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What Are the Different Types of Mini Harps?

Anna B. Smith
Anna B. Smith

The different types of mini harps include the lyre, Lily harp, Baby harp, and the clarsach. These instruments may be held in the lap and plucked, or rested on a table top and leaned back against the shoulder. The range of notes of which each design is capable is typically dependent on the number of strings provided and the size of the sounding board.

Harps are manufactured in a wide range of sizes and styles. Mini harps are typically small harps with fewer strings than classical concert floor models. They are often referred to by different names that note the style of craftsmanship from which the harp was carved, or the type of music intended to be played upon it.

Man playing a guitar
Man playing a guitar

A standard harp can offer between 19 and 40 strings, which may be altered in pitch and tone by a system of levers or pedals. Mini harps only provide between eight and 12 strings, and these are generally tuned using a small tuning tool that directly tightens or loosens the strings. The height of these harps may be determined by the size of the sounding board and the neck of the instrument.

The lyre is the smallest harp that may be played by hand. This instrument departs from the standard triangular design of the classic harp, in which strings are attached to a curved neck and fasted inside a sounding board. The sounding board of the lyre is often rounded and somewhat flat and provides an arched neck that stretches from one side of the board to the other. The instrument features eight strings which run from the neck, across an open playing space, down to the body at a length of approximately 17 inches (43 cm).

The Lily harp is a commonly recognized name among mini harps. This instrument usually measures at 15 inches (38.1 cm) and provides 8 strings. The pitch of the notes created by this instrument are high, ranging between the C above middle C to high C. Sound is generated by plucking nylon cords which resonate through a hollow sounding board that widens towards the lower register notes.

The baby harp stands slightly taller than the Lily and provides a wider range of sound than its smaller counterpart. This instrument features 12 strings, similarly made from nylon, that range between the F above middle C to high C. The sounding board is often carved from rosewood, birch, or mahogany to lend a different style of sound to each unique instrument.

The modern clarsach is a slight departure from the traditional scale of mini harps. The design of the clarsachs is based on historical documentation of instruments played in Scotland dating back to the 10th century, and their name is derived from the Gaelic word for "harp." This harp can stand between two and four feet (0.6 to 1.2 m) in height and may feature as many as 30 strings. The note range of the instrument is the widest of all of the designs of mini harps and runs between bass C and treble D. These strings are made from wire, usually copper and brass, though silver and gold may be used for the lower registers.

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