Paraguayan Sharping Rings

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    aaron-walden on #67974

    Sharping rings are used to bend notes, in the same manner as bottleneck or steel guitar. Nicolas Caballero popularized the sharping ring. He used to use a tuning key for this purpose, and then went to using a ring, so he’d be able to make more use of his left hand for playing.

    As far as I know and are the only online sources for them. I wonder whether there may be some commonly available item that could be used for the same purpose. Maybe from the hardware store. Possibly an S hook of proper size could be worn on the finger and used as a sharping ring.

    Sherri Matthew on #67975

    Hi Aaron,

    This is a lot more than I know about them. I remember when I was doing my independent study on harps to finish up my BA and I came across a sentence in a doctoral dissertation somewhere that essentially read, in so many words, the old Irish harps was diatonic and there was just no way to change the pitch of a string while playing. A day or so later I came across another document that introduced me to the concept (but not the details as you have) of sharping rings. So then I knew they existed somewhere in the world. Is it possible they could have been used on wire strings?

    I have a Paraguayan harp also and it is strung with nylon strings. No levers or blades.

    Your ideas would probably work. I haven’t tried doing anything like that. Maybe I should visit the hardware store.

    aaron-walden on #67976

    Well, Carolan included accidentals in some of his compositions, I think. Probably he used pinching or something like that, I guess. I know some wire harpists have used sharping rings, recently. Some find it useful for accidentals and for effects, while others are less enthused about the buzzy sound they get.

    Some Paraguayan harps have taquitos: bumpers for sharping. I also saw where at least some Gothic harps were made where they could be fretted on the harmonic curve, for sharps.

    Sherri Matthew on #67977

    That’s the word – taquitos. I had forgotten that. What did these Gothic harps look like?

    One thought I had and have never seen available anywhere – removable bray pins. I know bray harps come with them built in, but I thought it would be kind of neat to occasionally retrofit a harp with them for brief usage and then take them back out again. Something that would insert securely into the hole at the sound board, maybe with a miniature clothes pin-type of mount and then just pop back out again when you’re done playing in that style. Actually, I’m not sure if bray harps were wire-strung or gut strung.

    I have sharping blades on my Luna. Just flip them up and there’s my sharp. Always wondered why they didn’t have those during Carolan’s time and before. Or maybe they just didn’t use accidentals a lot to begin with.

    aaron-walden on #67978

    Here are construction details and photos of a Gothic harp with a “sharping ridge.”

    Here’s a description of fretting methods from “Practical Advice On Playing the Medieval Harp”:
    (online at )

    Accidentals, particularly at cadences, may also be played by using the technique of fretting. Fretting is a technique that was documented in the 16th century and is a still used in many traditional harp techniques today. It is most definitely an option in the period under consideration, especially on harps built with light construction, a wide enough neck, no bridge pins so the string falls directly from the string pin to the soundboard, and light string tension. Fretting involves pressing the string against the neck of the harp under the tuning pin to raise the pitch a semitone. If playing on the right shoulder the harpist can use the following methods (22):

    – Use the left hand thumb to press the string against the neck and pluck the string with the right hand.

    – Press with the thumb of the left hand, play the raised note with the right hand while plucking lower notes with the third or fourth fingers of the left hand.

    – Reach over the top of the neck with the right hand and press one or two strings against the neck and play the string(s) with the left hand.
    Press the string with the index finger of the left hand and pluck the string with the left hand thumb.

    – Use the tuning key or some other devise to press the string instead of a finger

    Another method of shortening the string to raise it a semitone is to push the string towards the belly of the harp just above where the string enters the soundboard. This technique can be somewhat more problematic and difficult than fretting on the neck.

    niina on #67979

    Hi Aaron
    I bought one from Gustavo at Paraguayan (along with 3 Arpas, and one from Mika Agematsu’s father. There are plenty online but only a few on English sites. Here is a video of Mika using two at once.

    Sherri Matthew on #67980

    Hi Aaron,

    Thanks for the links. I’ve bookmarked them already. I found that pretty interesting that the the Robert ap Huw manuscript calls for five different tunings – I guess I just assumed Welsh harps of those days were pretty much set to one tuning. I have Paul Dooley’s CD. Lovely music, that.

    The harpbuilder’s site is something too – didn’t know harp necks broke occasionally when they’re brought up to tension the first time! But I guess you wouldn’t necessarily be able to see inclusions in the wood grain; just have to assume it’s a quality piece of material you’ve got to work with.

    I also have a Paraguayan harp (which I haven’t played as much lately) and when the light gets better – the weather’s been gloomy – I’ll take a picture of it in natural light and post it. It has a rather light tension. Is that normal for Paraguayan harps? The strings seem a little floppy to me, but the tension improves as you go further up. Are the bottom strings primarily resonators? Sorry to ask, but actually this harp belongs to my husband and he acquired it before we met. (He’s a church organist and carillonneur, not a harpist.) I think it was a harp looking for a home and no one wanted it so he was willing to take it. It desperately needed new strings so I ordered a complete new set from Vermont Strings in 2007 and changed all of them. Some of the old strings were broken; the remaining ones were very hardened and stiff. I learned to play on the Paraguayan before I got my Luna. It has the guitar tuning pegs like the one shown in Nina’s video link below.

    Sherri Matthew on #67981

    Hi Nina,
    Thanks for posting the video link. I tried to get a sense from the video what the correct tension of a Paraguayan harp should be (see my earlier posting to Aaron on that) and I think maybe my harp is a little bit lighter strung than this one. The harp in this video has a brighter tone.

    Any ideas on how to deal with that? They are nylon strings.

    niina on #67982

    Hi Sherri
    The tension on a Paraguayan Arpa on the upper notes is about 15-20% less than on a Clarsach or 30% less than a Concert Harp (that’s my guess). The lower you go down the ‘floppier’ they get because as you say the player needs the resonating bass notes. Then the strings are less than half the tension of a Clarsach or Concert Harp. There are several reasons why Mika’s Arpa sounds brighter; because she’s in a studio setting and uses really good quality pick ups, and she often plays higher up on the strings to give a slightly more guitar sounding to the Arpa.
    There can be quite a difference in one persons Arpa that is for example tuned in F major and another persons. This is because on a concert Harp the slightest turn can make a difference to the tuning, whereas on an Arpa, you can turn the strings 2,3 or four times and the needle on the tuner hardly moves at all. So one persons B flat might have a different tension to another’s. For a person who is used to a Concert or Clarsach, tuning a Paraguayan Arpa can be very confusing at first, since the red is an F and the B flat is where a C should be and the blue is a C etc etc lol. Paraguayan Arpa players read their music in a different way to us (those that do read music, most don’t), it’s almost like learning another language. For me, the worst thing is always having to put on and take off my false nails to play it then switch to the concert harp which I must play every day. My nails are in a terrible state.
    The great thing about Arpas is that you can play modern pop music, easy listening and traditional music on them. I took 6 lessons 2 years ago in Japan but couldn’t get any more because there are ZERO teachers over here in the UK, so I’ve had to do it myself. Here is a tune I arranged by a modern pop singer I recently uploaded.

    Sherri Matthew on #67983

    Hi Niina,

    That is just a lovely video you have – I like the way you arranged the pop music. Very beautiful harp, with the carving! You’re playing concert harp every day too?

    On the video it sounds a bit like you are doing some of the clairseach fingernail damping technique? I hear you about nails. I broke one earlier this week, so I’m off recording for a few days until it grows back a little more. The length affects my sound a lot. I haven’t had a lot of luck with glue-on nails. I tried them and I wasn’t getting the tactile sense I needed. So I just wait for the nail to come back. Fortunately they grow fast!

    When I restrung my Paraguayan, I actually did it with red C’s and blue F’s, even though I knew it was normally the other way around for that instrument! I figured since I would be learning the clairseach next (and mine also has the colored strings), I would just be confusing myself and never learn the note colors properly. First time on a harp coming from my keyboard background then.

    The pop music does sound good on them, I agree!

    I am thinking of using the Paraguayan alongside the wire harp on a few tracks and see how they sound together.

    Good to know there is nothing really amiss with my instrument. It holds tune really well. Maybe I will try playing higher up instead of closer to the sound board as I usually do.

    aaron-walden on #67984

    I’ve heard that some Paraguayan players have started using red C and blue F, in the interest of being more standardized with international usage.

    niina on #67985

    That may be true of some Western beginners Aaron, but not as far as I can find out in Paraguay or Japan. There are more than 5,000 players in Japan BTW, probably more than in Paraguay.

    Sherri Matthew on #67986

    Hi Aaron and Niina,
    I don’t see a way to post pictures on the forums, so I’ve added a picture of my Paraguayan harp on my profile page under Instruments. It’s the second one. Finally had a nice day so I could get outside and take a few pictures. Also added a little write-up about the harp as well.

    hester-musicologist on #67987


    We’re working on the UI to add photos to replies. In the meantime, here’s a workaround: click “edit” and you should see an option to add a photo.

    Harmonically yours,


    Sherri Matthew on #67988

    It works! Thanks! 🙂

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