General Question

pallen123's avatar

Why do so few people play the harp?

Asked by pallen123 (1514points) March 31st, 2010

My sweet daughter wants to know why relatively so few people play the harp? Is it because the harp is so heavy to cart around? Or is there a more complicated answer, like there just isn’t that much music written for the harp, it’s not a symphony instrument, or it hasn’t been around as long as the oboe?

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33 Answers

EdMayhew's avatar

Cos they’re pricey and a bitch to lug about


DarkScribe's avatar

I have seen lots of images of people playing the harp. They usually have nice feathered wings.

Aside from that, many orchestras have harps – I used to be fascinated by them when I was a small child.

silverfly's avatar

I saw someone playing a harp this past weekend. I guess it’s still prominent in a hippie city. (Austin, TX)

PacificToast's avatar

It’s a large instrument, and it’s not very popular in the mainstream. this doesn’t get it much attention. I also imagine they’re expensive. Harps aren’t very versatile when it comes to musical styles. I’ve never heard of a country harp. Hip-hop harp? Indie folk harp is the only place I think a harp would fit in. That and classical.

EdMayhew's avatar

@PacificToast they are indeed expensive, but you’re wrong about their versatility, Harps have a huge ranging repetoire from classical to pop to rock, folk and back.


WestRiverrat's avatar

I have been told that the harp takes a more practice and skill to play well than most other string insturments. I don’t know if this is true or not.

gemiwing's avatar

Don’t forget tuning all those strings. that would stop me from playing

Finley's avatar

It’s a cycle.. so few teachers, so few students. So few of those students become teachers and fewer students. Plus the harp is a very expensive instrument, near the top if not the priciest. Some families have enough to deal with already and not to mention the time that has to be put into it and the extra money to take care of it.

slick44's avatar

Where do you buy a harp!

Arp's avatar

Mainly the cost. Also, you can’t score chicks by playing harp in a rock band :P

davidbetterman's avatar

The Marx Brothers ruined it for the rest of us!

ashxmy_lovee's avatar

It seems hard to me.

PacificToast's avatar

@EdMayhew Sorry, I assume too much because I’ve only ever heard harps in classical music.

Pretty_Lilly's avatar

They are incredibly expensive & it’s not like you can rent one !

squidcake's avatar

I wanted to play the harp ever since I was four years old. I used to dream of being in an orchestra as a harpist.
But my parents wouldn’t pay for one. They cost an arm and a leg.
I had to settle for keyboard.

cbloom8's avatar

Cumbersome, difficult to maintain, and relatively quiet, making them impracticable for multi-instrument performance.

aprilsimnel's avatar

Isn’t there an indie rock performer whose instrument is the harp? Joanna Newsom?

TexasDude's avatar

They are probably expensive.

Captain_Fantasy's avatar

Great instrument but the harp just doesn’t rock.
Some instruments just don’t rock. Sting proved this with his lute.

ChaosCross's avatar

Because the electric guitar is way cooler.

TexasDude's avatar

I’ve always been fond of the theremin myself.

WestRiverrat's avatar

@Captain_Fantasy Tiny Tim and his Ukelele proved it first. Sting just confirmed the proof.

jazmina88's avatar

I had 2 harp players in my church growin up. It was awesome! They are expensive, hard to carry, hard to learn, hard to find teachers, and oh, so worth it!!!!!

It takes someone special to pick harp….and if you can look into it…...and she has nimble fingers, let her try it and see if there is ability and will, if that is the intent.

Element's avatar

I’m not sure, you might want to ask Arp about that one.

thriftymaid's avatar

I don’t know, but it’s one I would like to try. I wonder if short people can play it.

Harp's avatar

First, there’s something of an image problem: The harp has a hard time breaking out of its stereotype as a shmaltzy background instrument. Mention harp, and people think of billowing arpeggios used to conjure up dream sequences in sitcoms. There are a few little niches in the musical scene where harp has been used in a more central and muscular way, but these are more rooted in folk traditions (Celtic, Paraguayan), so they don’t get much mainstream exposure. In the classical world, Carlos Salzedo did some very athletic harp arrangements, but most orchestral arrangements have tended to use the harp for filler, if at all.

Then there’s the cost and weight/bulk issue, already mentioned. Beginners, especially children, start on lever harps, not the big pedal harps used in orchestras (levers and pedals are used to adjust the tuning for various keys). They’re much smaller and cheaper, and have a more restricted tonal range, but are otherwise played with the same technique (the string spacing is similar). Someone who learns on a lever harp can transition easily to a pedal harp down the road (although most folk traditions prefer the lever harp for it’s less stodgy sound). A decent lever harp costs about $3000 and weighs around 30 lbs.

Rentals are the way to go in the beginning, as a hedge against a child’s losing interest. These can be hard to come by, and expensive. $60/month is not unusual (I built my first harp to stop the financial hemorrhage when my daughter took up harp). Because rental harps are hard to come by, many teachers keep a small stable of harps that they’ll rent out to students.

Playing harp is not especially difficult. In a way, it’s a great first instrument because it sounds tolerable even in the hands of a beginner (unlike violin, or brass, or woodwinds). Like piano, it’s musically intuitive: the whole array of tonal possibilities are spread out right there in front of you, so it’s a good instrument for acquiring a grounding in musical theory and chord construction. Playing a note is a single action—the plucking of the string—as opposed to the coordinated actions required to sound notes on most other instruments.

Because not many people play it, the harp has a novelty valuer that other, more quotidian instruments lack. My daughter has made some great extra cash by busking out in our little downtown area and at our farmer’s market. People see the harp from far away and are spellbound. She invariably draws a crowd, unlike the poor schmuck strumming his guitar. It’s also easy to get wedding and holiday gigs.

downtide's avatar

My cousin used to play a harp. It was expensive, and huge, and took up a lot of space. Most people don’t have room for one at home, and don’t have a way to transport it. But I’ve tried playing it, and of all the musical instruments I’ve tried (which is quite a few) I found it to be the easiest to pick up and learn.

CodePinko's avatar

People naturally like getting laid.

Trissinger's avatar

I play the harp, a 22-stringed one, almost daily. Since I also play the piano, it wasn’t a difficult transition. It’s a rental and I’d like to purchase a 10-stringed harp—- more portable, though I wouldn’t be able to play both sides of it the way I do with the 22-stringed one.

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

The Harp is not very popular as an instrument because:

• Unlike pianos or drum kits which are equally a pain to transport, drums and the piano are flashier.
• You don’t have women screaming at the top of their voice throwing bras and panties on stage for harp players.
• A harp solo would not have the appeal of a drum, guitar, piano, keyboard, or horns solo.
• If you are the harp player in a band you will only get the throw-away-groupies, if you even get to boink anyone after the show.

That is why harps are not popular.

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