Instrument of the Month: The Harp
Fun Facts about the Harp
- A member of the string family, the harp derives its large, graceful shape from the need to accommodate many strings of different sizes—47 strings in all! A standard professional concert harp, from the top of the front pillar to the floor, measures 6 feet high and weighs 80 to 90 pounds.
- The body is constructed generally of maple and spruce. The curved top piece, or neck, holds the strings tightly. The bottom piece is larger, hollow, and serves as the sound board.
- At the bottom of the harp on the back are seven metal pedals, which are operated by the feet. The pedals allow each string to sound three different notes.
- The front pillar or column between the top and bottom pieces serves as a conduit for the connections between the pedals and the mechanism that changes the length of the strings.
- Harp strings are made of nylon or steel and are color-coded for easier identification: C strings are red, F strings are blue or black, and the other strings—D, E, G, A, and B—are neutral in color.
- To play the harp, the musician sits with legs on either side of the instrument, and tilts the harp slightly backwards onto the right shoulder. Using the thumb and the first three fingers of each hand, the musician plucks and brushes the strings using one hand on each side of the strings. The little fingers are not used.
- There are one or two harps in an orchestra.
- The harp dates back as early as 3,000 B.C, making it one of the oldest instruments in existence. Harps have been discovered in ancient burial tombs and are depicted on the walls of ancient Egyptian tombs.
- The word “harp” is derived from Old German, Old Norse, and Anglo-Saxon words that mean “to pluck.”
- In addition to plucking the strings, harpists can sweep their hands across the strings to create an effect called a glissando.
- Ireland has included the harp as its national symbol since the 1200s.
Where do you find the harp in an orchestra?
- The harp is generally located on the left side of the orchestra, often near the percussion.
Listen to the Harp
Here are two wonderful music selections featuring the Harp!
Benjamin Britten – The Harp from
The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra
Benjamin Britten – The Harp from The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra (0:40)
The composer Benjamin Britten wrote this music to introduce kids to the many sounds the harp can make.
After you listen, make up a story about the music and write it down. Play the music as many times as you like while you create your story. Send it to us using the button below.
Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky – Scene from Swan Lake
Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky – Scene from Swan Lake (1:03)
This beautiful music was inspired by the story of a magical lake, shining in the moonlight.
After you listen, draw a picture of a lake, the moon, and stars. Play the music again while you draw! Send it to us using the button below.
Connect the Dots!
Connect the dots to draw a harp!
Click the photo to print and draw
Be an Artist!
Color in the harp and add a fun background, or draw your own harp. You are the artist and can use whatever colors or designs you like to make it special!
Click the photo to print and draw
Click the button below to send us your art! We will add it to our online KIDS’ GALLERY,
along with these other fine examples of kids’ art:
Lesson Plan for Teachers
More Music Featuring the Harp
Hector Berlioz – “A Ball” from Symphonie fantastique
Hector Berlioz – “A Ball” from Symphonie fantastique (1:47)
Imagine the lights coming on in a glittering ballroom. You’re all dressed up in your fanciest clothes, listening to the harps warming up for the party. Everyone is waiting for the dancing to begin. The violins begin to play a waltz, which is a beautiful, flowing dance. Soon, all of the guests are waltzing to this lovely music.
Gustav Mahler – Adagietto from Symphony No. 5
Gustav Mahler – Adagietto from Symphony No. 5 (1:50)
The harp is a member of the string family. This music shows some of the different sounds the strings can make when they all play together. The plucking sounds you hear are made by the harp, while the very low-sounding plucks are by the double basses. The smooth flowing sounds are the violins, violas, and cellos. The composer Gustav Mahler wrote this beautiful music as a love letter to his wife, Alma.