October 9, 2013

Everyone knows you have to tune.

Any sentence that starts with “everyone knows…” typically includes something that actually only a few people know and possibly even fewer understand.  So, why do you have to tune?

Tuning serves many functions, some aesthetic, others functional.  Let’s start with the aesthetic.

The harp makes a beautiful warm rich sound that we enjoy.  Tuning is one of the many elements of achieving that tone.  If your strings are not each in tune, the sound of each string will “fight” with the sounds of the other strings.  This is not pleasant to hear.  Even being off by a hair (as indicated by the needle and lights on your tuner) will be noticeable.  And the more off your strings, the easier it is to detect that you’re not in tune.  And of course, you will instantly sound better if you are in tune!

We habitually tune to an A of 440Hz.  This is a convention - you can tune to any frequency you choose (e.g., Highland pipers tune A to about 470 - which is just about our Bb!).  We elect to tune to A440 (just like a lot of other instruments) which allows us to come together as a group and play (or to play with other instruments).  Be sure to check that your tuner is calibrated to A440 or you’ll be in for a nasty surprise!
Now for the functional.  Each harp is designed with specific tensions in mind.  The harp maker goes through a great deal of work to develop the shape and sound of the harp and these calculations all account for the specific tension of each string as well as the overall forces of all the strings working together.  Keeping your harp in tune will keep all the strings at their appropriate tensions and will allow the harp to work together as the harp maker designed it.
And perhaps my favorite reason for regular tuning.  Frequent tuning improves two things.  First, the more you tune (read “practice tuning”) the better you will be at it (does this sound familiar?).  Second, the more you tune, the better the strings will stay in pitch.  Tuning the strings helps to “train” them so they require less tuning.  Frequent tuning makes you more accurate and faster at tuning so you can get to playing!
We will spend a couple of weeks talking about tuning because I have found that for something “everyone knows” many people are confused and a little afraid (or just plain tired of having to change out broken strings).

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