Range and gamut of small harps part 2

I restrung my tiny Anglo-Saxon “Winchcombe” harp. Because it is so small, its pitch is rather high – middle c as the lowest note.

This led me to think, a miniature harp has two possible different roles. Of course, a miniature harp like this can be used as a musical instrument in its own right, and many musicians and indeed harpmakers have this intent for their mini instruments. If you are less interested in the historical harp traditions and want to work on contemporary or traditional music then that is fine.

On the other hand, a mini harp is cheaper than a full size one, and so a student of the old Irish and Scottish harp traditions may well consider that a mini harp such as an Ardival Kilcoy is a lot more affordable than a full size instrument such as a HHSI Student Queen Mary.

Personally I think that a Queen Mary design instrument is quite manageable even by an 8 year old child – it is not too big. I have tended to dissuade people from purchasing the miniature designs for studying the old Gaelic harp curriculum partly because of ergonomic issues – a miniature harp has a number of posture and touch differences from a full size instrument. But the main reason to avoid a miniature design is because they simply lack the important bass range. In the first lesson, we start by finding the sister strings (na comhluighe) and placing our hands on the strings above and below them. This can instantly cause problems if your instrument has one of the sister strings as its very lowest note!

 If you are determined to use a miniature harp for studying the old Irish and Scottish harp traditions, I wonder about the possibility of thinking about it as sounding an octave high in pitch – a 4-foot or ottavino harp if you like. This will of course make everything very squeaky and shrill sounding, though that is pretty much inevitable anyway on a tiny harp with no bass.

For example, a 19 string Kilcoy design might be tuned as follows:

1   c”’
2   b”
3   a”
4   g”
5   f”
6   e”
7   d”
8   c”
9   b’
10   a’
11   g’
12   g’
13   f’
14   e’
15   d’
16   middle c’
17   b
18   a
19   g

Simply by turning strings 1 to 11 down one note. No need to change any of the strings.  Now this is enough notes to play Burns March and all its variations. Accept that it sounds squeaky, as a 4-foot or ottavino instrument is meant to, and you should do fine! You will also be able to fit in with a class of people playing full-size instruments no problem, you will just sound everything an octave higher than them.

If anyone tries this on a miniature harp, let me know.

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