Pedal Harps and Non-Pedal Harps

How These Harps Differ in Terms of Construction and How It Is Played

Close-up of musician playing harp
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The harp is a stringed instrument that is plucked or strummed to create sound. There are many different kinds of harps. For example, they can vary depending on size; some harps are small enough to play on one's lap, other harps are so large they need to be placed on the floor in order to play.

In general, 2 types of harps are used in the modern era — the pedal and non-pedal harp.

Pedal Harps 

This type of harp is also called concert harp, classical harp, orchestral harp, concert grand harp and double-action pedal harp. The pedal harp varies in size and number of strings. The number of strings typically vary from 41 to 47 strings.

As you can probably imagine from its name, the pedal harp features a number of pedals on the base of the instrument. The pedals are used to change the notes so that the player can play in different keys. This type of harp is the one you usually see in an orchestra.

Non-Pedal Harps 

Non-pedal harps are also referred to as lever harps, folk harps, Celtic and Irish harps. This type of harp comes in various sizes, ranging from the smallest, called lap harp, to the largest, called floor harps.

The non-pedal harp features 20 to 40 strings and is tuned to a specific key. As opposed to the pedal harps which uses pedals to adjust the key, this type of harp has levers the player can move to change the key. This is the kind of harp mostly recommended for beginners.

There are also many other types of harps that fall under the umbrella term, non-pedal harp. Specific types of non-pedal harps include the modern lever, modern wire, and multi-course harp.

Modern Lever Harp

Modern lever harps are also referred to as folk harps because they are often used to play non-classical music. Modern lever harps include the Celtic/Neo-Celtic harps, which features wire, gut or hair strings. There is also the Neo-Gothic harp with strings made out of nylon strings. 

Modern Wire Harp

Modern wire harps are also called Clarsachs and Gaelic harps. These instruments are triangular in shape and have wire strings.

Multi-Course Harp

Multi-course harps are harps that have more than one row of strings. Double, triple and cross-strung harps are examples of multi-course harps.