Tuning is for the harp what brushing is for your teeth – an easy way to make your instrument sound heavenly! By taking care of tuning the harp every time you practise you will soon become a lucky owner of an instrument which does not only feel easy to tune, but will also reward you with staying in tune more reliably. Even if tuning feels daunting at first, with a little practice you will soon feel confident about doing this yourself.
To tune a harp you will need:
- A tuning key
- An electronic tuner OR
- A phone with a tuning app
You may also need a clip (a pick-up microphone) if you happen to tune your harp in a noisy environment (such as a rehearsal space, where other musicians also tune or warm up before a performance).
Step by step
- Place your tuner or phone on the music stand where you can see its screen well. Try to keep it in the middle – when it is too close to the harp it may fall off and damage your instrument.
- Make sure that the strings are not being pressed on by levers or pedals – all pedals should be up, levers – down (although this will depend on your harp model, as some harps have levers that work the opposite way. If in doubt – ask in the comments!).
- Turn the tuner or the app on. Check that they are in the tuning mode.
- Pick a string – let’s use the middle C as an example.
- Find the peg which belongs to the middle C string. Put your tuning key on the peg and hold it firmly with your right hand.
- Pluck the string and observe the display of your tuner. If the string is in tune, you will usually see the arrow on the display pointing to the middle of the “C” symbol (if you are tuning a pedal harp you may see “B” or “C♭” instead of C – read further to find out more). In case of some apps/tuners the display or the light of the tuner may also turn green. See some examples below:
If the string is in tune, you do not have to do anything, and you can move on to tuning another one.
- A string which is out of tune may be either too high (in other words: it may be sharp) or too low (flat). If it is too high most of the tuners will indicate this by pointing to the right side of the display, for example:
If it is too low (which is called “flat”), the arrow will usually be on the left.
In either case, you will need to adjust the tuning by turning the tuning key.
- If the pitch is too high, you will need to slacken the string. Do this by turning the top of the tuning key towards you.
If the string seems to be too low, tighten the string by turning the top of the tuning key away from you.
Lever harps may be tuned very differently, depending on the keys you use most often and sometimes the genre that you play. The most popular are keys of E-flat major (or simply: E-flat), F major (F) and C major (C).
If you tune your harp in E flat major the notes you will get from the strings at their full length will be:
E♭ F G A♭ B♭ C D
If you are using an electronic tuner or an app on your phone, you may see a different name when tuning the notes with flats (♭):
E♭ may be displayed as D#
A♭ may be displayed as G#
B♭ may be displayed as A#
Tuning in F Major is also quite common. The strings will give you the following pitches:
F G A B♭ C D E
As in the case of a harp tuned in E flat, the note with a flat (B) may be displayed as A#.
If your harp is tuned in C, the notes you will see on the display of the tuner will be:
C D E F G A B
If you are not sure about how your harp should be tuned (whether it is supposed to be tuned in C, F or E flat) ask the harp manufacturer or the retailer.
By pedal harp I mean the modern double-action instrument where each pedal can be set at three different positions. With all pedals up (the “flat position”) you will get the following pitches:
C♭ D♭ E♭ F♭ G♭ A♭ B♭
These notes may be also displayed as:
C♭ – B
D♭ – C#
E♭ – D#
F♭ – E
G♭ – F#
A♭ – G#
B♭ – A#
Still feeling a bit lost when it comes to tuning? Post your question in the comment section below – I will be happy to help if you are in doubt!