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Double-action pedal harp—Courtesy of Lyon-Healy
Plucked stringed instrument in which the resonator, or belly, is perpendicular to the plane of the strings. Harps are roughly triangular. In early harps and many folk harps, the strings are strung between the resonating body and the neck. Early harps and many folk harps lack the forepillar or columnforming the third side of the trianglethat characterizes frame harps; the column permits high string tension and higher-pitched tuning. Small, primitive harps date back to at least 3000 BC in the ancient Mediterranean and Middle East. In Europe they became particularly important in Celtic societies. The large modern orchestral harp emerged in the 18th century. It has 47 strings and a range of almost seven octaves. It plays the entire chromatic (12-note) scale by means of seven pedals, each of which can alter the pitch of a note (in all octaves) by two semitones through tightening or relaxing the strings by turning a forklike projection against it; it is thus known as the double-action harp. Its massive resonator permits considerable volume of tone. See alsoAeolian harp.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on harp, visit Britannica.com.