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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!

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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!

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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!

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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!

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Double-Strung Harp FAQ S1E1: What Is a Double-Strung Harp?

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

Welcome to the first episode in my double-strung harp FAQ series. Harp lovers and harp players have been asking me questions about my instrument for a long time, and this is my chance to answer some of those questions for you. 

We’ll start today with the most basic question of all: What’s a double-strung harp? How is it the same as other harps? How is it different? And what’s the big deal with two rows of strings? What can they do? 

Same

Let’s get started with: how is it similar to other harps?

If you look at a double-strung harp from the side (but not too close, just yet), you’ll see that like single-row harps, it is a type of lever harp. Lever harps are tuned diatonically, or in a major scale. That’s like the white keys on a keyboard instrument or a do-re-mi scale.

And each string has a sharping lever that can be used to change the tuning of the string by one half step—for example, from a C natural to a C sharp, or an F natural to an F sharp—without manually shortening or lengthening the string with a tuning key. This saves a lot of time and effort for the harpist. And if you set the levers in different up and down combinations, that allows you to play in different musical keys. So, that’s something that’s the same with its single-row harp cousins.

Different

But what’s different?

Okay, come on over; get a little closer, look at the harp from a different angle. And you’ll see where the double-strung harp gets its name, or we might even call it a double harp, for short. You take a look at it, you can tell it gets the name from two rows of strings. Pretty straightforward. They are identically tuned: the C note across from the C note, from one row to the other, for example. Those are unison notes. They are identically tuned with each other. And two rows of strings, for one, one advantage allows both hands to have access to the entire range of notes on the harp, from low notes to high notes. And they can even overlap in the middle and not have a musical traffic jam. 

It’s very rare for a harp to be able to not only be able to play unison notes with itself, but also to be able to play repeating notes, or special effects that involve repeating notes, without your hands trying to cancel each other out or muffle already vibrating strings. I’ll show an example here of what that looks like on a single-row harp and how that sounds. (harp example audio) 

Spoiler alert: that doesn’t sound very good. But then try the same thing on a double-strung harp, and also play a little bit of overlapping music. So you can see and also hear the advantages that you get from two rows of unison-tuned strings. (harp example audios)

And also, if you look at the harp from the front angle of the harp, you can see that not only does it have two rows of strings, but it also has the possibility of having an entire set of levers on either row. Two full sets of levers, like this harp has. And I’ll talk more about double harp levers, and their settings and notation—how we, say, you set the levers this way or that way. Yeah, we’ll talk about those in future videos. 

Wrapping Up

So that’s it for the introduction to the double-strung harp. It’s just enough like other lever harps to be familiar, but with two rows of strings, just different enough to get your attention. 

If you liked what you heard today, please make sure you’re subscribed, so you can be notified. 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 the next episode, I’ll dig a little deeper into those strings and levers and tunings that we use on double-strung harps. See you next time.

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Year 30 starts today

Double-Strung Harp Day

Can you believe it? 29 years ago, on September 7, 1992, I picked up my first double-strung harp at the Fox River Valley Folk Festival in Geneva IL. (That’s why I always celebrate September 7 as Double-Strung Harp Day.)

So… not only have I performed, recorded, arranged, composed, & taught double-strung harp for 29 years… today also begins YEAR 30! I’ve got big plans in store, and I’ll start by telling you about a couple of new additions to Harp Central.

New harp: Hi, I’m Dunstan

On May 19, my awesome new Double Morgan Meghan harp arrived from Rees Harps. It’s a 27×2 double-strung harp, which means it has 27 strings in each string row (that’s 54 strings, for those of you keeping score at home). It’s technically a lap harp, but has a big, warm voice. (Videos coming soon!)

The harp body’s made of cherry wood, and the soundboard is poplar with a maple veneer. The most eye-catching part is the custom soundboard, handpainted and handgilded (yes, it’s real gold leaf!) by Rees Harps’ own Garen Rees. Garen and I came up with the design from photos of medieval churches, and this Westminster Abbey holiday ornament (inspired by the Abbey’s triforium windows).

Why Dunstan? May 19, the day my harp arrived, is also the feast day of St. Dunstan of Canterbury (924-988). Among other things, St. Dunstan helped found St. Peter’s Abbey—the beginning of Westminster Abbey—and HE PLAYED THE HARP.

For real. And I’d never heard of this guy before.

So it all adds up: Harp delivery date on the feast day of a harp-playing saint? The Westminster Abbey connections? You know I had to name that harp Dunstan. You’ll see and hear Dunstan in upcoming videos!

New book coming soon

Preview cover for Double the O’Carolan Tunes book

The next book in the Double Dozen arrangement series is… Double the O’Carolan Tunes!

Stay tuned for more information in my next post. And if you want to be the first to know about the new book, make sure to sign up for my mailing list.

Cheers!
-Cindy

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She’s leaving home

The first harpist who made a big impression on me, years before my first harp lesson? And maybe the first modern inspiration for the double-strung harp? This woman.

Harpist Sheila Bromberg, who played on “She’s Leaving Home” on The Beatles’ 1967 Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album, has died at 92. Among her many achievements, she was the first female musician to appear on a Beatles record.

Recording engineers created the “doubling” effect for the iconic track’s introduction from Bromberg’s first take on the March 17, 1967 session. This video tells the great story of the Abbey Road recording session, and also features a talk show with Bromberg and Sir Ringo Starr—as they met for the first time.

Thanks, Sheila. Safe journeys.