7 Reasons Tuning Your Harp Is Worth the Trouble
Feb 24, 2020
There’s a famous quote attributed to the composer Igor Stravinsky that every harpist knows: Harpists spend 90 percent of their lives tuning their harps and 10 percent playing out of tune. It has the painful ring of truth.
The harp is a treacherous instrument in this regard. The magic of the organic materials that comprise so much of the instrument is that they make the instrument very responsive to the player. Unfortunately, they also put the instrument at the mercy of every atmospheric change. A breath of cold air or a change in the moisture level in the room can cause the best-maintained harp to sound woeful.
We harpists understand that tuning is necessary; but it’s a difficult task and made more frustrating when the harp is out of tune five minutes after you finished tuning it. That’s why tuning is a step that almost all of us have been occasionally tempted to skip before our daily practice. We tell ourselves that it doesn’t really sound so bad and that it would be wasteful to spend our precious few moments of practice time in tuning the harp.
Before you give in to that temptation, I’d like to make the case for tuning, for spending those few minutes to make your harp sound its best for your practice.
SEVEN REASONS TO TUNE EVEN IF YOU DON’T WANT TO
- Playing in tune is a hallmark of your musicianship. It demonstrates your attention to detail, your dedication to doing your best even when the path is difficult. By contrast, not taking the time to tune is often seen as a sign of a musician who doesn’t care.
- Playing in tune is part of your obligation as a musician. Not tuning before you play is actually disrespectful of the music, the composer and a listener.
- Playing in tune is essential in playing with any other musician. Nothing spoils the sound of an ensemble more than not having all the instruments in tune with themselves and with each other.
- The act of tuning, practiced daily, trains your ear. As you listen for the minute discrepancies between pitches or line up the sound of two notes an octave apart, you are refining your sense of pitch. You are learning the sound of your harp, discovering its unique characteristics of resonance.
- Tuning creates a listening habit. As your listening skills develop, you are also ingraining the habit of listening. This will aid you in your practice as you will be more observant, not just of tuning issues, but of all aspects of your playing. You will notice wrong notes and be able to correct them more quickly. You will notice when there are notes in a chord that aren’t sounding equally. The more you practice listening critically, the more detail you will hear.
- A harp that is tuned regularly, stays in tune better. It also sounds better. A well-tuned harp has a richer, more resonant sound simply because it is in tune. All the overtones in each string are in alignment, allowing for more sympathetic vibration.
- The more often you tune, the faster you get at it. As with any task you do regularly, you will become more skilled and faster at tuning as you practice it more. This benefit is often overlooked and it’s wonderfully practical.
There’s one more powerful reason to tune before you practice. Tuning can help you make the transition from the rest of your busy life to the harp. It can help you to focus your thoughts and to channel your creative energy. It can be a soothing pre-practice ritual or a few moments of reconnecting yourself to your music before you begin the work of practice.
Why not print out this list and keep it by your harp with your tuning key and tuner? You and your harp will be glad you did!