24 Harp Facts You Probably Didn't Know About The Instrument

Helga Khumanthem
Oct 05, 2022 By Helga Khumanthem
Originally Published on Mar 02, 2022
Edited by Jade Scott
Fact-checked by Pratiti Nath
This timeless string instrument has elegance written all over it. Find out more about it with these harp facts!

The harp is a beautiful instrument.

Not just in terms of looks either. This graceful musical instrument produces a rich sound that feels like it reverberates through your bones, and yet makes you feel light and happy.

A lot of us have mostly seen pedal harps and are completely unaware of the existence of folk harps, arch harps, or orchestral harps. We don't realize that we might be listening to a blues harp while playing jazz on the radio.

The harp family is diverse and makes for a most versatile instrument. Harp music can be played anywhere. The orchestral harp is used for classical music performances, while smaller harps are a trusty companion for musicians on the go.

Whether you were fascinated by this wonderful instrument after listening to a concert symphony, or you just wanted to know about different harp types, we've got you covered. Right here is a list of 24 harp facts that might surprise even the most talented harp player.

Facts About Harps

Here are some random facts about the string instrument that you may have not known earlier.

The harp is one of the oldest existing musical instruments in the world.

The Old English word for harp was 'hearpe', derived from the Proto-Germanic word 'harpã/harpō'.

Some well-known figures known for playing the harp are the biblical figure King David, California-born Joanna Newsom, Alice Coltrane, and Andreas Vollenweider.

Russian child music prodigy, Alisa Sadivoka, was one of the youngest harp players in the world. Her love for the instrument began at five years old and she now performs as a solo artist at many renowned venues.

You might have noticed the harp symbol on a bottle of Guinness stout. The harp has been associated with the Guinness brewery since the 1800s when labels featuring a Brian Boru harp were put on the company's bottles to keep track of them.

History Of The Harp

The harp is an ancient musical instrument. Read on to find out what the first harps were like and how modern harps came to be.

Traces of the earliest harps have been found in the oldest Mesopotamian civilization, Sumer.

Depictions of harps in ancient Egyptian royal tombs have shown the instruments as more bow-like due to the lack of the fore pillar (the supporting column that we see in most harps today). The Egyptians called it the benet, and it is now known as the bow harp.

Harps became lighter and more angular with time. These robust harps were greatly appreciated in the Sassanid Empire of Ancient Iran.

Around 1500 BC, the angled harp had reached Asia. The strings of the instrument were most likely made from plant fibers or animal hair, and attached to a hollow soundbox.

The timeless fore pillar was added to the string instrument during the Middle Ages. It was initially made out of stiff materials like brass or copper. The pillar improved the sound of the harp and could allow more tight strings to be added.

For a long time, the musical range of the instrument was limited. Until the beginning of the 18th century, it could play only 13 keys.

In 1810, French instrument maker, Sébastien Érard, proposed a double-mechanism model that would forever change how the harp was played. Aside from some improvements and strengthening of the pillar, Érard's design is still very much in use.

Significance Of The Harp

The harp is an important religious and political symbol. The graceful instrument was a peaceful sign of God and country.

String instruments are supposed to be symbols of God. Those who play the instruments are connected to God, and the angels of God's kingdom were often depicted playing harps.

The word 'harp' is used in multiple Bible verses. The book of Chronicles and the Psalms mention the instrument several times. For instance, Psalm 49:4 says 'I will incline my ear to a proverb; I will express my riddle on the harp'.

The cheerful yet soothing music of the harps was said to please God and the angels. The kinnor, an ancient Israelite harp-like instrument, is the national instrument of the Hebrews.

The harp is an important symbol of nationalism in Ireland. The instrument has been part of Ireland's history for over 1000 years. When Ireland became a kingdom in 1541 it got its own currency featuring a harp with a crown. In 1603, James I integrated a harp design into the royal coat of arms.

Types Of Harps

Harps come in all shapes and sizes. They can be heavy or light, triangular or curved, or vary in terms of materials too.

The lever harp, or Celtic/folk harp, features tuning pins at the end of every string that can be adjusted to create the desired sound. While they allow you to play two notes on one string, it can be quite inhibiting to keep tuning individual strings.

The pedal harp is more advanced than lever harps or folk harps. The base of the pedal harp has seven pedals that allow the harp player to play any note hands-free, following harp traditions.

Ancient members of the harp family were mostly fashioned for convenience as they were used by traveling musicians. These smaller, more portable harps were often carved and inlaid with precious jewels.

The strings were originally made out of organic material in the past, but different harps today mostly feature nylon or metal strings.

The Brian Boru's harp, or Trinity College harp, were triangular harps named after the Irish king who drove out the Viking invaders from the High Kingship of Ireland.


We Want Your Photos!
We Want Your Photos!

We Want Your Photos!

Do you have a photo you are happy to share that would improve this article?
Email your photos

More for You








See All

Written by Helga Khumanthem

Bachelor of Arts specializing in English Language and Literature

Helga Khumanthem picture

Helga KhumanthemBachelor of Arts specializing in English Language and Literature

A dedicated and passionate writer, Helga brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to the team. She holds a Bachelor's degree in English Literature and Language from Lady Shri Ram College For Womenand has a keen interest in charitable work, particularly in animal welfare, which drives her commitment to making a positive impact. Previously, she volunteered for the Friendicoes National Service Scheme, managing their social media platforms and organizing charity events for animals in need.

Read full bio >
Fact-checked by Pratiti Nath

Bachelor of Science specializing in Microbiology, Masters of Science specializing in Biotechnology

Pratiti Nath picture

Pratiti NathBachelor of Science specializing in Microbiology, Masters of Science specializing in Biotechnology

A Master's in Biotechnology from Presidency University and a Bachelor's in Microbiology from Calcutta University. Pratiti holds expertise in writing science and healthcare articles, and their inputs and feedback help writers create insightful content. They have interests in heritage, history, and climate change issues and have written articles for various websites across multiple subjects. Their experience also includes working with eco-friendly startups and climate-related NGOs.

Read full bio >