The Harp is one of the most ancient types of stringed instruments. The world “harpa” or “harp” comes from Anglo-Saxon, Old German, and Old Norse words meaning, “to pluck”. It is unknown where the harp originated and no one knows what harp music sounded like in the pre-historical era due to the lack of a notation system back then. One of the earliest musical instrument discoveries showed a harp-like instrument on rock paintings that dated back to around 15,000 BC in France. Those who played the harp back then relied on memory and improvisation in order to perform.
The first harps most likely evolved form the hunter’s bow and had a single string. Over time, as the harp continued to develop, more strings were added, although it maintained it’s basic bow shape. After some time, the harp evolved into an angle harp with a sound box in order to produce more volume. ...view middle of the document...
All string instruments have a sound box that has a great effect on the actual sound that is produced. Vibrations from the string travel down the soundboard causing the soundboard also to vibrate. This sets up vibrations inside the sound box, with the result that the sound of the string is amplified. The shape and quality of the sound box also add tone to the overall sound. The sounds a harp produces can be described as mellow, blurring, resonant, and cascading. It has a wide range of sound from higher to lower pitches, which can lead some people to hear dull notes as well as shorter, higher notes.
During the Middle Ages strings were made from twisted animal gut (usually sheep), although horsehair and even silk were used as well. The strings of the harp are attached to a wooden peg or metal pin. A pillar was added to support the tension of extra strings. Stronger string materials like copper and brass were used which enabled the harp to produce greater volume and a longer-sustaining tone. The pedal mechanism was developed in order to reach a broader range of pitch. The harp played an important role in legend and folklore. As well as being the instrument assigned to King David, it was also credited with “supernatural powers, which could destroy the feynde’s might”.
The concert harp is large and technically modern, designed for classical music and played solo, as well as in symphony orchestras and in popular commercial music. Harp use has recently expanded in the “alternative” music world of commercial popular music. Today, we even have electric lever harps, and the laser harp which is an electronic instrument that has laser beams where harps have strings. Although there were forward leaps during later history, most attempts made to create a more playable harp failed. Most harps today have many more strings than in the Middle Ages, and are made from stronger material to enhance the quality of their sound.