C (do) major; levers up, levers down?

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    byouke on #193088

    Hi everyone

    I’ve been browsing on the internet for some information about the lever system of the leverharp. The harpseller told me, that for a “C (do) major” you have to change some levers on top.

    Soooo, i’ve been checking here and there (and tell me please if I’m wrong 😉 ), but when all the levers are down the harp stands in “E flat”.
    To have “C major”, you have to pull “B (si), E (mi) and A (la) strings” up.
    So basically, A, B and E are “flat” notes when the strings are in regular position.

    But if you play in “B major”, you have to alter a sharp, to a higher note in flat. Do you have to change back-and-fort with this note (flat<>regular) during the song, or would it be better to alter completely a song?

    sueblane on #193089

    Hi byouke,

    With a lever harp, you have the option of deciding how you would like it tuned. As you mentioned, many people tune their harp in Eb, so playing all open strings puts you in the key of Eb. Flipping the B, E and A levers puts you in the key of C. But their is no way to play in the key of B major, without some lever flipping during the piece.

    On the other hand, many lever harpists tune their harp in the key of C major. All open strings produce a C major scale. If your harp is tuned this way, you can easily flip, the F, C, G, D and A levers to play in the key of B major.

    It’s your choice based on what your personal needs are.

    Good Luck!

    byouke on #193090

    Thanks SueBlane for the fast reply 😉

    Do you tune by ear? Or can you tune it by digital tuner, if you wanna tune your harp in the key of C?

    And if you wanna play in the key of D flat? There all flats, or would it then be easier to play in the key of C sharp? Or will this sound terrible different?

    Biagio on #193091

    Here’s one way to look at it. The major scales all follow the same pattern of steps, where W means a half step and H a half step: W-W-H-W-W-W-H-W. C major is the easiest to visualize (no sharps or flats) – note that from E to F and B to C is a half step, the rest are whole steps.

    Now let’s say that you are not playing with anyone else, are tuned to C, and encounter a tune that requires sharps – no problem, just sharp the appropriate strings. But what about a tune with a flat or flats?

    Well, hey, just go in the other direction: sharp ALL the notes EXCEPT the flats. You have just moved everything up a half step except those “flats”! Try it and see for yourself. Of course you can take the same approach however you are open tuned, but you have to work it out for whatever that is.

    Spoiler warning: if you are playing with others do not do this as you will be out of tune with everyone else. But on your own, and if you don’t feel like re-tuning or transposing, this will do it. Which is why I usually have my harps in C (grin).

    Yeah, I know – lazy!


    Tacye on #193092

    If you have a harp with full levers, you have eight major keys you can set the levers to. Eb (all levers open) to E major (7 levers engaged) is common because this gives you some flat keys and some sharp keys. C only gives you keys with sharps. Some people use Ab, Bb or F. Most harpists choose a home key according to what they find they need (or according to what their teacher told them to do years ago) and as explained above mostly avoid the other keys – which is easy to do if you are playing music written for the lever harp because it just doesn’t tend to get published in Db major.

    carl-swanson on #193093

    Dear Byouke,

    Here is the explanation of why you should tune a lever harp in E flat, meaning that with no levers engaged with the strings(levers down), the harp is in E flat.

    You only have a certain number of keys available to you on a lever harp. In order to have about the same number of flat and sharp keys, you tune the harp in E flat. That way you have available to you the keys of E flat, B flat, F major(all on the flat side of the circle of 5ths), C, G, D, A, and E( all on the sharp side of the circle of 5ths). If you tune in the key of C major, then you only have sharp keys available and no flat keys.

    sueblane on #193094

    “Do you tune by ear? Or can you tune it by digital tuner, if you wanna tune your harp in the key of C?

    And if you wanna play in the key of D flat? There all flats, or would it then be easier to play in the key of C sharp? Or will this sound terrible different?”

    I use a digital tuner (a Snark) to tune my harp in C.

    For the key of Db major, it’s a little trickier. With an Eb tuning, you can’t play in Db. As you said, you’d have to tune the harp in C, and flip all of the levers putting you in C# major. (enharmonically the same as Db) But you’d have to transpose the sheet music down a step to make it sound correct. It’s a little confusing but technically possible.

    patricia-jaeger on #193099

    In the past, at least through 1979 when American Harp Society had a convention at Mills College in Oakland, California, Wilfred Smith of London exhibited a pedal harp and a clarsach (folk harp) of his company’s manufacture. That clarsach of 34 strings and levers, used a push-down motion to raise the pitch of levers by 1/2 step, just as pushing on a pedal raises the pitch of strings on concert pedal harps. I wonder if clarsachs of today are the same? Would some reader in the UK inform us?

    byouke on #193109

    Thanks everybody 😉 for all the replys.

    Just ONE more question. Say you want to play in Db, and like Sueblane said, you will have to changes a lot of keys and changes the sheet, but you don’t want to. Is it possible to just change that extra flat key manual with your tuner, and voila, play smoothly without flipping keys, or won’t this work? Just thinking outloud 🙂 .

    sueblane on #193112

    To play in Db, assuming that you’re harp is tuned in Eb, you would manually tune all of the G and D strings down a half step, then your harp would be tuned in Db.

    Andelin on #193114


    Yes, that is a viable solution. You can tune your harp to whatever key you’d like. No matter how the lever harp is tuned, there will be a few keys (1 or 2) that will be impossible to play in. There are two strategies: 1. Pick the key you care about the least, and tune accordingly. 2. If you just can’t bear to be without any of the available keys, you can retune your harp to play the notes you want it to play for individual song(s). This can be time consuming, but may be worth it to you. If you like d flat and don’t ever play in keys with more than 2 sharps, you can keep it tuned that way.

    I use a digital tuner when I’m tuning the whole harp, but if I have come across one or two strings that need adjustment, I will usually tune by ear. If you have a smartphone or tablet, there are several free apps that are a good substitute for a digital tuner.

    About 15 years ago I almost bought a camac mademoiselle harp (from a dealer in USA). It had levers which were pulled down to sharp the string. I don’t know if they are still made this way, and it’s the only lever harp I’ve ever seen whose levers weren’t flipped up for sharps. I always wondered why it was made “backward.” I hadn’t connected it with pedal harp mechanism also moving downward for a sharp. Interesting.

    byouke on #193139

    Thanks SueBlane, Andelin. Happy to hear al the solutions!
    Basically most songs are playable with some occassionaly tweaking. ^-^

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