Can we make flat notes on lever harps ?

  • Participant
    Phuoc Luong on #225762

    I have heard that levers on lever harps can only sharpen one note. So I will get a C# instead of a C if we raise a lever.
    My question how can we make flat notes on lever harp.

    wil-weten on #225764

    Hi Phuoc, either you flip the lever of an adjacent lower string (which is enharmonically the same) or you tune the string of the note you want to flatten half a note lower and flip it when you don’t need the note lowered.

    Anonymous on #225778

    Hi Phwuoc Luong,

    Are you going to take lessons? Let’s us know how you are doing. Your teacher can help you, if and when you find one.
    All the best,

    • This reply was modified 2 years, 4 months ago by .
    • This reply was modified 2 years, 4 months ago by .
    carl-swanson on #225840

    Levers can only raise the pitch of a string when they are engaged(flipped up). For this reason, the standard way of tuning lever harps is in the key of E flat, meaning, when none of the levers are engaged, the harp is in E flat. In that key, you have 3 flats available to you (B flat, E flat, and A flat). That’s as far in the flat direction you can go in this tuning. With this tuning, you can play (in the flat direction) in the keys of F, B flat, and E flat major,and their relative minor keys, and in the sharp direction G, D, A, and E major, and their relative minor keys. You can of course also play in C.

    If you tune in the key of C, then you only have sharp keys available to you. Your teacher can, and should have explained all of this to you.

    Biagio on #225842

    “If you tune in the key of C, then you only have sharp keys available to you. Your teacher can, and should have explained all of this to you.”

    Indeed; I often wonder why some teachers do not explain the harp’s basic design to their students. Simply put, for any given string the note (sharp flat or natural) is linearly related to it’s vibrating length. On a double actin design – pedal harps that is – notice that the discs are spaced at increasingly greater distances from each other as the strings get longer.

    One would need to have two levers on each string to achieve the same flexibility on a lever harp. That’s doable but not worth the cost nor (probably) how cumbersome it would be. Of course one could order a custom lever harp with two sharping devices on each string.

    Tuning to open Eb as Carl mentioned provides the most flexibility for lever harpists. But one might also consider the music one plays and whether with others or solo. If solo it is easy enough to transpose.

    Most harp makers design to an open Cmaj since that is the most straight forward way to do it and the lever harp movement grew out of Celtic wire harp designs (no levers often tuned to Gmaj). It is then up to the player to decide alternative open tuning. There have been experiments with a relatvely inexpensive double action lever design but so far it has proven to be more expensive than just buying a good pedal harp.


    • This reply was modified 2 years, 4 months ago by Biagio.
    emma-graham on #225859

    I’m sure any half decent, fully qualified teacher does indeed teach this. It’s literally lesson one for all my students – and I insist their harps are tuned to E flat. The earlier they learn how it all works the better they understand it. That said, there’s no guarantee that the OP is actually learning the harp (or even that western music is their first musical language ifswim) They may just be curious.

    Biagio on #225870

    I’m sure you are right Emma – in fact that’s the subject for the first few pages of every pedal harp method book I know. My observation probably is based more on people teaching the lever harp who have not had a thorough grounding in theory. One reason I suspect that some teachers require the student to have some piano training.

    On the other hand, how often do we hear comments such as “Never put gut strings on a nylon harp”? When I’ve asked the person espousing this view it often turns out that they are misquoting their teacher, or else the teacher did not understand the issue. The player who asks this is invariably a lever harper; perhaps the teacher never learned either.

    • This reply was modified 2 years, 4 months ago by Biagio.
    wil-weten on #225884

    As to the advice that one regularly hears about never putting gut strings on a nylon harp, I think people simply mean to say that nylon strung lever harps often can’t be restrung with popular sets of gut strings for lever harps, like those of Bow Brand, because the total string tension would become too heavy. Of course, a suitable set of gut strings could be calculated for a nylon strung harp, but this would result in a custom-made set of gut strings. Some, but not all nylon strung lever harps are built sturdily enough to withstand the extra tension a ‘standard’ set of gut strings for lever harp.

    Biagio on #225898

    I’m afraid I’ve gone way off topic but since I have….

    My observation extends well beyond gut vs. nylon – that’s just the most obvious example.

    For instance, some just accept that a spruce sound board is the only way to go (but don’t actually have any substantive reasons beyond tradition and their personal experiences.) What species of spruce, by the way, Engelmann or Sitka? What of the angle where the strings reach the board? How about composite boards (one species in certain octaves, another elsewhere)? Shall we touch on the merits and detractions of veneered boards?

    Then there’s the argument that a lighter neck “transfers the vibration back to board, which enhances the sound.” Maybe, if by “enhances” they mean those vibrations muffle the volume and reduce sympathetic string vibrations. Some however mean that a light neck actually imparts certain frequencies over others which is ridiculous on its face.

    Consider also the questions regarding wood used for the body. If the box walls are thin enough maple will certainly sound brighter than let us say walnut. But predicting that is problematic – a lot depends on the specific tree from which the wood is cut and how the box is shaped.

    Levers – is one inherently better than others? Everyone has their favorites and for different reasons. Lovelands are just fine and cost less than Truitts or Camacs, but the latter are easier to mount and regulate. Broughs were wonderful while Peter still made them. And so on.

    Not to be quarrlesome and I agree that “standard string sets” may not be suitable. That is because there are no lever harp standards in terms of vibrating length, as there are with pedal harps. But I cannot agree with the idea that gut strings have limits in what can substitute for nylon; only the diameter matters. Gut comes in much finer diameter gradations although it is true that you cannot rely on the published specs alone (X octave Y note).

    You have to also know the diameters and that takes research. You will only run into a problem with Cs and Fs, and if the string design is well thought out that will not be much of a problem either. Some may be pedal gut, others lever gut: you (or rather the harp maker) just have to figure out which would be appropriate where. And of course there is there are the options of N/N, fluorocarbon, SFN, BFN, FS and so on.

    For example, take a look at Dusty’s gut set for their FH36:

    That is only one harp model of course but I’ll make you a bet: Give me the intended note and vibrating length for any well made nylon strung harp and I or a professional string designer will be able to provide a gut substitution that comes as close to the deigned tension as makes no difference. The bet would have to be for a reasonable wager LOL, as that would take some time but I have no doubt that it could be done.

    I’m not suggesting that good teachers need be aware of these things in great depth. But I do think that if the general principles were more common knowledge beginning students might be less confused.

    Or possibly not, just confused at a higher level LOL. However, if the teacher understands these things she or he is in a better place to guide the student – not only in that first harp purchase but in minute approaches to their technique.

    So much for the morning rant – sorry guys,

    • This reply was modified 2 years, 4 months ago by Biagio.
    • This reply was modified 2 years, 4 months ago by Biagio.
    • This reply was modified 2 years, 4 months ago by Biagio.
    evolene_t on #225917

    @ Biagio, although we are not on topic, it still is very interesting to read your inputs.

    On the topic though : personally, my harp teacher explained on lesson 2 or 3 that the harp was tuned in E-major. But when you’ve never done any music theory whatsoever, I guess you just take the information as-is, and move on.

    I’ve found myself facing a score that had almost everything in flat : and when you see for example an “E-flat” and then an “E natural” (called “bécarre” in French, a complicated word) you don’t instantly think about “sharping the D” to get the E-flat.

    The teacher can, and should, come back to music theory when needed. But beginners want to touch and feel and play the instrument, not spend 2-3h just listening to a teacher droning about abstract concepts.

    What I mean to say is : do cut us beginners some slack 😉 Some people just never learn any music theory, although I personally feel that they should.

    Biagio on #225918

    I regret, Evolene, if that little discourse appeared to be a criticism of students. I meant it more as a reaction to things I sometimes hear from teachers, including some very well respected ones.

    One must also admit that what is said may be only a brief comment, that is subsequently taken as a general statement!

    When I made that first harp it was like, “Wow, finally such a simple instrument that I can actually get beautiful sounds from.” Back then I knew practically nothing about theory – only the treble clef and a vague notion of what the markings meant. Then I found a wonderful teacher – Jocelyn insisted that the students start right from the beginning – clapping and stamping to internalize rhythm, plucking only one string at a time with each finger to internalize the sound. This no matter how well versed the student was otherwise.

    Then, when she began to teach music theory she insisted that we analyze our own harps: string lengths, materials, sound boards, the whole thing and compare that to others’. This was an eye-opening event! Maybe that experience just colors my views. “Why does this harp sound different from that one?” she would ask. “What do you think would it sound like if you changed the range or string materials?” “OK, you love this model but WHY?” and so on.

    Anyway, I apologize if the “message” came across as arrogant. There are just so many beautiful harps available and I hope that others experience the joy of discovery that Jocelyn gave to us.


    • This reply was modified 2 years, 4 months ago by Biagio.
    • This reply was modified 2 years, 4 months ago by Biagio.
    Siti Aishah Mohd Rozaiddin on #226088

    Oh my, sorry for posting a different issue in this topic!

    wil-weten on #226097

    Hi Siti, I’m a great fan of Camac harps. According to there are maybe three distributors of camac harps in your country. The one below had the most information:

    Rave Harps
    Katryna Tan
    +60 176 950 788

    You could give them a call and ask them if they have a new or second hand Camac Bardic 27 in stock. Or another second hand harp within your budget.

    Frankly, I prefer the Camac Bardic 27 above the Dusty Ravenna 26, but this is personal. Dusty make fine harps as well. I have tried the Harpsicle, it’s little weight makes it nice to take with you outside, but the sound of the other two harps is so much richer and the string tension is a bit heavier and this will help you to develop a better harping technique.

    Another possibility, still much preferable for harp lessons than a harpsicle would be a Aoyama harp. They may be not too difficult to find in your country too.

    Please, do try before you buy.

    Please, make your own thread and we’ll be gladly willing to correspond about all your possibilities for getting a nice harp within your means.

    evolene_t on #226154

    Coming back to the topic, I realise that this question is not as simple as it seems.

    As Carl said :

    In that key, you have 3 flats available to you (B flat, E flat, and A flat). That’s as far in the flat direction you can go in this tuning

    I’ve picked up a harp score with 5 flats : that means that I can’t have my harp tuned in E flat. I have to change, for example, the “D” into a “C sharp”. (Truth be told, I still haven’t figured if all out yet).

    So yeah, that’s something to take into account with tuning : either change the harp score or re-tune the harp all the time!

    charles-nix on #226156

    If you have a score in 5-flats, whether the key is Db major or Bb minor, you can usually play it in 2-sharps (D major or B minor). The entire piece will be transposed up a semi-tone, which makes no difference for a solo piece.

    I’m also assuming there are not many accidentals–probably not if you are considering it for lever harp. Any accidentals you may have move in the direction of the transposition (up). So, accidental flats in the original become naturals and accidental naturals become sharps.

    This works for any key signature–just make the total number of flats and sharps in original and new equal 7. It also works the other direction (down a semi-tone) to play E major in Eb major.

    On pedal harp, one of the most common uses (for me, anyway) is to play C major pieces in Cb major.

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