Levers VS Pedals
This post will discuss the function of the levers and pedals, and how they differ.
Lever harps get their name from, you guessed it, having levers! Levers are attached to the neck of the harp and affect the pitch of the string by flipping them up or down. Some harps don’t have levers, others may have levers on select few strings, while most lever harps will have levers on all the strings.
When the lever harp is tuned, it is typical to put E,A, and B levers in the UP position, then tune the harp to the key of C major. (Brief explanation of tuning: when we tune the harp, we tune all our strings in the natural position, meaning when we pluck a red string (C) we want the tuner to show that it is the pitch of C natural, NOT C# (C sharp) or Cb (C flat). This means we want the tuner to show us the pitch of C without the sharp or flat sign next to it.
With your E,A, and B levers up and the harp tuned to C natural, let’s take the F (Black or Blue string) lever as an example. It would naturally be down already, and tuned to F natural. If we flip that lever up, it raises the pitch of that string a half step: from F natural to F sharp. Without getting into too much information here regarding sharps, flats, naturals, and keys, simply understand that the pitch of the string is raised a half step when the lever goes from down to up, and it is lowered a half step when the lever goes from up to down. This means we can play in multiple keys without having to tune the harp all over again.
Pedals behave the same way the levers do, but more so. Let me explain. Each pedal is associated with a pitch. Meaning, we have a C pedal, D pedal, E pedal, etc. What this means is that the C pedal is connected to a rod (through the column of the harp) that connects to the mechanisms in the neck associated with every C string. Each pedal has three positions. Up is flat, middle is natural, and down is sharp. Again, without muddying the waters too early and explaining keys, sharps, and flats, simply understand that moving the pedals from up to middle and middle to down, raises the pitch a half step, just the same the moving the pedals from down to middle, and middle to up, lowers the pitch a half step.
Levers vs. Pedals
Lever harpists have the ability to play several different genres, and a great deal of music. Pedal harpists have the ability to take it one step further and play pieces or songs where the keys change rapidly, or there are fast accidentals. In other words, the pedal harp is better suited for music that is more difficult in regards to keys and chromaticism (challenging classical and jazz repertoire or orchestral music).