In the middle ages, they gained popularity across the world. Moreover, the harp is used in many folk music traditions ranging from Northern Europe to deep in the African continent.
In other words, the origin and development of the harp, as a musical instrument, is an amalgam of various traditions and cultures.
That’s why you can find various types of harps, namely the find Celtic harp, Concert harp, African harp, Paraguayan harp, and Andean harp – to name a few.
The harp is a stringed musical instrument played with fingers while standing or sitting.
This chordophone instrument features a triangular wooden frame with multiple strings running at an angle to the soundboard. The strings may be attached to levers or pedals to raise the pitch.
Below, we discuss some types and sub-types of the harp and the number of strings they have.
We also answer commonly asked questions about learning and purchasing the instrument.
How Many Strings Does a Harp Have?
Pedal harps have 47 strings and seven-foot pedals. The pedals allow the harpist to play chromatic notes. Lever harps are generally diatonic harps with 34 strings and a varying number of levers.
They can have anything between 20 to 40 strings based on the type of the instrument.
There are two primary types of harps –pedal harps and lever harps. Pedal harps are bigger than lever harps.
They have seven foot-pedals to change the pitches of the strings, thereby being fully chromatic instruments. A pedal for each note can raise the string by two semi-tones.
Lever harps, the smaller variety, are called so because they use a lever-based mechanism to raise the pitch of a string.
These mid-sized harps are often called folk harps and may have partial or full levers but no pedals. However, you can only raise a string by one semitone with a lever harp.
Below is a table with the types of harps, their strings, and string material.
Type of Harp
Number of Strings
20 to 40 strings
Nylon, wire, gut
46 to 47 strings
Nylon, wire, gut
22 to 38 strings, normally 34
Metal alloys, sterling Silver
Nylon or gut
Concert gut, Nylon
Ancient harps (Greek)
3 to 10 strings
32 to 36 strings
Nylon or hair
40 to 47 strings
Metal or Nylon
32 to 42 strings, normally 36
Does the Number of Strings On a Harp Matter?
It’s important to know how many strings a harp has. The number of strings is a key factor in the range of notes available to the player or student.
For instance, a harp with 22 strings has a three-octave range and a harp with 38 strings has a five-octave range.
Number of Strings in a Concert Harp
The concert harp is the modern harp used in orchestral music. It is a chromatic instrument with a pedaling system that allows the player to change the tuning while playing.
The concert harp has 47 strings with seven foot-pedals to lower or raise the pitch strings.
Concert harps are pedal harps. They are the largest harps available, used for an advanced Western Classical Music repertoire, generally in a professional setting.
They weigh between 60 to 100 pounds and cost $10,000 to $30,0000+.
Concert harps can be categorized as grand, semi-Grand, and petite, based on their size. Either way, they have a full range of six and a half octaves and 47 strings.
In addition, each string has a pedal that allows a harpist to alter the natural pitch to sharp or flat using their feet.
Concert harp strings are made from nylon, metal, or gut. These strings are colored according to the pitches to help a player identify the pitches while performing.
The white strings are A, B, D, E, ad G. F strings can be blue or black and C strings are red.
Number of Strings on a Lever Harp
A lever harp, depending on the type of instrument, can have between 19 to 40 harp strings. The term ‘lever harp’ refers to a class of harps with individual levers attached to each string.
It can have a range of two to six octaves and is plucked with fingers using techniques similar to the pedal harp.
Lever harps are strung with steel or gut strings and weigh between 12 to 40 pounds. Sharping levers are less heavy and these harps cost between $1000 to $6000.
However, the lack of pedals results in an inability to play flats and sharps without re-tuning the instrument.
Lever harps are relatively simple and good for learning music. Most students start with a lever harp and move on to a pedal harp as they progress.
But you cannot play an advanced classical repertoire on a lever harp. Professional harpists use a concert harp for Western Classical Music.
Knee and Floor Lever Harps
There are two types of lever harps based on the size:
Knee lever harps
Floor lever harps
Knee harps, also called lap harps, are compact and portable lever harps that can be played by placing them on your knee or worn using a lap harp strap.
Knee harps have fewer strings compared to floor harps, generally in the 19 or 34 range, with 22-string harps being the most common type.
Floor models of lever harps are tall and large. They are placed on the floor as the player leans their shoulder against the instrument to play it.
Large floor harps with levers can have 34 to 40 harp strings, still a few short of concert harps or floor-based pedal harps.
Folk Harps and Celtic Harps
Lever harps are popular among players who do not play classical music. They are called folk harps in a non-classical music context.
The term may also refer to 10-string lyre harps or a hand harp with a curved neck compared to the straight neck on a regular harp.
Secondly, they were revived in Europe during the 19th century. Several modern modifications were made to these traditional instruments in northwestern Europe.
They are an integral part of the Gaelic cultural revival, which is why they are also called Celtic harps.
A Celtic harp is a wire-string harp with a triangular frame and lever mechanisms. Celtic harps are varied and can have a range between two and six octaves.
Most lap models of the Celtic harp have 22 harp strings. The large floor models of the Celtic harp have 38 strings.
The term ‘folk harp’ may also refer to an Irish Harp – a colloquial term for the Irish clairseach.
It’s a traditional medieval harp with a form similar to that of the Scottish harp. Modern versions have gut strings and turnable hooks to produce a full chromatic octave.
Number of Strings on a Multi-Course Harps
A multi-course harp is any harp with more than one course (row) of strings. A regular harp is a single-course harp because it only has one row of strings.
Multi-course harps can be double or triple-strung harps i.e., two or three rows of strings.
Additionally, multi-course harps may have parallel or cross-strung arrangements. Parallel strings mean the two rows of strings adjacent to each other, one on each side of the neck.
They usually have identical notes and may run close to each other towards the bottom end of the harp’s frame.
Cross-strung harps have two rows of strings that intersect without touching each other. Most double-strung harps have two rows tuned to the same note or in octaves for an extended range.
Multiple course harps are also capable of chromatic music without using mechanical devices like levers or pedals.
On a double harp, you can tune one row to the diatonic scale and the parallel row of strings to the chromatic scale. But you cannot switch the pitch while playing.
From its depiction as a hand harp played by troubadours and angels to the large, golden model in an orchestra – the harp is a lot of things.
Students start with a lever harp, moving on to a pedal harp. Pick your first harp in consultation with your teacher or based on your preference and needs.
We hope this article helped you decipher the types of harps based on size, style, and the number of strings.
We skipped some of the sub-types such as the electric harp, earth harp, aeolian harp, and harp lutes as they are unusual and less commonly used.
What is a 36-string harp called?
Generally, a 36-string harp is called a lever harp. It can be a Celtic harp as the larger varieties have 34 to 38 strings.
Some models of the Latin and Paraguayan hard also have 36 strings. However, they are sub-types of the instrument with different designs and applications in music.
How many strings does an ancient harp have?
The ancient harp, also known as the lyre or yoke lute, is an olden Greek hand harp used for accompaniment.
Generally, lyres from the Greek civilization had three or four strings. They were then doubled to create a six, seven, and eight-string ancient hand harp.
How many strings should a beginner harp have?
A 36-string harp is ideal for beginners who want to learn Western Classical music and appear for graded exams like ABRSM or Trinity.
But you can start with any harp with 29+ strings, including 31 and 34-string models. Fewer strings work if you play in a band or have a folk or Irish repertoire.
Still, you need a 26-string harp if you want to be versatile and improvise.
Is it difficult to learn the harp?
Contrary to popular belief, the harp is a relatively easy string instrument to learn and play.
Music teachers suggest it’s easier to learn compared to a violin or guitar, with a learning curve similar to the piano. Either way, there are many in-person and online resources to learn the harp.
What is a large harp called?
Large harps can be large lever harps or large pedal harps. These large harps are called floor harps.
That’s because they are placed on the floor as the player leans against them to play them. The other type of harp is a knee or lap harp, which is smaller in size and placed on the knee.
How many notes can a harp play?
Due to the design of a harp, a harp player can play eight notes simultaneously.
In other words, you can play two four-note chords – one four-note chord with each hand. Additionally, if you are using a concert or full-sized pedal harp, you can play all the notes and works written in any key.