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What Are the Different Harp Techniques?

By Lee Johnson
Updated May 17, 2024
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The two main different harp techniques are plucking and striking, both of which refer to the method used to produce the notes on the instrument. These two different techniques each have sub-techniques associated with them which are specific methods of performing a pluck or strike. Different harp techniques related to the precise method used to pluck the strings include the xylo technique, the pince technique, and the nails technique. Other possible harp techniques which could be classified as sub-techniques include percussive playing and playing “pdlt.”

Harps are stringed instruments, which mean that the noise is produced by plucking or striking the strings on the instrument in different combinations in order to create a tune. Plucking techniques require the player’s fingers to be touching the strings about to be played prior to producing the notes, sometimes literally bending the string in preparation. Striking techniques require the fingers of the player to be hovering over the notes they are about to play. The sound is either produced by the plucking finger releasing the string or the striking finger hitting against it.

Plucking harp techniques are practiced by most players, particularly those interested in playing classical music. In this method, plucking an individual note takes more time than with the striking techniques, but plucking is a more systematic method of playing the instrument. It also provides the ability to control how much the string is tightened prior to being released, which can give astute players control over the tone and volume. The “xylo” technique requires the player to place fingers from the left hand on the string and pluck with the right, creating a "popping" note which sounds similar to a xylophone. Another example of a plucking sub-technique is the “pince” technique, a two-fingered pinch of the string being played.

Striking is the least common of the two main harp techniques, and it is generally more suited to folk music. The advantage of this technique is that the hands are freer to move around the harp than with the plucking technique. This means that strings can often be played with more fluidity and comfort, because the fingers don't have to grip the strings before playing the notes. A sub-technique of striking is the “nails” technique, whereby the strings are struck with the nails of the player. Playing a harp close to the soundboard is referred to as “pdlt,” which produces a sound similar to a guitar.

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