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> INSTRUMENTOLOGY > STRINGS > Harp > Sound Characteristics

Sound characteristics

Gentle, metallic, blurring, resonant, short, hard, drifting, full-sounding, rushing, clear, brilliant, glittering, flowing, dull, mellow, sharp, crystal clear, reverberating, splashing, cascading.

The attack time is short and depends on the length of the string.

Low harp notes take about half a second to develop fully, which is considerably longer than the high notes.

The same is true of the decay time: a low note resonates for four or five seconds, whereas a high note dies away very quickly. To prevent the blurring of harmonies the notes sounded are damped with the hands as far as possible before a new harmony is sounded. There are three instances in which it is customary to damp low notes: when there is time to do so, when this is explicitly required in the score and at the end of a piece. The damping of very high notes is not necessary. The note value written indicates the decay time.

On the other hand, the blurring of the previously played notes with those sounded afterward is an inevitable – and wished for – effect of glissando.

When moving from one harmony to another in the lower register composers should give the harps time to damp the reverberation or the reverberation time to die out.

Lower register
Cb1 – F#3 (G#3)

Full-sounding notes that resonate for a long time. The low harp notes are often used to replace bells. The bottom strings have sufficient volume and reverberation to carry arpeggios. When playing glissandos, on the other hand, these characteristics result in a blurred overall sound and the lowest harp notes intrude on the glissando and are therefore avoided.

It is principally in this register that bass tasks are performed.

Middle register
Gb3 (Ab3) – C#6

A brilliant and warm timbre is characteristic of this register. Notes resonate for one or two seconds. It is chiefly in this register that chords, harmony, arpeggios, glissandos and melody lines are played. If the harp is given a leading role as a melody instrument in this register and has no support from other instruments, the number of the other instruments must be no greater than in chamber music to avoid drowning out the harp’s melody.

Upper register
Db6 – G#8

Very bright, hard, short and penetrating notes. Short decay time of the sounded string, but a general resonance develops from the soundbox, a kind of overall resonance of all the strings.