - the strap used to hold harp when playing while standing. Harp straps and guitar straps are the same though it is generally best if harp straps are of softer material so that they will not damage the finish of the instrument in the places where they come into contact with the wood of the harp.
Harp Teacher - anyone who teaches others to play harp. These days there are many more options than there once were and even if there is not a teacher in your community there are exceptionally good teachers who work with students via Skype or provide video lessons. The real trick is to find the right teacher for you and for what you want to play. See Finding a Harp Teacher.
Irish Harp - a term associated with both wire and lever harps. Historically, the term was associated with wire harps but the usage of the term has been muddied over time and is now commonly taken to mean any lever harp.
Laminate - several layers of wood and glue pressed together into a single sheet. Laminates are stronger than a single wood because the crossed grains have structural advantages. There can, however, be voicing disadvantages so when used in a stringed instrument the specific composition of the laminate matters a great deal. Some laminates are commonly called "plywood." See About Soundboards.
Lap Harp - a small harp that is played while it is sitting on the lap or cradled on the calves of the player.
Lutherie - the place where stringed instruments are built. Guitars, harps and violins are all built in lutheries.
Luthier - a builder of stringed instruments. Guitars, violins and harps are all built by luthiers.
Metal Strings - a somewhat unclear term often mistakenly used to describe either wire strings or wire wound strings. See About Strings on this site or, for more detail, Types of Strings, from the Rees Harps site.
Midrib - a long strip attached to the inside of the soundboard through which the strings are threaded and against which they pull. The midrib strengthens and protects the soundboard of a harp.
Orchestral Harp - a pedal harp of a quality appropriate for use in an orchestra.
Overtone - a tone that is part of a harmonic series and above the primary tone. A harp is considered muddy if it has too much overtone.
Pedal Harp - a harp with which the player changes keys by using the set of pedals down at the base.
Pick-up - a device attached to the soundboard and used to convert the vibrations in a soundboard into electrical current so that they may be amplified. See Amplification Basics.
Piezo Pick-up also called Piezoelectric Pick-up - a device attached to the soundboard and used to convert the vibrations in a soundboard into electrical current so that they may be amplified. See Amplification Basics.
Pitch - also called "concert pitch," is a standard for tuning, internationally agreed to be 440 HZ at the A above middle C. Different music traditions, however, have their own conventions. If you are especially curious about pitch and the relationship between pitches, known as "temperament," there are many books on the subject. For their readability we recommend, Temperament: How Music Became a Battleground for the Great Minds of Western Civilization and How Equal Temperament Ruined Harmony and Why You Should Care.
Pillar - the part of the harp that goes from the base of the soundboard to the arch. Also called the column. See Parts of the Harp.
Plywood - several layers of wood and glue pressed together into a single sheet. Plywood is stronger than a single wood because the crossed grains have structural advantages. There can be voicing disadvantages however so when used in a stringed instrument the specific composition of the plywood matters a great deal. Some kinds of plywoods are more commonly called "laminates." See About Wood & Soundboards.
Preamp - an electronic device that takes a weak electronic signal, like the one from a pick-up, and amplifies it prior to the signal being passed on to a main amplifier. Preamps are always under the control of the player as opposed to a soundboard operator. See Amplification Basics.
Range - in harps, the range describes the string upon which the harp begins at the high end and then ends at the low end, for instance, A to C. A range generally covers several octaves and is used to describe a harp in conjunction with the string count as in “a 36-string harp, C to C.”
Round Back - describes the back of a harp when the wood is bent into an arch.
Sharping Lever - a device used to raise the note of a string a half step. It is common to shorten the term "sharping lever" to the term "lever." You may also hear people mistakenly use the term "sharpening lever." This is one of those accidental words that, perhaps as a result of being misheard, spreads from person to person. Knives are sharpened, harps are not.
The purpose of a sharping lever is to allow a lever harp to easily move into other tunings. For instance, if a harp is tuned in the key of C and all the F levers are raised, the harp is functionally in the key of G. By raising the F lever, therefore shortening the vibrating length of the string just enough to change the note from F to F-sharp, the harp is diatonic in the key of G.
Within the harp community it became clear that for any harp tuned in the key of C there are certain levers which are seldom if ever used. These are A-sharp, B-sharp and E-sharp. Ingeniously, someone figured out that if they tuned those three strings to the flat (A-flat, B-flat and E-flat) and then raised the levers to achieve the natural note, the overall result would be increasing the functionality of a lever harp by adding in the keys of F, B-flat, E-flat, D-minor, G-minor and C-minor. See E-flat Tuning for more on why this is so useful.
Soundboard - when a string is plucked it causes the soundboard on any wood instrument to vibrate and these are the vibrations that the ear detects as sound. On a harp, the soundboard is the long, large piece of wood which is the entire face of the soundbox. See Parts of the Harp and About Soundboards.
Soundbox - the primary body of the harp. The soundbox is the vibrating chamber of the harp. See Parts of the Harp.
Staved Back - when the back of the harp consists of several thin slats of wood, glued together by the long edges into a semi-arch shape.
Strap Buttons - buttons to which a strap is attached so that a harp can be played while standing. These are the same type of buttons used on guitars.
String Diameter - the gauge or thickness of a string.
Sympathetic Strings - a string or strings that vibrate when another string is plucked and give added resonance. This can either add a pleasant more full voicing or, if it goes too far, will degrade into a muddy and indistinct voicing for a harp.
Sympathetic Vibrations - the frequencies and, generally, voicing from sympathetic strings.
Symphony Harp - a pedal harp of a quality appropriate for use in an orchestra.
T-brace - a brace used by some lutheries, though not Rees, to strengthen the neck/pillar joint and to strengthen the pillar. A t-brace is placed at 90 degrees to the front of the pillar. It may run down the full length of the pillar or only part way.
Tapered Pin - a traditional harp tuning pin, in the shape of a round wedge, that runs all the way through the arch of the harp. See Types of Pins (on the Rees Harps site). On our Harpsicle® line harps we use piano-style pins (aka zither pins). For more on these click here.
Therapy Harp - any harp that is used for the purpose of harp therapy. Therapy players prefer harps that are very light in weight. The Rees Harpsicle® Harp is considered a preferred therapy harp due to its diminutive size, mellow voice and light weight. Rees Concert Line Harps like the Morgan Meadows and the Morgan Meghan are also well-suited for therapy work.
Tonewood - the type of woods used to make soundboards. See About Soundboards.
Transducer - an electrical device that converts vibrations into an electrical current. See Amplifying Basics.
Transpose - to convert a piece of music from one key to another.
Transcribe - to convert a piece of music written for one instrument to another.
Troubadour - (as a harp term) a model of harp built by Lyon & Healy. A Troubadour is a pre-pedal harp and is an excellent first harp for those wanting to concentrate on learning pedal harp. The Troubadour is not considered a concert quality lever harp by most of the lever harp community. Remember, purpose is important and the Troubadour is perfect for its intended purpose. It is simply not perfect for all purposes. No harp is.
Trunk - a hard-sided harp case that is formidable enough to stand up to being checked as air freight or onto an airline. Harp trunks are usually quite large, heavy and necessitate, at the very least, a mini-van or large SUV to be transported.
Tuning Hammer - a hand-held tool used to turn the tuning pins in order to tune the harp. Also called a tuning wrench or just wrench.
Tuning Wrench - a hand-held tool used to turn the tuning pins in order to tune the harp. Also called a tuning hammer or just wrench.
Vibrating Length - the distance on a harp string between the soundboard and the tuning pin.
Voicing - the playing of a harp and the quality of the sound of the instrument.
Wires - the wire wound strings on a pedal harp. For lever harps players usually use the term "wire wound" instead. See About Strings.
Wolf Tone - a tone off a single string that is dramatically louder or softer when voiced than are the other strings on the instrument. There may be several such strings on a given harp.
Wound Strings - strings that have a wire or nylon core and then another strand of string wrapped tightly around the core the entire vibrating length. See About Strings.