Shawn L. Bird

Original poetry, commentary, and fiction. All copyrights reserved.

harping on June 8, 2013

Filed under: Writing — Shawn L. Bird @ 10:33 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

Today, I was procrastinating the task of sitting down to finish my high interest low vocabulary novella that has been hovering over my head for something like 5 years.


How do I procrastinate?   Well, today it was by transposing some of the tunes I have memorized in the key of C, into the key of G so I can play them on my little double strung Brittany harp.

You’ll be happy to know that I *did* actually sit down at the computer eventually, and a couple of hours later, I *did* finish the ubiquitous novella called #8 (aka Number Eight) this afternoon.

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Now onto the revisions.  (Between the harping sessions, of course). 😉


23 Responses to “harping on”

  1. I’ve always wanted to learn the harp. Interesting – you have to transpose it, huh?

  2. keren Huyter Says:

    cute pic!

  3. Congratulations on your work and the picture is fantastic!

  4. dereklubangakene Says:

    Congratulations on finishing your novella.
    There’s no greater feeling than finishing a piece of writing

    • Shawn Bird Says:

      True enough! That’s two down in the last month! Yeee haw! One more to finish this summer, and then the Master’s degree begins. (Deep breath in………)

  5. *sigh of vicarious satisfaction* congrats & best wishes for your newest baby

  6. Seb Says:

    What’s the difference in tuning between a C and G harp?

    • Shawn Bird Says:

      Short answer: key of C has an F natural, and key of G has an F sharp.

      Longer answer:

      You don’t really have a ‘G’ harp or a ‘C’ harp like you’d have a G recorder or whistle. You have a harp that is tuned into a particular key that best fits its string parameters. For example, the Brittany has 3 full octaves in 22 strings G to G (4 Gs), but I only have 2 full C to C octaves within those 3 octaves (3 Cs), so to get best range from the harp, it’s better to play in G.

      The thorough answer:

      Folk harps are diatonic, visually that is as if they only have the white keys of a piano (a diatonic scale- any of them- follows the pattern: tone, tone, (semi-tone), tone, tone, tone, (semi-tone). eg. on a piano: CD(E)FGA(B)). If you want other keys, for example G, then you have to tighten or loosen the strings that give you the appropriate scale. In the key of G (one sharp), following our diatonic pattern, that’s GA(B)CDE(F#). The only difference between a C scale and a G scale is that F, which is raised a semi-tone in the key of G.

      You can’t just tighten a string on the fly–well, you can, but it involves a device called a sharpening ring on the harpist’s finger, or a lever mounted on the harmonic curve (the top bar)–so you have to tune the harp into the key you want. If a folk harp has those sharpening levers mounted on it, it’s called a lever harp. The Brittany doesn’t have any levers, and I don’t own a sharpening ring so I have to play within the key it’s tuned in.

      The bottom note in the folk harp generally indicates the best key to tune it to. That’s a C on my Bresch lever harp, and a G on the Brittany folk harp. Which is not to say that I can’t sharpen/flatten any strings in order to play in any key, but I don’t have optimal range of the harp if I’m not playing in the key it’s strung to. I’ve had the Brittany for fifteen+ years, and I’ve always kept it tuned in C, but it’s a small harp–only 3 octaves–so I wanted to use the full range of the harp, and so I tuned the F up to F# and as a result I have to re-learn all my C songs in G! The tonic of the key (G for key of G) is usually the note you chord on the most for a drone effect, so I wanted to try the G tuning. I was right. It does suit the harp better.

      To confuse you further: the strings of the Bresch lever harp are actually tuned to Eb (3 flats). Since it has full levers, I can raise the pitch of every string, which allows me to play keys from 3 flats, C, and up to 4 sharps. I generally play in C though.

      Additional confusion: the Brittany has 3 octaves of 22 strings, but it is a double strung harp, so it has 2 courses of strings. I have 3 full octaves for each hand. 44 strings altogether. 🙂

      Next time you see a harp, notice the coloured strings. Generally, the red strings are Cs and the blue/black strings are Fs. You’ll be able to count how many octaves there are, and to determine what the lowest note of the harp is…

      Further information about harps:

      The above information specifically applies to folk/lever harps. The concert pedal harp is different. It has a series of disks with prongs that catch the strings and twist them to raise or lower the pitch. The pedals have three levels, in the middle, the string is ‘natural’, pushed to the floor the pedal shortens the string, which raises the pitch (sharpens). If you raise the pedal to the top position, that lengthens the string, which lowers the pitch (flattens). (In actuality, each string is tuned flat, then one disk pivots for natural, and a second disk pivots to sharpen). The pedal engages each octave of one note (ie. all the Cs, all the Gs, all the Ds). The concert harps are very complex, because internally mounted cords connect the pedals to the pronged tuning disks. They have a thousand moving parts! The cords run from the pedals, up that ornate column at the front of the harp, and inside the harmonic curve. In the lever harps, each string is sharpened independently, so you can have F natural chord played at the same time as an F# grace note. However, you can’t flatten the note, you can only raise it. There is quite a nice explanation with good visuals here:

      Note on scales:
      pentatonic- equivalent to the black notes of a piano. Five equal tones. Some harps used in music therapy are tuned pentatonically, as there is no dissonance. [C#,D#,F#,G#,A#]
      diatonic-7 notes following the tone/semi-tone pattern given above, like the white notes on a piano. [C,D,(E),F,G,A,(B)]
      chromatic- all the tones and semi-tones. A pedal harp, while strung diatonically, allows the full range of chromatic notes, though it can’t mix natural/semi-tones of the same note, as mentioned above. This makes it well suited for classical music. Cross strung harps have one side diatonic strings, and a second set of pentatonic strings to create a completely chromatic harp. Very good for jazz or classical music, though the cross-stringing requires a different playing technique. There are other chromatic harps as well, but they are *very* rare:

      Are you completely confused now? lol I’ll bet you wish you hadn’t asked! 😉

  7. RoSy Says:

    Cool – If you get a chance – maybe post a short video. Will be cool to hear you play it!

  8. Hi Shawn. Here is a link to my daughter playing in her senior harp recital if you are interested. She dabbled with the idea of studying music (actually is more of a pianist), but is now off to engineering school. I hope that she keeps up with the harp, I love to listen to her play.

  9. Happy for you finishing the work AND getting to harp around a bit — I sometimes find that a little creative noodling in a different sphere helps my writing along.

  10. Very cool. I used to play the harp a bit, until the fiddle caught me. Love the old tunes by Turlough O’Carolan.

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