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What Is a Baby Harp?

Wanda Marie Thibodeaux
Wanda Marie Thibodeaux

A baby harp is a chordophone instrument that is played by plucking one or more strings with the fingers. It is similar in appearance and playing technique to other instruments in the harp family. It is one of the smallest types of harps and generally is classified as a folk harp.

The size of a baby harp is usually around 21 inches (53.34 cm) in height, qualifying it as a type of lap harp. The small size of a baby harp means that it usually only has around 12 strings. This gives a baby harp a range of roughly one and a half octaves.

Man playing a guitar
Man playing a guitar

Even though the baby harp is one of the smallest harps, it is larger than the lily harp. The lily harp is only about 15 inches (38.1 cm) in height and has only eight strings. Lily harps are generally "toys" and aren't intended for play. Notably, some manufacturers also consider baby harps as toy harps and thus manufacture them with fairly low quality, but other manufacturers treat baby harps with the same seriousness as other harps and take every effort to ensure the instrument is long-lasting and playable with a good sound. The baby harp is smaller than the pixie harp, which normally has 19 strings.

Due to a baby harp's small size and limited number of strings, players are severely limited regarding the type of music they can play. Many songs do not span much more than one octave melodically, but without more strings, players of baby harps have some difficulty achieving accompanying chords. Adding a bass line also is a challenge. For this reason, many harpists looking for a small lap harp opt for pixie harps instead.

Another issue with baby harps is that many of them are non-levered. This means that the harp must be tuned manually with a tuning lever in order to play in more than one key. This often isn't practical to do during a performance and can be frustrating even when the harpist is playing just for fun. On harps with lever systems, a lever attaches to one or more strings. The harpist opens the lever to shorten the string and thereby raise the pitch to accommodate different keys.

Despite the disadvantages of baby harps, their small size makes them good as "beginner" harps, although even professional harpists can play them. They fit children very well and let students become accustomed to basic harp technique. They also are much less expensive to buy than their larger cousins, so damage to or loss of the instrument is not nearly as disastrous. A baby harp also is very easy to transport from place to place, which is good for harpists who travel.

Similar to other harps, a baby harp can have gut, wire or nylon strings. The type of strings the harp has impacts the sound of the harp somewhat, with wire strings sounding the brightest. Gut strings sound warm, but they don't project as much.

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      Man playing a guitar