Harps joined classical orchestras in the early 19th century, thanks to the invention of the pedaling system. These handy add-ons allowed harps to produce a broader range of notes, thus fitting in nicely with the main star of any orchestra: the violin.
Whilst harps have 47 harps and 7 pedals, Violins only have 4 strings. The harp is mechanically capable of changing keys whereas the VIolin is tuned in fifths. This leads many people to wonder if the Violin is in Tune with the Harp. Keep reading to find out more.
The Violin can absolutely be in tune with the harp. The harp needs to be tuned in the same key signature as the Violin. This is easy for a pedal harp where any key signature is possible with pedal alterations. Whereas a lever harp is limited to 7 key signatures without the need for re-tuning.
Are Violins and Harps Tuned in the Same Key?
Even though they both belong to the string family of instruments, violins and harps can be tuned in different keys. Keep reading to find out more.
Tuning the Violin
Standard violins are tuned in perfect fifths at A440, also known as the Stuttgart pitch. It corresponds to the musical pitch of 440 Hz audio frequency.
This pitch is the tuning standard for the A note right above middle C. The violin is tuned to the A4 key, nine semitones above middle C on the piano.
So, what does the ‘perfect fifth’ mean?
The perfect fifth is the interval between the first and fifth consecutive notes on a diatonic scale. It corresponds to a pitch ratio of 2:3. This ratio comes to a total of 702 cents, or the difference in pitch between two notes.
It’s worth mentioning an octave is 1200 cents, so when you go seven octaves above, you should have 8400 cents. Yet, the sum of the 12 ‘perfect fifth’ notes would be way over that number at 8424 cents.
To make up for that, musicians rely on something called ‘equal temperament.’ This is when musicians adjust the tuning to each note to match the final C with the original C.
When done correctly, it corrects the 702 cents of the fifth and brings them back to a stable 700. Only then can you easily tune all the notes to equal and consistent pitches.
Tuning the Harp
There are two types of harps: pedal and lever. The most common way to tune both types is diatonically.
Harp strings as standard are tuned in natural singular increments within the octave i.e. C D E F G A B C. On the harp, either pedals or levers alter these notes in semi-tone increments to produce flats or sharps.
Pedal harps are able to alter the pitches of the notes in three ways – flat, natural and sharp. Whereas lever sharps are only able to make two alterations – either natural and flat, or natural and sharp.
Pedal harps are simple and tend to be tuned in C major. Pedals alter the pitches of the notes to determine the desired key signature. Lever harps on the other hand are more complicated and normally tuned in C, E flat or A flat.
How Are Harps Tuned?
Tuning the harp means tuning 47 strings! That’s a bit more work than tuning just the four you have on your violin. Note: Tuning a harp is different from changing the pitch of the strings with use of pedals or levers. Tuning involves fine tuning each individual string.
But it’s pretty easy once you know-how. So, here are a few tips on how to get the perfect pitch on your harp strings.
What You Need
To tune a pedal or lever harp, you’ll need the following:
- A rubber tuning key
- Chromatic tuning machine or download a free tuner on your smartphone
- A clip-on or contact microphone
Tuning Your Harp in 10 Easy Steps
- Set the tuning machine (or your phone) to 440 Hz and place it on the music stand. Keep it at an equal distance between you and the harp, then turn it on.
- Put all the pedals in the highest slot. Also, make sure the strings are relaxed in their neutral state where they’ll be easier to tune.
- Clip the microphone to the back of the harp. Then, plug it into the tuner or your phone.
- Pick a string. Most harpists start with middle C.
- Place the tuning key on the string’s peg and hold it firmly in your right hand.
- Pluck the string with your left hand while keeping an eye on the tuner display screen.
- The display will give a middle C reading of C4 when the string is in tune. The reading should also have a frequency reading of about 262 Hz.
- If the string is out of tune, the tuner will indicate this by pointing to the right or left side of the display screen. Arrows pointing to the right side of the screen mean that the string is too high or sharp. If this is the case, you’ll need to loosen the string by moving the tuning key gently towards you.
- If the arrow points to the left side, the string is too low or flat. You’ll need to tighten the strings by turning the top of the tuning key away from you.
- Repeat with the rest of the strings.
How Often Should You Tune The Harp?
On average, you may find yourself tuning your harp once or twice a week, or each time you play if using brand new strings. However, harps are generally tuned far less regularly than Violins which are tuned every time you play and even multiple times during the same concert.
The good news is that the more often you tune your harp, the longer it’ll stay in tune. Not only that, but your ears will get better trained at hearing an off-pitch note. So, you’ll automatically know when it’s time to tune your instrument.
Can Violins and Harps Play Together?
Violins and Harps can absolutely play together and often do in many pieces of classical music. They are capable of playing together in any key given the appropriate tuning of the strings.
Violins are capable of playing any key signature even though the four strings are akin to C major. Sharps and flats are achievable through various finger positions on the Violin.
The Harp on the other hand depends. A pedal harp can play in any key depending on which pedals are pushed down. The lever harp is capable of only playing in 7 keys (since there are only two pitches for each string). Technically the lever harp could play in more keys, but strings would need to be re-tuned.
Violins and Harps work especially well together when the violinist is playing pizzicato. Additionally, their sounds create a beautiful melody when played in octaves. Furthermore, if the composer wants to make a thematic high point, they’ll play both instruments in unison.
One of the best-known instrumental pieces that includes the violin and the harp is Pachelbel’s Canon. It’s in the key of D Major, which allows both instruments to harmonize beautifully in this serene Baroque piece.
Another terrific piece is Algues by Bernard Andres. These are actually seven short pieces initially composed for the harp and the flute. Yet, when the harp is accompanied by a violin instead, it gives a more serene and soothing effect.
Do Harps and Violins Have the Same Notes?
Despite a noticeable difference in their string count, both the harp and the violin are capable of playing the same notes given appropriate tuning. They can also play together in any key signature.
How Many Notes Are on a Harp?
Harps are made up of 47 strings of different lengths. Each string is tuned to the white keys of the piano. They also come in the same order as well: C, D, E, F, G, A, B, and C.
A harpist can only play four notes per hand. Therefore, to play full chords, they need to use both hands. So, the range of a chord is however far the Harpist can stretch their hand. .
As for any gaps between chords, players use the pedals while playing ‘glissando.’ It’s a technique where players glide their fingers quickly over the strings to produce a cluster of notes or a fast scale.
Here’s a fun fact: harp strings come in different colors to make it easier for players to identify. C strings are red, F strings are blue or black, and the rest are white.
So, how do harps sound the black notes on a piano? On a concert, or pedal, harp, players use the seven pedals on the bottom to produce flat and sharp notes of each string.
The left foot controls the first three pedals responsible for notes B, C, and D. The last four pedals are operated by the right foot and control notes E, F, G, and A.
Can a Violin Play from Harp Sheet Music?
Generally, Violinists will find it difficult to play from harp sheet music. Harp music is written on a grand staff made up of two staves (treble and bass clef). Violinists however are used to reading music on one stave written in the treble clef. There are also far more notes on Harp music compared to Violin music – Harpists can play with all their fingers at once!
Whilst VIolinists could play from the treble clef stave, they wouldn’t be able to play all the notes at once. On the Piano (which also plays from two clefs) the bass clef indicates the left hand and the treble clef indicates the right hand.
It’s well-noted that harpists usually rely on their non-dominant hand to play a wider range of notes, especially those in the high register. Right-handed players use their left hand, and vice versa.
Therefore, in harp music, two staves don’t differentiate between right and left hands. Rather, they indicate register orientation or the range of notes a harpist plays. Because there’s such a wide range, composers need to use both treble and bass clefs in their sheet music.
We’ve taken an inside look into the world of two of the most beloved stringed instruments. Now, you can confidently answer this common question: is the violin in tune with the harp?
The Violin can absolutely be and play in tune with the harp. The harp needs to be tuned in the same key signature as the Violin. This is easy for a pedal harp, whereas a lever harp is limited to 7 key signatures as standard.