Tuning your harp may not be the most glorious moment behind the harp, but it is essential.

Be diligent with your tuning, tuning your harp on a weekly basis (daily if you physically move your harp daily), more if you’ve just broken a string. Playing a harp that is out of tune is a bad habit to develop. We want to train our ears to pick up the slightest difference, and playing a harp that is out of tune teaches our ears to ignore the difference, and become lazy.

TUNERS:

I prefer to tune my harp with an application called iStrobosoft.

A very simple, easy, external tuner that I used for years before purchasing this app was the Korg Chromatic Tuner. This Korg tuner may be easier to use for beginner harpists.

PREPARATION:

**Lever Harp players: place your E, A, and B levers in the UP position. Place all other levers in the down position.

**Pedal Harp players: place your pedals in the natural position.

HOW TO TUNE:

The following instructions refer to using your Korg Chromatic Tuner.

  • Switch the tuner to its “auto” position and place near the harp (preferably on the music stand).

  • Stand behind the harp where you would normally sit to play.

  • Turning the tuning key towards the column raises the pitch. When turning away from the column it lowers the pitch. Familiarize yourself with this by playing one string while turning the tuning key either direction to hear the pitch change.

  • Place your LEFT HAND second finger (pointer finger) on the string you want to tune. Place your thumb on a string above that to use as a crutch, keeping your thumb placed while continuing to pluck with your second finger. Pluck the string you want to tune with your left hand second finger. With your right hand, place the tuning key on the pin of the string you wish to tune. Keep your right hand on the tuning key at all times. If you take your hand off the tuning key, and leave the tuning key on the tuning pin, it may become loose, fall on the soundboard and cause a scratch or permanent mark on your harp.

  • Our goal is to get the needle mostly in the middle, where we see the green light solid as much as possible.

  • If the string is sharp or flat, turn the tuning key in the appropriate direction until the needle is pointing mostly up, or the light is mostly green. It can be helpful to pluck the string just before you turn. This way, your tuner can pick up the changing pitch of the string and can show you how far you still need to turn. Pluck loudly and frequently enough so that the tuner hears the pitch.

  • A string that is sharp (too high of a pitch) will be indicated on the tuner when the needle points to the right, and you mostly see the red light on the right flash. As your plucking the string, turn the tuning key towards you, away from the column. Use your ears and eyes to hear the pitch lower and see the needle move closer to the middle.

  • A string that is flat (too low of a pitch) will be indicated on the tuner when the needle points to the left, and you mostly see the red light on the left flash. As you pluck the string, turn the tuning key towards the column, away from you. Use your ears and eyes to hear the pitch lower and see the needle move closer to the middle. 

  • Starting with the A-string below middle C, pluck the individual string. Wait for the tuner to detect the note and watch whether the tuner indicates that the note is on pitch – in which case, the central, green light will be lit – or whether it is sharp or flat (the pitch indicator will be pointing to the left or right of the central, “in-tune” position).

Begin with the A as mentioned above, and work your way down the harp, string by string, to the last string towards the column of the harp. Then come up to the same A, and tune up the remainder of the harp to the smallest string.

Be patient with yourself, and go slowly. Aim for the tuner to show the GREEN light as much as possible when plucking each individual string.

As is the case, the more you tune, the easier it will become, and the less time you’ll need to spend on tuning which leaves more time for playing!

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