We made this page in response to a question from a student who was confused when people said things like:
“Put your harp in C”
“What key is your harp in? Eb? C or what?”
“Do you play an Eb harp or a C harp?”
I hope this information is helpful in clarifying what that means.
A smidgeon of history:
It used to be that harps were tuned differently in different countries. Some harps were tuned so the strings would make a C scale, some so they’d make an Eb scale, or an Ab scale, or a D scale, etc.
This may have had to do more with the other indigenous instruments in that culture and what scales it was easiest for them to play. At that time, it wasn’t standard for every harp to have a full set of levers, so having your harpstrings actually tuned to the most likely key you’d be playing in was essential.
It used to be that lever harps in the U.S.A. were tuned to a C scale, and much of Europe tuned their harps to Eb.
Nowadays, Eb is the conventional standard tuning for lever harps, because it allows harps with a full set of levers to play in the greatest variety of standard keys.
However, I often teach my classes ‘in the key of C.’ That doesn’t mean you need to retune your strings. It means you tune your harpSTRINGS to the key of Eb and then lever them into the key of C.
Here’s how you TUNE your STRINGS to Eb MAJOR
- With all your levers unengaged (i.e. down), tune every octave on your harp to these notes: C – D – Eb – F – G – Ab – Bb (or you can start on Eb and tune: Eb – F – G – Ab – Bb – C – D)
- Then play the strings in this order: Eb – F – G – Ab – Bb – C – D
- You should hear an Eb Major scale. Your harp is what they called “Tuned in Eb”
- Without touching a lever, you can now play in the key of Eb Major (and C minor modal)
Here’s how to LEVER your HARP into C MAJOR
Once your harpstrings are TUNED in Eb, do this to lever your harp into C Major:
- Raise the levers on these strings in every octave: Eb Ab Bb
- Then play the strings in this order: C – D – E – F – G – A – B
- You should hear a C Major scale. You may hear people say that you’re now ‘tuned in C’ – but in fact your harp is levered into C.
- Without touching any more levers, you can now play in the key of C Major (and A minor modal)
If you tune your harp to a different key…
Some people tune their harps in F, or Bb because of the kind of music they play. So long as you can play your harp in the key of C Major during the course, you should be able to do almost everything in “Hands on Harmony.”
It’s up to you whether you want to retune your strings to Eb for the course or just know that your levers may be set different from mine and you may not be able to do some of the more advanced alterations or modulate to all the keys.
Wanna see a Diagram?
For those of you who learn better visually instead of verbally, here’s a diagram to illustrate how levers should look in all the keys that a fully-levered Eb harp can play.
Notice that in C major 3 levers are up: E, A & B (just like you learned above)