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playing the cross strung chromatic harp
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The cross strung chromatic harp is different from other harps in that it involves two rows of crossing strings. One row features diatonic notes only, usually attached to the left side of the soundboard; the other one features sharp notes only. The arrangement looks like that of a piano or harpsichord keyboard with white and black keys. Black strings on the cross strung chromatic harp are just as easy to sound as white strings. Since the two string plans are crossing, both hands can play the white strings or the black strings. Since no special effort, nor apparatus are involved in the production of accidentals, the cross strung chromatic harp is a fully chromatic instrument, permanently tune in the key of "C" (like a piano). From the construction point of view it is also a well balanced design, because strings are pinned to the neck on either side (except in the case of some Spanish Arpa de dos ordenes), the instrument has a better string tension distribution than single rank harps. From a musical stand point, compared to other harps, this instrument is suitable to play a wider and more diversified repertoire, that is virtually all string music, except when glissandi in keys other than "C" and "C#" are required.

The playing technique for the cross strung chromatic harp involves a distinct approach and attitude. According to Ben Brown, a teacher and performer of this instrument (see: "Introduction to multicourse harps" a video by Ben Brown and Laurie Riley, available at Laurie Riley, Box 249, Vashon WA 98070) this technique involves alternative fingering techniques (independence of the hand, non-consecutive fingering and anticipation. Such techniques have been described in various available methods (See Ben Brown (in English), or Odile Tackoen (in French)).

Sharp strings (which are easy to see because they are set in groups of two (c#,d#) and three (F#,g#,a#) and can be colour coded accordingly, are plucked with the left hand above the crossing line and with the right hand below the crossing line.

Players of this instrument do not think that playing the cross strung chromatic harp is more difficult than other harps. This is, I believe the opinion of professional teachers. This view is not shared by every one, however. The cross strung chromatic harp is based on a twelve tone octave as opposed to a seven tone octave. In that sense the fingering may be more complex. Comparing the cross strung harp to the ordinary diatonic harp is a bit like saying that a piano with white keys only would be easier to play... The object of the comparison itself is absurd. The bottom line is that most Western music is based on the 12 tone chromatic scale, not on the 7 tone scale, therefore, diatonic instruments are a bit of a musical paradox, in the "big picture".

What you will need to learn in order to play the cross strung chromatic harp is indeed a new fingering. Your fingers are used to "pluck" seven strings per octave, they will have to get used to plucking twelve strings. According to teachers, with a little practice, this will become natural pretty quickly!

The main difference in cross strung harp fingering is that fingers often depart from consecutive sequences: 1,2,3,4...4,3,2,1. In order to be able to reach strings above or below the crossing line, fingers are called to pluck the strings in a non-sequential fashion...

Whereas a "C major scale" (no sharps- would be played: 4,3,2,1, 4,3,2,1 on a cross strung harp, just as you would on an ordinary harp... a "G major scale" (because of the situation of F#) would be played: 3,2,1, 3,2,1, 4,3 from the right hand and... 3,2,1, 4,3,2, 1,3 from the left hand. A "D major scale" would be played: 2,1,4, 3,2,1, 3,2 (RH); 3,2,1, 4,3,2, 1,3 (LH), etc.

Remember that when playing with the right hand, sharps have to be plucked in the row below the crossing line, this is why here the 4th finger is the most appropriate to pluck F# in a G major scale! When you play with the left hand this is the opposite, sharps are above the crossing line and... dictate a different strategy. Again, with a little practice this becomes natural quickly. The cross strung chromatic harp has been played for a long time and sophisticated playing methods are available.


  Roger Muma, 1157 St. Anthony Rd., London, ON, Canada, N6H 2R2, Ph. (519) 649-0309.