Pedals or levers?


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There is a difference between playing on a harp with pedals and a harp that does not have pedals. The instruments use different fundamental hand techniques. One is not better than the other, just like piano is not better than organ. When you find a teacher, you want to make sure they will teach you the technique that is appropriate for your music goals.

The main difference: Classical versus Celtic

If you intend to play the genuine, unmodified classical repertoire—Debussy or Ravel exactly as they wrote it—you will have to play a pedal harp. If your dream is to play in an orchestra, you will need to do this on pedal harp. Yes, you can play arrangements of classical music on lever harp, and it sounds great, but it is not the real thing. If this matters to you, go for pedal.

If you intend to play the genuine Celtic repertoire, you’ll need a lever harp with the appropriate string tension. It is not impossible to play Celtic music on a pedal harp, but the quick notes (ornaments) are more difficult. If you’re all about Celtic music, go for lever.

You can play gazillions of genres on either harp.The classical/Celtic divide is not about limiting the possibilities of the harp, but rather to set your expectations on what you’re getting into.

If you can’t decide now

If you intend to play pedal harp, you should learn on a pedal harp.

If you can’t afford to get a pedal harp right now, then make sure that you learn on a lever harp with similar string tension as a pedal harp, and tell your teacher that you intend to play pedal. You need to use different muscles to pull pedal harp strings, and you’ll want to develop pedal harp hand technique from the start. It is easier to go from pedal harp technique to lever harp technique than the other way around.

The lever harp is not a “training harp.” It can handle any music genre, and it’s much more portable than a pedal harp. Most people don’t even know there is a difference, so even as a professional doing weddings or other gigs, you will do fine with a big lever harp.

Remember, this is all about your goals with the harp.

(PS: What do the pedals or levers do anyway?)

You can think of the strings on the harp as the white keys on the piano. They are A, B, C, D, E, F, G.

The black keys on the piano are sharps and flats of these notes. So how do you hear a B flat or a C sharp on the harp? Here’s where pedals or levers come in.

Pedal harps have seven pedals, one for each letter in the musical alphabet. Set the B pedal up, and all the B strings turn to B flat. Set the C pedal down and all the C strings turn sharp. Using your feet means that you don’t have to take either hands off the strings.

Levers do the same thing as pedals, but instead of having one pedal per note, you have one lever for each individual string. If you want C sharp, and you have 4 C strings, you have to flip up to 4 levers.

This is why you can’t play the original classical repertoire on a lever harp—too many changes to sharps or flats in the middle of the song.

There’s a lot of information here. You can always contact me to get answers to your specific questions.

Ready to contact me? Now that you are starting to think about the type of harp you want to play, see how to choose a teacher.

Pedal harp

  1. A lot more expensive. Be aware of this, but don’t let it stop you. There are lots of financing options for buying or renting a harp.

  2. Bigger and heavier. They sound great, but are not easy to transport.

  3. Louder. Because they are bigger, they are going to be louder, which is better for playing in big spaces or with a full orchestra.

  4. Genuine classical repertoire. If it is your goal to play the music the way Hasselmans and Satie wrote it, you will have to play on a pedal harp.

  5. Modified Celtic repertoire.  You can get the gist of a Celtic song on a pedal harp, but the Celtic ornamentation will be difficult.

Lever harp

  1. Less expensive. Sizes vary, so there is a lever harp to fit any budget. Even the most expensive lever harp is half the cost of a pedal harp.

  2. Lighter weight. You can get a good, big lever harp that only weighs 10 pounds➚.

  3. Not as loud. Lever harps aren’t wimpy, but, un-amplified, they do better in a less large space or with a chamber ensemble.

  4. Modified classical repertoire. You cannot play many classical songs on the lever harp exactly as written, but there are good arrangements for lever harp.

  5. Genuine Celtic repertoire. Inasmuch as there is a genuine Celtic repertoire for harp, you will be able to play it completely on a lever harp.