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What Is a Table Harp?

By Emily Espinoza
Updated May 23, 2024
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A table harp is a small stringed instrument that can be a novelty decorative item, a small playable version of a regular harp, or a chordophone that lies flat and is played horizontally. Table harps that are meant to be used as decorations look like larger harps but are very small and often have decorative embellishments. Slightly larger ones have more strings, allowing them to actually be played. A third type of instrument that is also referred to as a table harp looks different than a regular harp because it is strung horizontally and is laid flat for playing.

The smallest version of a table harp can be found on festive buffet tables at events with Celtic decor and among home furnishings. They are usually around 15 inches (38 cm) tall and have fewer than ten strings. This small size and limited number of strings mean that the harp cannot realistically play more than a few notes and chords. This type of instrument often has decorative embellishments on the wood, especially on the soundbox, as its main purpose is to be decorative.

Slightly larger table harps are sometimes called baby harps and can also be used as decoration, although the larger size makes it easier to use them as actual instruments. This kind of table harp will typically be 20 inches (51 cm) tall or more and will have several more strings than the smallest ones. These harps often have embellishments as well so that they can be used as decoration but might also be used as a toy or first instrument for a small child. The additional strings mean that simple songs can be played, which makes these instruments more versatile than the smaller harps.

Harps have taken on many different shapes and sizes over time and one of these variations is the Chinese instrument called the guzheng. This instrument is similar to a zither with the strings stretched across the top of a soundbox and played while the instrument is lying flat. The guzheng is similar to a zither, but it is commonly referred to as the Chinese table harp. Instruments with a similar construction have been played in several different cultures throughout history and have often been referred to as various types of harps, including the table harp.

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