With regards to the question of how many pedals a harp has, the answer is straightforward—7 pedals. Of course, the pedals are significant for solving the earlier problems inherent in using the old harps. If you are a beginner, you can save much if you would start with a lever harp. Yet, as you progress in your harp learning, you can always transition to the more expensive harps with extras like staved back, engravings, and case.
Besides having pedals, the present-day harps may come in different made like wood, fiberglass, plastic, and even cardboard harp. Wooden harps come in maple, cherry, ash, and walnut. Yet, you can also find harps made of purple heart and mahogany. Lastly, as someone who wants to learn harp playing, it will be beneficial for you to know why harps have pedals to appreciate the present designs of harps.
How Harp Pedals Evolved and the Number of Pedals It Has at Present?
One of the most ancient and fascinating musical instruments you would ever find in this world is the majestic harp. The harp comes in a wide variety of styles, sizes, and designs, and some are wrought in a single wood piece, while others have around 2,000 pieces. The two most common types of harps are the lever harps and the pedal harps.
The lever harps feature levers found on their necks, on each string’s top to allow the harp player to loosen or tighten each pitch. You can loosen or tighten the pitch to produce natural-sounding, flat or sharp notes using the levers. One downside of using the lever harp is that you would need your hand to adjust the lever, limiting your hand’s movements.
Beginning harpists usually use the lever harps, while intermediate and more advanced players generally transition to pedal harps. Pedal harps are more comfortable to play and will allow you to improve your playing ability, especially if you intend to join the orchestra someday.
How Do the Pedals Work?
The pedal harp is a modern harp that comes with all the available technologies to improve it. It is also huge and comes with a design fit enough for art music. You can play it either solo or in a chamber ensemble. The pedal harp has around 47 strings (six and a half octaves). The pedals change the string pitch, and for this reason, you can use them with ease to play music works in different types of keys. This characteristic of the harp pedal is crucial when playing harmonically complex music of the later 20th century classical and Romantic period.
When you raise the strings using the pedals, the strings take flat positions with the following string pitches of Cb, Db, Eb, Fb, Gb, Ab, Bb, etc. When you depress the pedals midway, the strings stretch a bit, raising their pitch to that of a natural.
It will be useful to remember that every pedal controls a specific pitch. Hence, if you alter the C pedal, you will get C, Db, Eb, Fb, Gb, and Ab. If you depress the pedal further, you further stretch the string. This pedal depressing increases the pitch to C#, Db, Eb, Fb, Gb, Ab. Every pedal controls the pitch strings, changing all the pitch on the harp.
The thing is, harpists frequently change their pedal positions while playing the harp. They engage in many modifications, especially if the music piece alters key dramatically. Pedal positions are generally marked using harp notation.
You will often see harpists looking at their pedals while watching the conductor. The reason is that if the pedal positions are wrong, they may be playing the wrong notes or pitch, and the audience will notice this. The pedals are there to allow for crucial key changes.
Each pedal connects to a cable that runs along the harp’s hollow pillar. The cable’s other end connects to a disc, which rotates as you press on the pedal. This disc rotation lengthens or shortens the string, altering the note, depending on how you press on the pedal. It also changes the note among sharp, flat, or neutral. You can also secure the pedal onto a flat, sharp, or neutral position while you play.
How Did the Harp Pedals Evolve?
A careful look at the pedal will make you conclude that it is a diatonic instrument that comes with a double-action pedal mechanism. This double-action mechanism provides key changes and chromatic alterations. The pedal harps come with only seven strings, and you can play seven notes every octave.
It was Sebastien Erard who first patented the double-action pedal system in 1801. On the other hand, Charles Groll was the first to register a patent in 1807 (Patent no. 3559), wherein two lines of fourchettes doubled the harp mechanism.
The Value of Harp Pedals
You can only appreciate the importance of pedals if you were able to use the early harps. You need to hand-tune the early harps to change their keys to match the music piece. Moreover, the early harps were seldom utilized in classical music because they were difficult to use.
The harp only evolved into something worthy of the modern orchestras in the 19th century. Besides, only very few composers made way for harps in their classical compositions, namely, Mozart and Handel.
With the inclusion of pedals, the harp becomes a manageable instrument for the orchestra. These pedals solved the old problems and made it possible to change the pitch of the strings quickly. The early versions of harps with pedals began in Austria. Soon, more refined versions evolved in other parts of Europe, allowing for quick pitch changing and chromatic inclusion into harp compositions. The pedals were fine-tuned in the 18th century, which led to our modern-day concert harps.
Pedal harps are played differently depending on the types of schools of technique you subscribe to. The largest schools belong to the various French Schools. You will also find specific Viennese, Russian, and other European Schools. These teaching differences lie in the arms’ posture, hand shape, and musical aesthetic.
Other Types of Harps
You will also find other types of harps that do not utilize pedals for chromatics or changing pitch. The Cross-strung Harp and the Welsh Triple Harp are perfect examples of these harps. They come with additional strings that you can use to alter the note from neutral note to flat or sharp note, and its function is similar to that of the piano’s black keys.
The lever type is another type of harp without pedals. As mentioned above, these harps come with a lever that shortens or lengthens the string to alter pitch when you flip the lever.
Other types of harps that are non-pedal include the Latin-American/Paraguayan Harps, the Modern lever/Gothic, Celtic, Folk Harps, Modern Wire Harps, and Multi-Course Harps.