Posted on 1 Comment

Where Do Double-Strung Harps Come From? [Double-Strung Harp FAQ S1E4Pt1]

Hi, I’m Cynthia Shelhart. You can call me Cindy. And it’s time for some #DoubleTalk. Double-strung harp, that is!

Last time, in Episode 3 of our double-strung harp FAQ series, we talked about how to choose the best double-strung harp for you—whether it’s your first one, or your next one. If you missed that episode, make sure to subscribe, so you can be notified for upcoming episodes.

And if you see me looking down today, I’ve got a ton of notes for you, because we have a lot in store on Episode 4. This time, we’re going to climb the family tree of the double-strung harp! We’ll explore the roots of the modern double-strung harp, which is a hybrid of historical & traditional multi-row harps and modern lever harps. And we’ll take a look at how it evolved to play chromatic music, key changes, and polyphony, while creating the double-strung harps that we’re familiar with. 

Late Renaissance Chromatic Harps: Spain & Italy

So, let’s take a walk back in history. We know that there were probably some medieval double-strung harps; these were tuned in unison, probably to play early polyphony (more than one voice at a time), overlapping in the same range. But, by the late Renaissance, music had become more chromatic—with accidentals, and playing in different keys—and chromatic harps came along to help solve those challenges for evolving music. 

Chromatic harps came first from Spain to Italy. These harps were cross-strung, meaning that the strings crossed each other like a letter X. There were two rows: one of them was diatonic, like the white keys of a keyboard instrument, and the other was for the flats and sharps, like the black keys on a keyboard instrument. 

The Italian instrument ended up being a little different. Because their harps’ soundboards and sound boxes were built more narrowly, these needed to have parallel strings, rather than the cross-stringing of the Spanish chromatic harps. These harps in Italy had 2, or even 3 rows (again, with parallel stringing because of the narrower soundbox), and they were called the arpa doppia. The name “arpa doppia” comes from the doubled number of strings—even if it’s not exactly doubled, it means “extra number of strings.” The outer row of the arpa doppia was a diatonic row, again, like the white keys on a keyboard instrument, and the inner row was chromatic. And they traded places in the middle, so that either hand would always play a diatonic row on the outside, and reach in from either side into the inner chromatic row. 

The 17th Century Italian Triple Harp

By the time music had evolved into what we now call the beginning of the Baroque era, around the year 1600, the arpa doppia had evolved also, into a larger Italian triple harp. There were still 2 parallel, diatonic, unison rows, with a chromatic center row. The center row was at first an incomplete middle row. It was used in the middle register of the harp, where the harpist would use that area of the harp for playing continuo harmony chords. Later, the middle row, the chromatic row, extended to more areas of the harp; more higher and lower strings were added to the third inner row.

And to play accidentals, the harpist needed to reach into the middle row from either side, similar to the earlier arpa doppia. Now, there were no sharping levers on these harps. So if a new key was needed, the harpist would have to retune all the strings as needed in the 2 outer rows. 

The larger Italian triples were used primarily as bass or continuo instruments, playing harmony, and they played low on the strings. These were extremely tall instruments, and the player would sit lower than the height of the harp, and play low on the strings near the soundboard, to bring out the resonant bass of this larger instrument. But later on, harpists, especially skilled harpists, were also used for playing more higher-range, solo passages. The most famous from this time is the solo in the aria, “Possente spirto” in Monteverdi’s opera L’Orfeo (1607).

17th Century Italian Triple Harps in France & England

The larger Italian triple harps soon made their way across continental Europe, especially to France, and then traveled to England. In 1625, a French triple harpist named Jean le Flelle came to London. He was in the large retinue of Princess Henrietta Maria, who came from France to become the Queen Consort of King Charles I of England. She liked to spend money, and she was a patroness of the arts. So, she brought Jean le Flelle along with her. And a few years after she became queen, le Flelle himself became a court musician. This was in 1629.

One of his fellow court musicians was the composer and musician, William Lawes. If you’ve ever heard of his Harp Consorts, which were composed for violin, viol, theorbo, and harp, these were probably composed for le Flelle’s ensemble at court. They were composed for this large Italian triple, and this was right around the time that le Flelle joined the party, so they were probably composed for le Flelle and his ensemble in the court of Charles I and Queen Henrietta Maria. 

The 17th & 18th Century Welsh Connection

When le Flelle came to London and came to court, there were already other harpists and harpbuilders active in London. They came especially from Wales, which already had a historical connection with the harp. Older harps from Wales were single-row harps. And, unlike the continental harp, Welsh harps (the single-row harps) were played on the left shoulder, so that the left hand played the higher treble strings, and the right hand played bass strings. 

King Henry VIII annexed the country of Wales in 1536. So the traditional moneyed patrons, the gentry of Wales, who would normally be the patrons of these (Welsh) harpists, and by extension, harpbuilders—these folks all went to London where the king was, where their new government was, and where all the action was. And Welsh harpists and their harpbuilders followed their traditional patrons to London.

When they came to London, le Flelle’s new triple harp at court was the latest thing, the latest fashion in music, and it was quickly adopted by these Welsh harpists and their builders at that time. It was the new thing, the new fashion, and they wanted to be a part of it.

In 1660, Charles Evans was the first known Welsh player of the Italian triple to become part of the court musicians. He was appointed to the court of Charles II, following the Restoration, after the English Civil War. 

By the 18th century, the triple harp had become redesigned—and really, transformed, having more strings in its chromatic row. The shoulder of the harp (near the shoulder of the player) on larger Italian harps was much, much higher, and the harpist sat down low. The new, transformed harps, the triple harps in the 18th century, were changed so that they were lower at the shoulder, and much easier for the harpist to reach the upper-range strings. So they would be able to play more virtuosic passages in the treble range of the harp. The design of the harp was almost flip-flopped, in a way; the shoulder became lower, and the bass strings, the long bass strings, had a tall, high “head.”

This harp became so popular among the Welsh, and later in Wales, that it became known as the Welsh triple harp, despite its Italian origins. Like the earlier Welsh single-row harps, these new Welsh triple harps were also played on the left shoulder, using the left hand for the treble row and the right hand for the bass strings. This new Welsh triple harp was more popular in northern Wales, at first; in southern Wales, they kept playing the older, single-row Welsh harp until the 19th century.

This (the Welsh triple) is the harp that is known to be the ancestor of the most characteristic sound of the Welsh triple harp, and later with a double-strung harp. This is, of course, what’s called “the unisons,” later called “doubling” (or my term, echoing), and this was used in arrangements of Welsh airs with variations. This is where the strings of the two outer rows, the diatonic rows, were tuned the same, and they echoed or “doubled” each other back and forth; they were referred to as “the unisons.”

In 1736. Handel’s famous Concerto in B-flat for harp, was premiered by Welsh triple harpist, William Powell. This was not premiered on a pedal harp, although it’s played a lot on pedal harps today. It was premiered on a triple harp. And later, it was frequently performed by the most famous of the 18th century Welsh triple harp players, John Parry.

Wrapping Up

So, wrapping up for today, that’s a first look at the historical roots of the modern double-strung harp—from the late Renaissance Spanish chromatic harps, to the 18th century Welsh triple harp. Next time, in Part 2, we’ll continue on with the Welsh triple harp and its 19th century revival, and move ahead to the 20th century “big bang”: the beginnings of the modern double-strung harp. 

If you liked what you heard today, please make sure that you’re subscribed, so that you can be notified about future episodes. And if you want to be one of the absolute first to get some more Double Talk, head on over to my website, CindyShelhart.com, and sign up for my mailing list. 

And again, next time, make sure you tune in for Part 2 of the double-strung harp’s family tree. See you next time!

Posted on Leave a comment

One drummer drumming: hand independence for double-strung harp

The day after the 12th day of Christmas

Yesterday, January 5, 2022, was the 12th (and last) day of Christmas for many folks. And in the Christmas carol The 12 Days of Christmas, the gift on day 12 is the noisiest thing that anyone EVER gave their true love. (What were they thinking?)

I love the Muppet version with John Denver. Guess who sings LOUDLY about the 12 drummers drumming?

Today (the day after the 12th day), Christmas is over, and it’s a little quieter. (Maybe the other 11 drummers went home after the gig.) Now, it’s just you. Back to ONE drummer drumming. (OK, or one harpist strumming. You get the idea.)

But there’s still a lot going on. Musically speaking, any harpist wears a lot of hats. Even when you’re playing on your own, you’re actually a 1-human band or orchestra. You play melody AND harmony, AND you’re also the rhythm section (bass and percussion—yes, you’re a drummer, too).

And when you add a second row of strings? Holy multitasking, Batman. How do you put it all together?

Hand independence (and coordination)

Ever wonder why it’s so hard to rub your stomach and pat your head (or walk and chew gum) at the same time? Or why it’s hard to play 2 different parts (left & right hands) at the same time? 

Your brain DOESN’T want to do 2 different things at once. It naturally wants to match one hand to the other, instead of letting each do its own thing. And it probably tells your dominant hand that it should take the lead. Every. Single. Time.

Sure, you can play a single line of music with one hand, or even the same melody with both hands, and it’ll sound great. (It’s a harp, after all.) That’s how we start. Eventually, though, you might want to do something more. And playing a piece of music with “something more” not only involves hand independence, but also coordination between hands. You’ll need to put those parts together.

The more you can develop hand independence and coordination (doing different things with each hand as you play, as you play both hands together), the more confidence you’ll have in playing more complex music, and playing at faster tempi in general.

And the best news of all? You’ve already got the ideal instrument to help you on your way to hand independence—your double-strung harp! My signature framework, The Technique Triangle™ for double-strung harp, teaches 3 techniques that help you make the most of 2 hands AND 2 rows of strings.

Unison Playing and Echo Technique = “Same”

Everyone wants to start with Echo Technique, the unique effect most associated with the double-strung harp. Awesome—it’s also the best introduction to the instrument. Why? Same is easier than different! 

Our hands naturally want to move in the same direction when playing the harp, so it makes sense to start with both hands playing the same notes before moving on to independent parts. Unison playing, the ULTIMATE “same thing” approach, is easiest because both hands play the same pitches and rhythms, and both parts move in the same direction (this is described as moving in parallel motion).On a diatonic double-strung harp, playing in unison also uses the same fingering for each hand (“mirror” fingering), which eliminates any differences between hands.

If you’re used to playing single-row harps with hands separated, you’ll also find unison playing useful when learning to play DSH with hands overlapped in the same plane. The easiest way to overlap is to place and play the same notes in each hand; this feels familiar, like the “home row” in touch typing. Unison playing, with its “home row” orientation and parallel motion, can also help a new player adjust visually to the double harp. 

After unison playing, Echo Technique is the next easiest approach to the double-strung harp. Both hands still move in parallel motion (easier than contrary motion), and play the same pitches, while the melodic rhythm is sometimes modified slightly for smooth echoing.

Because Echo Technique is also the foundation for Split Technique and Overlap Technique, you will continue to see “echo-style” passages as techniques progress from same to similar and different.

Split Technique = “Similar”

After Echo Technique, Split Technique is the next easiest technique to play on the double-strung harp. Split Technique describes the process of dividing a melodic passage between hands on the two unison rows of the harp. This helps you play repeated or similar notes, extended scale passages, and complex ornamentation with increased clarity and speed.

Split Technique is often used to alternate repeated notes between hands in fast or complex music that doesn’t need accompaniment; this includes traditional dance tunes like jigs, strathspeys and reels. These tunes were originally composed for fiddle, pipe, whistle or flute, which use a bow or the tongue to articulate repeated notes. It can be tricky to play repeated notes on a single-row harp, because the player must replace fingers on already vibrating strings. On a double-strung harp, you can divide the repeated notes between two rows to prevent them from buzzing or “canceling each other out.”

Because not every melody has repeated notes, or conveniently moves in consecutive steps, you’ll eventually need to move your hands in opposite directions, or contrary motion. In Split Technique, fingering and placing become less similar between hands, as you begin to play different pitches and rhythms in each hand. 

You can think of Split Technique as a similar middle ground, between the same of Echo Technique and the independent or different aspects of Overlap Technique.

Overlap Technique = “Different”

Overlap Technique, the third and final part of The Technique Triangle, completes the hand independence progression from same (Echo Technique) to similar (Split Technique) to different. You can use both rows of the DSH to play independent parts, including echoed notes and split melodic passages, which overlap in the same range of the harp. You can also set sharping levers on either string row for different tunings, making accidentals easier.

As pitches and rhythms (and their fingering and placing) vary between hands, you’ll find more occurrences of contrary motion (playing in opposite directions) in Overlap Technique. It can be challenging enough to play in contrary motion on 1 row of strings, with hands separated—now, we begin to play in opposite directions on 2 overlapping rows.

Like playing unisons in the same plane, this is a physical difference that may take some getting used to. But the potential difficulty lies in contrary motion itself, not necessarily in playing overlapped contrary motion. This takes practice and time, at slow tempi—eventually, it’ll click! (Speaking of click: don’t forget your metronome… see below.)

And if you’re ready for an extreme “brain twister” for contrary motion, try playing a two-part round! 😜 My DSH method book, Make Mine a Double,  includes the French children’s song Frère Jacques as an Overlap Technique etude (along with 80 other exercises, etudes, and arrangements).

Practice and the “M” word (metronome)

You may need to practice some pieces or passages by playing hands separately. Pieces or passages with interlocking parts, such as repeated notes or two-handed ornaments (see Chapter 3), may need to be practiced hands together (very slowly to start!). The practice approach depends on the musical context, and the individual harpist. Think of rubbing your stomach and patting your head at the same time: some people learn to do this right away with both hands, and others are successful after they practice the actions separately first, then in combination. 

To isolate the alternating rhythms of Echo Technique, you may also like to try “drumming” the rhythms on your lap, the soundboard of your harp, or another horizontal surface. As you count aloud (a metronome is handy here), find and practice the spots where you play right hand or left hand alone, and the places where hands play together. For more information on this practice technique, check out the “Drumming the Rhythm” section of Ann Heymann’s book, Coupled Hands for Harpers.

And if you’d like to have some fun with hand independence, I invite you to join me in my upcoming Irish DSH workshop on February 12.

Cheers!

PS: If Beaker can make friends with his metronome, so can you. Just sayin’. (Watch your tempo, though!)

It all starts with the metronome… just ask Beaker!
Posted on Leave a comment

Performance Video: Jamaica/Nonesuch (English Country Dances, arr. Shelhart)

This pair of English country dance tunes from the Playford collection has been a favorite of mine for many years. I learned Jamaica from the playing of Boston-based dance band Bare Necessities.

Recorded in April 2021 at St. John’s United Church, Chesterton IN, for the 2021 Gebhard Woods Dulcimer and Traditional Music Festival.

Learn more at http://www.gebharddulcimer.org/.

Posted on Leave a comment

Be like Santa: gig bags & checklists

It’s that time of year—any time I think about getting ready for a holiday gig, my theme song is the 1950 Kay Starr swing classic, “(Everybody’s Waitin’ For) The Man With The Bag”. Here’s a YouTube music link to check it out. Have a listen!

The Man with the Bag is a busy dude in December…but harpists face the same challenges year-round. Let’s take a page out of Santa’s book, and use gig bags and checklists to make your gig packing and tracking a little easier!

Packing: The Harpist with the Bag

First of all, let’s think about the definition of “gig.” Most harpists think about gigs as public performances (paid or volunteer). But, you may also travel with your harp to other events, such as rehearsals, lessons & workshops (students AND teachers), therapeutic settings, or video/photo/recording sessions.

We’ll use the word “gig” for any of these events. And any harpist, at any level, can benefit from organizing their harp gear in a gig bag (or bags).

Start with The Big 6

To make your next gig less stressful, think about the things you always need to bring with you (besides your harp). Lather, rinse, repeat.

Here’s what I do: For each gig, I start packing with the same 6 things (besides my harp) that I need at nearly every gig, nicknamed “The Big 6.” (Your items and the number may vary.) Some of these items live in my car trunk (more on this later), which makes it even easier.

I break the “Big 6” down into 2 groups of 3:

  • Acoustic (non-electric) items: the gig bag, music stand, and harp bench.
  • Electric (or electric-related) items: the amplifier, amplifier stand, and extension cord reel.

The Gig Bag 

And number 1 on the “Big 6” hit parade: The gig bag! It’s your go-to container for items you use at every gig (like tuning keys), or bring along “just in case” (like replacement strings). Here are a few ideas for packing your gig bag.

Onstage Bag

Since you’ll usually stash your gig bag “behind the scenes” after unloading, you can use this small pouch or other container (like a liquids bag for air travel) to hold “onstage” gig essentials near your harp. These might include:

  • Harp & business items: tuning key; electronic tuner, tuning mic clip & adapter (if you use these); polarized grounding AC adapter; dustcloth or brush; business cards, small notebook, pencil/pen, Sharpie marker for autographs.
  • Personal items: Brush/comb; mirror; lip balm; a pack of tissues; mints/lozenges; fingernail clippers; adhesive bandages; gloves; gig-appropriate face mask/covering; stain remover pen; medications as needed.

Harp Care

If you play more than one harp, make sure you bring the right stuff for the harp du jour! Be prepared with:

  • Extra strings (keep in the gig bag, or the harp case) and tuning key(s) (keep extras in your car glove compartment and harp case).
  • A harp mat to cover up those distracting carpet or floor patterns (I like the Perfect-View Harp Mat from Harp Couture).
  • Space blanket for climate control: keep your harp shady or warm as needed in the car.
  • Other harp tools needed for changing strings and harp assembly (i.e. the leg driver or hex wrench for attaching harp legs).
  • Black fabric or towel to cover onstage gear (I pack 2 black hand towels (and replace them when they fade after multiple washes).

Technology

Here’s a list of tech gear that you might need for your event—make sure you charge EVERYTHING before you leave!

  • Mobile devices & chargers/cables: phone, tablet, foot pedal, pencil/stylus, battery pack & spare batteries as needed.
  • Audio: microphones, pickup/DI box, amplifier, connection & power cables, mic & amplifier stands.
  • Music stand light & power source (AC or batteries).
  • Video: tripod, lighting gear, & other video gear.

Other Stuff

And a few more items:

  • Sheet music/books/set list (if you’re using PDFs on your tablet, make sure you have all your files).
  • Client paperwork: copies of contract, directions, etc.
  • Purse/wallet: keep it compact.
  • Water bottle & snack (I’m a granola bar fan for my gig bag).
  • Eyewear: sunglasses, music glasses, contact lens needs.
  • Dental care: toothbrush, toothpaste, dental floss.
  • New healthcare needs: 1-2 more gig-appropriate mask(s), hand sanitizer, proof of vaccination.

Onstage Tote

  • At many gigs, you’ll usually need to stash your gig bag, harp case, and other gear behind the scenes. (Pro tip: stash gear inside your harp case!)
  • The more formal the gig, the less gear you’ll want cluttering your performance area. You can use the black fabric or towel camouflage mentioned earlier, but sometimes that’s not enough.
  • To keep your essentials nearby, clean, secure, and portable (for breaks), bring along an “onstage tote” (in black or business neutral)—for your onstage bag, purse or wallet, phone, and technology.

Packing and Storage

What kind of bags do you use for your gig bag and other gear? And how do you pack?

  • First and foremost, make sure it’s “one-person portable.” You’re usually your own roadie, so think about what YOU can carry (especially at the end of a gig, when you’re tired and ready to hit the road).
  • Keep it lean with the necessities—but, if one bag is still too heavy or small, add another bag. And don’t try to carry it all at once. (For years, my rolling onboard suitcase did double duty as a gig bag. This worked great.)
  • Pack like items together, with containers you already have; try small clear containers and zip bags, so you can see what’s in them. And if it makes you happy, go nuts with your labelmaker. (Works for me.)
  • At the beginning, you may be moving stuff back and forth a lot, between home storage and your gig bag. Later, as you’re able, start investing in duplicate items (like tuning keys and amp cables), so you can keep most of your gear packed and gig-ready.
  • I keep 3 of my “Big 6” items in my car trunk: a folding harp bench, a folding music stand in its bag, and an extension cord reel. If you have duplicates of your “Big 6”-type items, this might work for you (if you have available real estate in your harpmobile).

Tracking: Make a List, Check It Twice

According to legend, Santa keeps it simple with ONE list. Yeah, he’s magic like that. Here’s how you can do the same with tracking your gig gear.

Make a List

  • Create a gig prep & pack checklist. Divide your list into sections by category (onstage bag, technology, etc.).
  • On your list, make note of any items that you need to move back and forth for gigs—the ones that live “elsewhere” (not in the gig bag). 
  • Keep a copy of this list in your gig bag.

Check It Twice (or More)

  • Before the gig: Make sure you’ve gathered and packed any “elsewhere” items from the list, along with the “permanent residents” of the gig bag.
  • Want to do something differently next time? Keep a running “Next Time” list of things you want to add to (or delete from) your prep & pack list.
  • And remember to put away your “elsewhere” items after the gig!

Harpy Holidays!

Hope you got some good packing and tracking ideas from Santa (and me)! I’ll share more harp organizing ideas in future posts.

Cheers! 

Posted on 2 Comments

Which Double-Strung Harp Should I Choose? [Double-Strung Harp FAQ S1E3]

Hi, I’m Cynthia Shelhart. You can call me Cindy. And it’s time for some Double Talk. Double-strung harp, that is.

In our last episode, we literally talked about the nuts and bolts of the double-strung harp’s hardware: lever harp strings, tuning pins, and levers, and all the things that make it work behind the scenes. Now today, in Episode 3, it’s the exciting part—it’s Double Harp Decision Time! So, if you’ve caught the double-strung harp bug, today we’re going to talk about the ways to choose either your first one, or the next one, so that it’s right for you.

Think Differently about DSH

When you’re choosing your double-strung harp, it might seem like choosing any other harp. But there are a few things that you need to know that are different about the double-strung harp; it has some different advantages that you should know about before you go shopping. So, before you measure your car seats, and check your budget, let’s talk about those differences.

One important thing to know is that the double-strung harp is more effective than single-row harps when you’re dealing with a smaller range. Literally, it sounds bigger than its footprint. The overtones from the extra row of strings give you extra sound, and that makes it sound bigger than it really is.

Also, the bass or lower strings can sound kind of muddy when you are echoing them, or playing them in a double harp effect down low. So it’s actually advantageous to have a smaller double-strung harp, rather than a larger one, because it’s going to sound better throughout the full extent of its range.

It’s NOT All About the Bass

And that brings us to our next question. I hear this all the time: “Won’t I miss the bass strings, if it’s a smaller harp?”(By the way, I’ve got to share this: one of my superfans has a great comeback answer to the range question: “Do flute players miss the bass notes?” Well, of course not. They don’t.)

So, think about a guitar: 6 strings, right? Maybe 12? Or think about different sizes of instruments in the string family or the wind families. These are different instruments, and they have different ranges.

And so with double-strung harps, if they have a smaller range, that doesn’t make it any LESS of a harp. It just makes it a DIFFERENT harp, with a different approach to playing the harp, and a different approach to the music that you play on it. It doesn’t make it any less important, just because it has a smaller range.

What Do YOU Need? 

Now that we’ve talked about those differences of the double-strung harp, and what you might need to know before you start shopping, let’s also talk about YOUR needs: your lifestyle, your body, your musical needs. And we’ll start with your body and lifestyle. When you’re shopping for a double-strung harp, think about things like: where and how are you going to play it? Where are you going to store it? Do you need to move it anywhere? How would you transport it? That kind of thing.

YOUR Body & Lifestyle Needs

Let’s start first with things that relate to your physical body, things that you might need to choose, such as the physical size and weight of the harp, and its string tension—things that affect your body—and find out what works best for you. For example, for the size: do you need a larger or a smaller harp? Are you a large human or a small human? Maybe you need a floor harp, maybe you need a lap harp, or something in between.

For the harp’s weight, you might physically need a lighter harp, or you might need a lighter harp for another reason, maybe easier transport. If you are playing it in therapeutic settings, or teaching, or playing at a festival, it might need to be lighter just to make it easier to carry around.

Two things to consider when you’re thinking about the harp’s weight: The harp can be lighter if it’s smaller, but smaller harps are not always lighter; it depends on the construction. Also, certain woods can be lighter than others. For example, maple is REALLY, really heavy compared to harps that are made from woods like cherry and walnut.

For string tension—this is how hard (or not hard) you need to pull on the strings to make the sound—this is something to think about: If you have physical challenges that make it harder for you to pull on a harp with high tension, you might need a harp with lighter tension. You might also play a lot of, for example, traditional Irish and Scottish dance music that goes along pretty quickly; it makes it easier to play if you have lighter tension on the strings. On the other hand, you might be a pedal harp player, or used to playing other harps with higher tension, possibly with gut strings. You might be looking for a double-strung harp that has higher tension. (You might, in that case, be looking for a double-strung harp with gut strings.)

Moving from you, yourself, out to your environment: let’s talk about storage. Where are you going to store your harp? Where are you going to be keeping it in your living space? Do you need to take it to a place of work? So, think about things like square footage, and climate control—you’ll need to be thinking about humidity (or possibly getting rid of humidity, depending on where you live). You also might need to be thinking about your children, or maybe your four-footed children (your pets). Think about places where you have room for your harp, and where it is safe to keep your harp and take good care of it.

And if you need to play your harp someplace other than your place of residence, you’ll need to think about: how am I going to get it there? Maybe you need to move it once a year; maybe you need to move it once a day. How often do you need to move it to a different place, and how will you be doing that? Do you have a car? Do you take it on public transportation? These are all things to keep in mind.

Oh, and while you’re taking care of yourself, don’t forget about your budget. Make sure that you get the harp of your dreams, but that it doesn’t leave you lacking in funds for having food to eat and a roof over your head (always very important).

YOUR Musical Needs

Okay, so we’ve talked about your personal needs—physical needs and your lifestyle. Now let’s talk about your musical needs. What kind of music do you want to play on your double-strung harp? It lends itself to all kinds of music; really, anything that you play on a single-row harp, you could play on a double-strung harp.

But, you may want to start thinking about range a little differently: how many strings, and how low and high do they go? You might want to think about: do you absolutely have to play the music as written, with those notes in the lower range of your harp (just like the ones in your single row harp library, for example)? Or, can you be flexible with adapting music for your double-strung harp, that fits in a different range?

DSH Size and Range

There are three general categories for size and range when you’re talking about music for a double-strung harp:

  • The smaller category of range can bring you up to 24 x 2 strings. The lowest note is usually F or G below middle C, but it can sometimes be a little bit lower than that.
  • Medium-sized double-strung harps are usually in the 26 or 27 x 2 range, and their lowest string goes down to the C below middle C.
  • The largest of the double-strung harp family goes anywhere from 29 to 34 x 2 strings. This can add up to an octave lower than the medium-sized category.

Sharping Levers

And don’t forget your levers! Don’t forget to check and see the configuration and number of levers that works best for you, and the music that you want to play. And, if you didn’t get to see it, Episode 2 is all about lever harp hardware, as it’s used for double-strung harp. That’ll be a great place to check for more lever information, so check back on Episode Two.

What I Do: Then and Now

Okay, so we’ve talked about musical differences and advantages of the double-strung harp that you need to know about when you’re shopping. We’ve talked about considering your own personal and musical needs and wants. And I bet you’re wondering by now what I do, and what I might recommend. So let me tell you a little bit about that.

Back in the Day

My path to double-strung harp came directly from arranging for very small single-row harps (even in some cases, lap harps), with fewer strings. So I’m used to adapting music for a different range on a harp. And I’ve always loved that challenge. I’ve loved the challenge of arranging for fewer strings, and making it more musical and effective with a different setup with the strings.

Back when I started double-strung harp—this was the first year of the double-strung harp being available in North America—there really weren’t very many choices. There were 2 builders in the US. Double-strung harps were made by Stoney End Harps in Minnesota, and Triplett Harps in California (although Triplett only made a couple of double-strung harps before they discontinued them).

So Stoney End is really the oldest (continuous) builder of double-strung harps in North America. And when I got to see one for the first time, this was their very first double-strung harp. It was the 29 x 2 harp that later became the Lorraine. My former teacher had the very first one, made of cherry wood, and that’s the one that I got to see and try out and fall in love with. So a couple of months later, I decided to pick up the next one in production; that was their second DSH, and the first 29 x 2 in walnut, also later called the Lorraine.

OK, Now What?

And since then (although I’ve played larger and smaller double-strung harps), I think now that, although at the time I wanted a floor harp with a larger range, I would have been just as happy with a slightly smaller harp (had they been available). So that’s what I play now. I play harps in the medium-sized range, the 26 or 27 x 2 range, and that’s what works best for me.

As far as weight and tension go these days, I prefer to play harps that are made of cherry wood. All of the harps that I have in my studio—some of them right over there on the floor—they’re all made of cherry wood. I like the combination of durability and lighter weight. They’re almost as durable as maple wood, but they’re not as heavy as maple. And I like the way they look. So I’ve decided to go with cherry. My Dusty Strings FH26 double is cherry wood, my Rees Double Morgan Meghan is cherry, as are a couple of single-row harps that I have. So, that works for me.

And the harps that I play, I prefer to play them with lighter tension. Musically speaking, it’s a better choice for the music I play, because I include fast dance tunes in my repertoire. This also works for me physically, because: the way my hands are built and designed? They’re not as good with high tension. So I use lighter tension harps to help me keep playing my harps longer! (Also, again, that works for me; your mileage may vary—it definitely will vary. And that will influence your choices.)

My DSH Range: Why Medium-Sized?

And as I just mentioned, I’m playing medium-sized harps, with that medium-sized range. And I gotta admit, I used to be one of those, “oh, I’ve got to have bass notes” kind of harpists. I definitely love a great bass line. But, since then, I realized that I could adapt even my 29 x 2 harp repertoire from my original double-strung harps, I could adapt those compositions and arrangements to a medium-sized double, without too much trouble. It’s only three fewer strings. So, it didn’t make that much of a difference. And it was easy to make that transition and adapt the music, just a little bit more, to fit on the harp that I was playing more recently.

The medium-sized range encourages you to play more with both hands in the same register, in the same range, overlapping each other. And this is one of the key things that makes your double-strung harp “sound more like a double,” which is everyone’s goal. I’ll be talking about how to do this with my signature double-strung harp techniques in future episodes.

Wrapping Up

So I hope this gives you some information for that first (or next!) double-strung harp. Don’t forget that a double-strung harp is a DIFFERENT harp, with DIFFERENT advantages, and different things to think about before you go shopping. And also, since “less is often more” when we’re talking about range, it may be that you don’t need a large one to start with. In fact, that may be to your advantage, to start with a small one. And if that helps your budget, if it helps you to join the club sooner, I think that’s a great idea!

If you liked what you heard today, make sure you’re subscribed, so you can be notified about future episodes. And if you want to be the FIRST to hear some more Double Talk, head on over to my website, cindyshelhart.com, and sign up for my mailing list, and I’ll keep you notified.

And in my next video, we’re going to look into the double-strung harp family tree. We’re going to explore the origin story of the double-strung harp, with its historical, traditional, and modern ancestors and relatives. Can’t wait to share that with you. See you next time!

Posted on 4 Comments

Introducing The Technique Triangle™

Back in November, I had a great time presenting an online workshop for double-strung harpists.

Along with 2 of my brand new holiday arrangements, we also talked about my signature framework for double-strung harp technique—which you might recognize from my DSH method book, Make Mine a Double.

But now, I’m officially unveiling this framework to the world as The Technique Triangle™, as part of The Shelhart Method™ for double-strung harp. I thought now would be a good time to share this with you…so, here’s what it looks like.

About DSH Techniques

Just to be clear, double-strung harp techniques fit into two categories, instrumental and compositional:

  • Instrumental techniques (aka performance techniques) train the hands, fingers, eyes, and brain for DSH sound production. You’re actively teaching your body how to play.
  • Compositional techniques are used to create music with DSH effects. Despite the name, these aren’t just for composing music from scratch, but also used in lead sheet performance, and in arranging music from other sources.

About The Technique Triangle

  • All 3 techniques of The Technique Triangle are used as both instrumental AND compositional techniques.
  • Each technique is named for its main job in playing and creating DSH music.
  • You can use these techniques to create an unlimited number of DSH patterns—but they’re still based on 1 or more of these 3 DSH techniques, and the same pattern can be used in a variety of ways.
  • Also, you don’t need to use all 3 of these technique types in the same arrangement. Using even just ONE of the techniques helps your DSH “sound more like a double.”

Echo Technique

  • Echo Technique is the foundation sound of the double-strung harp.
  • This melodic technique features the two string rows, tuned in unison; both hands echo the same notes.

Split Technique

  • Split Technique serves as the DSH’s problem-solver.
  • Also a melodic technique, the hands split similar notes—repeated notes or extended scale patterns—between hands for playing ease.
  • Split Technique also includes elements of Echo Technique.

Overlap Technique

  • Overlap Technique weaves independent parts together, as both hands overlap in the same range of the DSH to play 2 or more different parts (including accidentals).
  • In Overlap Technique, harmony, rhythm, and texture share the stage with melodic elements from Echo and Split Techniques.

More to come

I’ll be sharing more about The Technique Triangle™ and its uses for DSH next year in blog posts, workshops and more. In the meantime, consider this your invitation to subscribe to my mailing list for all the latest news & events in the world of double-strung harp!

Posted on Leave a comment

Performance Video: Limberlost Angel (Cynthia Shelhart)

This 1993 original, the title track of my Limberlost Angel CD, was inspired by the 1904 novel Freckles by Indiana author/naturalist Gene Stratton Porter. In the story, Freckles, an Irish orphan from Chicago, finds work guarding valuable timber in the Limberlost forests and swamps of northeast Indiana. Despite many challenges, he meets and wins the love of his life, known to readers only as “the Swamp Angel”; I gave her the new nickname “Limberlost Angel” after composing this air.

Recorded in April 2021 at St. John’s United Church, Chesterton IN, for the 2021 Gebhard Woods Dulcimer and Traditional Music Festival.

Learn more at http://www.gebharddulcimer.org/.

Posted on Leave a comment

You’re invited! [Holiday DSH Workshop]

Making plans for the holidays?
Be sure to leave some time for yourself…
and your double-strung harp!

You’re invited to a Holiday Double-Strung Harp Workshop
Saturday, November 20, 2021, 1:00-2:30 PM CST via Zoom

  • Looking for new music? Your workshop ticket includes 2 new holiday arrangements for your double-strung harp (1 sacred, 1 secular).
  • Want to learn how to make your harp “sound like a double?” Take a peek behind the scenes at my trademark techniques & arranging process.
  • Short on time during the holidays? Get a head start on the arrangements with helpful fingering and placing edits (exclusive to this workshop).

Ticket: $50.00
Click here to buy your ticket and learn more about the workshop

Registration closes next Wednesday, November 17 at 11:55 PM CDT. Even if you can’t make the live event, all registrants will receive a replay link (accessible through January 5, 2022—the 12th day of Christmas).

Don’t leave yourself off the list—give yourself and your double-strung harp the gift of music this holiday season. Seats are selling quickly; be sure to register before the November 17 deadline. Hope to see you there!

Posted on Leave a comment

How are Double-Strung Harps Tuned? [Double-Strung Harp FAQ S1E2]

Hi, I’m Cynthia Shelhart. You can call me Cindy. And it’s time for some Double Talk. Double-strung harp, that is.

My first FAQ episode was a big-picture view of the double-strung harp. If you missed it, please make sure you’re subscribed to my mailing list and get notifications for the next video and future videos. This time, on FAQ Episode 2, we’re talking tuning! We’ll take a closer look at lever harp hardware—the strings, the tuning pins and sharping levers—and how they’re used for tuning the double-strung harp.

Now, if you see me looking down, I’ve got a ton of notes for you. I want to make sure that I get all the information to you that you need about double-strung harps and tuning. 

String Materials & Tension

So let’s get started with the strings. Double-strung harps are like many other lever harps. They have a variety of string materials and tension—anywhere from tight to loose and in between. The most common string that’s used for lever harps is nylon. It’s less expensive, and it has a lighter tension that’s easier for most people to play. They can be monofilament strings (only one strand of nylon), or you can have some of the lower strings wrapped with nylon around nylon, or nylon with a metal core. That depends on the harp builder’s design. Less common for lever harps are gut strings (with high tension like a pedal harp) or wire strings. 

Now double-strung harps, again because they are also lever harps, are very similar. You will usually see nylon strings on these harps. And the tension can vary, depending on the design. It can be tight tension, looser tension, light or heavy. And you may also see some gut or wire strings on double-strung harps. For the most part, you’ll see nylon. Just remember if you want higher tension, the best way to go is gut strings. Talk with your harp builder to see if that is available. Gut strings sound best for higher tension.

Stringing: Parallel vs. Divergent

So for double-strung harps, there’s also something a little different. Obviously, we have not one, but two rows of strings to think about. We also have two methods of putting those two rows of strings on the harp. We call that stringing. And there are two different types.

Parallel stringing—the most common—is when we have strings in true parallel. They are from two different string ribs in the soundboard. The other type of stringing for double-strung harps is divergent stringing. And this means that the strings are angled from one string rib out to either side of the neck, and it almost looks like a letter V. That’s how I remember “divergent,” because it has a “V” in it.

As I record this video, Stoney End harps are the main brand that have divergent stringing on their harps. Most other major harp builder brands have parallel stringing. (You’ll see that in this video, on the Dusty Strings harp behind me, and also in the picture of the Rees harp.)

Now in thinking about stringing, people ask, “Well, is there an advantage to either method?” Some players find it easier to see one way or the other, whether it’s parallel or divergent stringing. And we’ll talk more about this, and getting over what I call “double vision”, in a future episode. Just keep in mind, there may be an advantage individually for you. And the best thing that you can do is, if you have an opportunity, is to try the different stringings and see if there is any difference for you. It’s a very individual preference.

Tuning Pins

Moving on from the soundboard and the strings, lever harp strings wind around the tuning pins in the neck. That’s what happens on the other end of the string; they move up from the soundboard. You play on the strings in the middle, and then the other end is tuned on the tuning pegs—hence the name—the tuning pins in the neck.

You may see two different types of tuning pins. These are both professional and reliable; one isn’t better than the other. Some builders prefer one or the other, but they’re both professional and reliable.

Tapered tuning pins go all the way through the neck. The string winds on one end of the pin, and you tune it with a tuning key on the other side of the neck. It goes all the way through the neck, as opposed to micro-threaded, which are also called “zither” pins. These go partway through the neck, and they wind the string around the tuning pin and tune on the same end of the pin. They do not go all the way through the neck. So for these tuning pins, these are popular with some double-strung harp luthiers because this makes the harp slightly lighter. There is less metal on the harp, so it is a little bit lighter.

Tuning with Sharping Levers

The name “lever harp” comes from the sharping levers that are used for tuning (including double-strung harps). These raise or lower the pitch of an individual string a half step, for example, from an F to an F sharp. 

Before setting your levers, you start by tuning the strings as what we call open strings. You tune each string manually, and tune it without engaging the lever. And you tune them to the notes of a major scale of a specific key. There are usually 1 to 3 different keys that we use when tuning. (We’ll talk more about these later on in this video.)

On a double-strung harp, you have two rows of strings, and they’re tuned in unison, with the same note across from each other: middle C, middle C, D above that, D above that. When it comes time to change keys, you use your levers. They are shortcuts. They are much easier than re-tuning all those strings manually. So you put them in different combinations, of raised or lowered levers, and they do the rest of the work for you. They are your shortcut. More levers on your harp means that you have more musical keys available. 

Levers: Music & Keys

So, moving on from there, you start thinking about choosing the right double-strung harp for you. This also means that you need to think about choosing the levers. The setup for the levers depends on what kind of music you want to play on it. (Not just because the harp looks pretty.) You also need to think about the music that you want to play on your double-strung harp. You need to think about what keys you’ll need for playing the music that’s your favorite, or that you plan to have in your repertoire later on. 

You can certainly play in the key of C. And later on, you might decide to have some other options. That’s where the levers come in. You might want to play in just a few keys: maybe traditional music, church hymns and so on. Or, you might want to play in a variety of sharp and flat keys—and by sharp and flat keys, I mean, harps that are playing in keys that have sharps or flats in the key signature. So if you want to play in a variety of sharp or flat keys, or you might have accidentals or key changes during the piece (sometimes required in classical or pop or jazz music), then you’re going to need more levers. 

Again, if you have more levers, then more musical keys are available to you. You have more options. So which levers do you need for those keys? You’ve decided on the keys; which levers do you need? There are 3 main tunings, as I mentioned earlier, or keys that are used when tuning lever harps, including double-strung harps. If you’re going to play in just a few keys (the key of C only, or maybe a couple of sharp keys), then you might, move on from having no levers at all to having F and C levers. This means that you would order all the F levers and all the C levers that can fit on the range of your harp. And this allows you to play in up to 3 keys: key of C with no levers, key of G with one sharp throughout, or key of D with two sharps throughout (those would be the F’s, and then the F’s and C’s). 

If you want to include a flat key, you can tune your harp in open strings to the key of F. This means that, in addition to maybe ordering the F and C levers on your harp (as mentioned earlier for the sharp keys), you can also add the B levers. This would allow you to tune your open strings in the key of F, and moving from there you can play in 4 keys: the key of F with one flat in the key signature, the key of C with no flats or sharps, the key of G with one sharp throughout and the key of D with two sharps throughout.

But if you want the most options – and this is what’s available from most builders nowadays – you order your harp with a full set of levers on both string rows, on both sides of your harp. And you will tune the open strings in the key of E flat. That’s what I do. And you use that when you have a full set of levers. And this allows you to play in up to 8 keys, anywhere from three flats to four sharps in the key signature, plus the key of C in the middle with no flats or sharps.

Levers: Which Harp?

So from there, we’’ve talked about the strings, the levers, the tuning pins a little earlier. And now that you know the music that you want to play and the levers that you need, you need to find the harp that has these lever options. Some harps are not designed for levers at all. If you’re starting out with a small range harp that’s possibly the Waring double-strung harp or that harp in kit form, it’s a fantastic harp to start on. It also does not have the option for having levers; there is no room for them in the design. So that’s something to keep in mind. If you know you want levers, you’re going to need to look at some other options. 

Some luthiers have only full sets available, and at the time that I’m filming this video, that is the case with most major harp brands for double-strung harps. They all have full sets available. A few others do have options you can pick and choose. At a minimum, I would recommend that you get F and C levers, or possibly add, that B lever so that you can play in one flat key, in addition to the two sharp keys. This is a popular choice.

Are you partial to a specific lever brand? Just like harps come in brands, there are several different manufacturers of levers, the sharping levers. And this could include Loveland, Rees, Truitt and others. Some luthiers will give you options on the levers that they make available to you. Some have a more limited choice. So, this can depend on the luthier. It can even depend on the harp model from the luthier. So if you’re very partial to a specific kind of lever—maybe it’s something that you’re used to from your single row harp, or you want to give something else a try on your double—make sure that the harp you fall in love with does have those levers available. 

Levers: My Recommendations for Double-Strung Harp

So wrapping up, a couple of things to talk about. First of all, I’d like to give you my recommendations for double-strung harp. I do recommend that you get a full set of levers on both string rows, or as many as you can afford, when you buy your harp. You’ll pay more at the beginning, but you’ll be able to do more at the beginning. Not only with keys, but there are other musical things you can do.

But it’s also going to save you some effort in the long run. At the beginning, if you pay more (if you end up with more levers), as you advance, you’re going to be able to do those alternate tunings, the preset keys that take care of some of the accidentals. And you’ll be able to do accidentals during the piece. These are all things that will be available to you right away, or when you’re ready for them. And I’ll talk more about lever settings and the notation for these alternate tunings in future videos. But if you can order a full set, it’s going to give you options down the road.

If what your budget allows you to do is get fewer levers now, and others later to save some money, I understand that; but you will pay later for extra time, parts, labor, and round trip shipping. If you are not conveniently living next door to your harp builder, you are going to need to pay to have it shipped back and forth, when you have the levers installed. So there are costs that are going to happen later on, if you do not get a full set, and then make the decision later on to get a full set of levers.

If you’re concerned about the extra weight of the harp from the extra metal of additional tuning pins, the levers and so on, if you’re thinking that that’s going to be too heavy for you, it’s really not something to be concerned about. It only adds 1-3 pounds maximum of additional weight to the harp. So if that’s holding you back from ordering the full set of levers for your harp on both sides, I wouldn’t count that as a concern. It’s not going to add that much weight to your harp. So the musical benefits definitely outweigh—I know, no pun intended, but it just came out!—it outweighs the possible drawback of having the harp be just a couple of pounds heavier. So do look into having a full set of levers, if at all possible, at the time that you buy your harp, so that you don’t have to deal with all of those costs and logistics later on.

Wrapping Up

So no matter what kind of setup you’ve got on your current (or future) double-strung harp: if you’re going to get a harp with parallel or divergent stringing for the two rows of strings—if you’re going to get just a few levers, or a full set—it helps to know about your double harp hardware, and what it can do for your tuning.

And if you like what you heard today, and you want to find out more, make sure you’re subscribed, so you can be notified about future episodes. And if you want to be the first to get some more Double Talk, head on over to my website, CindyShelhart.com, and sign up for my mailing list. 

In our next episode, if you’ve caught the double-strung harp bug, I’m so excited! I’m going to cover how to choose the double-strung harp that is just right for you. I’ll see you next time. Take care!