Not Enough Strings

Posted In: Amateur Harpists

  • Participant
    Kay Meek on #159358

    I got a 29 string lever harp for Christmas and the octave range is from C-1 to C3 . So many pieces that I have found that I want to play have bass notes that aren’t on my harp. What should I do? I’ve tried playing the missing note an octave higher, but it doesn’t always sound right.
    I’ve thought about tuning all of the strings down 5 half tones, but then I’d have to rethink where the other notes are. I also thought about just playing the piece an octave higher.
    Getting another harp with more strings isn’t going to happen. I have to apologize to this one daily for my lack of skill.

    barbara-brundage on #159359

    Well, really all you can do is to bump up the octave. You may find that sometimes it sounds better if you take the entire phrase in the bass up the octave (if it doesn’t collide with the melody) rather than just the particular note that lies below the range.

    Moving the whole piece up an octave is also sometimes possible, although some things may sound plinky when you do that.

    You really have to decide on a piece by piece basis.

    Lowering the tuning on part of the harp is probably not the answer, IMHO.

    jennifer-buehler on #159360

    How good at theory are you?

    jennifer-buehler on #159361

    Also wanted to say that one of the current top composers for small harp is Harper Tasche.

    Rachel on #159362

    You can do a lot with a 29-string harp, and you definitely do not want to tune your strings to notes not originally intended in the design.

    Audrey Nickel on #159363

    In addition to playing up an octave and/or collapsing 1,5,8 chords into triads, you can try:

    1) Playing an inversion of the chord (experiment to see which inversion works best)

    2) Making it into a two-finger chord (experiment to see which two notes in the chord sound best with the melody)

    3) Just playing a single harmonizing note in place of a chord.

    4) Leave it out entirely

    5) Experiment with a coupled hands technique in that spot (while coupled hands is primarily a wire harp approach, it can sometimes work well for lever harps as well)

    Play around with various options…what works best for one tune might not work well with another.

    All three of my harps have only 26 strings (3 1/2 octaves: C to G), and I really haven’t found it all that limiting.

    jennifer-buehler on #159364

    Depends on the teacher.

    Audrey Nickel on #159365

    That’s very true.

    Robin Dorer on #159366

    Is your harp new or used?

    Kay Meek on #159367

    Thank you for your ideas, folks. I really appreciate your responses to my questions.
    I think that I’ll try to get

    Audrey Nickel on #159368

    Most of the Sylvia Woods music books have arrangements that work well for small harps.

    jennifer-buehler on #159369

    Melody’s has a whole section of their catalog devoted to Lap or Small harp music at

    harpglo-jean on #159370

    Also, Suzanne Guldimann’s music books are written specifically for small/lap harp.

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