A traditional stringed instrument with a beautiful, calming tone is the lyre harp. The harp lyre and its variations have been used by musicians to generate lovely, reflective music for thousands of years. But what is a lyre harp exactly, and where did this unusual instrument originate?
The history, making, and playing of the lyre harp, as well as its various forms and ongoing appeal to contemporary performers, will all be covered in this article. Learn more about this renowned and captivating instrument by continuing to read.
History and Origins of the Lyre Harp
More than 5,000 years ago, in Mesopotamia, some of the first representations of lyre harps were found. The lyre was played by the ancient Sumerians, Babylonians, and Assyrians. A more developed variation known as the kithara gained popularity in ancient Greece and was intimately associated with the god Apollo. The Hebrews, Romans, and Egyptians were among the other ancient civilizations who made use of many lyre harp varieties.
Over the centuries, the lyre harp’s core design has surprisingly not changed. A hollow soundbox is attached to two curved arms that are joined at the top by a crossbar on traditional lyres. To produce sounds, the strings are plucked while they are fastened to the crossbar and soundbox. One of the distinctive characteristics of the lyre is its graceful, symmetrical shape.
Materials and Lyre Harp Construction
Wood, animal horn, and gut or silk strings were traditionally used in the construction of lyre harps. Many contemporary harps keep the traditional lyre shape while using contemporary materials like carbon fiber and nylon strings. The sound is produced by the vibrating of the strings amplified by the hollow soundbox. On either side of the soundbox, the arms ascend.
Brass strings on more complex harps might be precisely tuneable with pegs or machine heads. On smaller concert harps, there may be as few as four strings, whereas there may be as many as 36 on smaller lyres. Fingers are used to pluck the strings, which are parallel to the soundboard.
The Lyre Harp: How Is It Played?
The lyre harp is played while being held upright or on the lap. Although fingerpicks or a plectrum were also employed in the past, the musician plucks the vertical strings with their fingertips today. To create chords and melodies, the strings are often plucks one at a time.
The use of numerous strings simultaneously or the dampening of strings with the palm to produce drone effects are advanced harp lyre methods. Modern concert harps have all 12 chromatic notes, however the majority of lyres are tuned to a diatonic scale. The harp lyre can only be mastered by developing your ability to play chords and arpeggios.
Types of Lyre Harps
There are many different types of harps in the lyre family, including:
- Classical lyre – Based on ancient Greek/Roman designs with a small soundbox and 5-7 strings. Ideal for classical music.
- Celtic harp – Wire-stringed harp popular in medieval Celtic nations. Buzzing resonant tones.
- Lap harp – Small, lightweight harp played on the lap. Ideal for beginners.
- Electric lyre harp – Lyre harps with pickups and amplification for live performance.
- Pedal harp – Large concert harp with pedal mechanism for modulating strings. 47 strings.
- Multi-course harp – Harps with multiple rows of strings for a wider range.
Today’s Lyre Harps
Many nations still use the lyre harp as a common folk instrument today. Traditional Scandinavian, Welsh, and Irish folk music as well as classical and paganic music with historical inspiration continue to be performed on it. Many contemporary music therapists are drawn to the harp lyre’s calming, contemplative qualities.
Beginners can easily learn to play the small lap harp. From massive concert pedal harps with intricate string-modulation systems to buzzing wire-strung Celtic harps, luthiers create modern lyres of all shapes and sizes. The lyre harp’s ageless design and heavenly voice guarantee its status in today’s musical landscape.
The Harp Lyre’s Unique Voice
At its heart, the lyre harp remains unchanged from ancient times – an elegant symmetrical shape with strings that sing. The instantly recognizable voice of the lyre harp evokes dream-like tranquility and poetic melancholy. Its harmonies can induce deep calm, contemplation, and serenity.
Few instruments match the lyre harp’s ethereal finesse. To hear this ancient instrument is to be transported through time to realms of myth and magic. Though styles and materials evolve, the essence of the lyre continues to resonate through the centuries.