Lever / Celtic Harps
This type of harp is smaller in size and popular among folk musicians. Operated by manually flipping the levers to pre-set or change the pitches across the range, they are usually lighter strung, and have a bright clear sound. They are wonderful for playing Celtic, Hymn, Traditional, some classical and generally, music that is diatonic (without frequent key changes). Their different sizes can range from 27 to 40 strings. The largest lever harp is about 3/4 size in height to a pedal harp.
Generally, the larger the harp is , the more depth and warmth of tone the instrument has, and more music it can play (eg. more strings yields a wider range, bigger sounding box gives a fuller sound). Today, the range of the lever harp remains less standardized.
Tuning is also less standardized for lever harps. Eb and C major (occasionally Ab major) are most common. Tuning in C major means there are less lever changes for playing in sharp keys but it also means you cannot play in any flat keys. Therefore, Eb major is the more versatile choice as it allows the player to play up to keys of 3 flats and 3 sharps.
Up until recently, the lever harp was viewed by many as a beginner’s instrument before they step forward to the pedal harp. However, with the rise in popularity of Scottish and Irish traditional music, the Celtic lever harp has become increasingly acknowledged as an instrument in its own right.
Pedal harps are larger in size and are equipped with a brilliant pedal mechanism that allows the instrument to change in any keys more conveniently. The pedals allow the harpist handle more advanced and contemporary music where key changes are commonplace.
The modern pedal harp has 47 strings covering a range of six and a half octaves. Each of the 7 pedals has 3 positions: Upper (flat), Middle (natural), and Lower (sharp). Strings are tuned to Cb major (7 flats) so that when all pedals are in the middle position, the harp is in the key of C major (all pitches natural). The smaller ¾ size pedal harp with 40 strings is an option for beginners or those who desire a smaller pedal harp.
Pedal Harps have an impressive appearance and because of their larger sounding box and bigger range, they have a rich sonority and a deep full voice. Classical music and larger scale compositions are usually written for this type of harp. The swishing, watery quality of the pedal harp earns itself a regular role in orchestral and operatic music. Today, the pedal harp is found ventured into the world of popular and jazz music, and it’s often heard in movie and television soundtracks for its romantic and atmospheric quality.