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What Is The Difference Between A Lap Harp And A Regular Harp

What Is The Difference Between A Lap Harp And A Regular Harp

What Is The Difference Between A Lap Harp And A Regular Harp?

The harp, with its enchanting strings and ethereal sounds, has captivated music lovers for centuries. But not all harps are created equal. When it comes to lap harps and regular harps, there are notable differences that make each unique. Understanding these differences can help you choose the right harp for your musical journey.

Introduction to Harps

Historical Background of Harps

Harps have a rich history that dates back thousands of years. Ancient civilizations like the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans cherished these instruments. They often depicted harps in their art and mythology. Harps evolved over time, with various cultures adding their own twists and designs. This evolution led to the diverse types of harps we see today.

Popularity and Cultural Significance

Harps have found their place in many cultures around the world. They play a vital role in classical music, folk traditions, and even modern genres. From the grand concert halls of Europe to the cozy pubs of Ireland, harps have a universal appeal. Their cultural significance extends beyond music, symbolizing beauty, grace, and harmony.

Understanding Lap Harps

Definition and Characteristics

A lap harp, as the name suggests, is a small harp designed to rest on the player’s lap. It typically has a range of 15 to 22 strings. Lap harps are lightweight and portable, making them ideal for casual play and travel. Despite their small size, they produce a sweet and melodious sound.

Types of Lap Harps

Celtic Lap Harps

Celtic lap harps are inspired by the traditional harps of Ireland and Scotland. They often feature intricate carvings and designs. These harps are known for their bright and lively tones, perfect for folk music and traditional melodies.

Folk Lap Harps

Folk lap harps are versatile and can be used in various musical styles. They have a more straightforward design compared to Celtic lap harps. Folk lap harps are popular among beginners and those looking for an easy-to-play instrument.

Understanding Regular Harps

Definition and Characteristics

Regular harps, also known as concert or orchestral harps, are much larger than lap harps. They typically have 40 to 47 strings and stand several feet tall. Regular harps are known for their rich, resonant sound and wide range. They are often used in classical music and professional performances.

Types of Regular Harps

Pedal Harps

Pedal harps are the most common type of regular harp. They have pedals at the base that allow the player to change the pitch of the strings. This feature makes pedal harps incredibly versatile and suitable for complex compositions.

Lever Harps

Lever harps, also known as Celtic harps, have levers on each string that the player can manually adjust. They are smaller and more portable than pedal harps. Lever harps are popular in folk and traditional music.

Physical Differences

Size and Portability

One of the most obvious differences between lap harps and regular harps is their size. Lap harps are compact and lightweight, making them easy to carry around. You can play them anywhere, from your living room to a park bench. Regular harps, on the other hand, are much larger and heavier. They require a dedicated space and are not as easy to transport.

Weight Comparison

Lap harps are designed with portability in mind. They typically weigh between 2 to 5 pounds. This makes them ideal for players who want a lightweight instrument. Regular harps can weigh anywhere from 50 to 90 pounds. Moving a regular harp often requires a dolly or a strong pair of hands.

Materials Used

Both lap harps and regular harps are made from high-quality materials. Lap harps are often crafted from lightweight woods like maple or cherry. Regular harps use denser woods like mahogany or spruce, which contribute to their rich sound. The strings of both types of harps can be made from nylon, gut, or wire.

Structural Differences

Number of Strings

Lap harps have fewer strings compared to regular harps. A typical lap harp has 15 to 22 strings, while a regular harp can have up to 47 strings. The number of strings affects the range of notes the harp can produce. Regular harps offer a broader range, making them suitable for more complex music.

String Tension and Thickness

The strings on a lap harp are generally lighter and have less tension. This makes them easier to play, especially for beginners. Regular harps have thicker strings with higher tension. This contributes to their powerful sound but requires more finger strength to play.

Frame and Design

Lap harps have a simple and compact design. They are often triangular in shape and can be easily held on the lap. Regular harps have a more elaborate frame with a curved neck and a large soundboard. The design of regular harps enhances their acoustic properties, resulting in a fuller sound.

Sound and Tone

Acoustic Properties

Lap harps produce a soft and gentle sound. Their small size limits their volume, making them perfect for intimate settings. Regular harps, with their larger soundboards, produce a more resonant and powerful sound. They can fill a concert hall with their rich tones.

Volume and Projection

The volume of a lap harp is suitable for solo play or small gatherings. Regular harps have a greater projection, making them ideal for performances in larger venues. The sound of a regular harp can be heard clearly even in a large orchestra.

Tone Quality

Lap harps have a bright and clear tone. They are well-suited for folk music and simple melodies. Regular harps offer a wider range of tonal qualities. They can produce deep bass notes and sparkling high notes, making them versatile for various musical styles.

Playing Techniques

Finger Placement

Playing a lap harp requires a gentle touch. The strings are closer together, so precise finger placement is crucial. Regular harps demand more strength and dexterity. The wider spacing of the strings allows for more complex finger movements.

Hand Positioning

Lap harps are usually played with both hands resting on the strings. This allows for easy plucking and strumming. Regular harps require a more formal hand positioning. Players often use a technique called “hand damping” to control the resonance of the strings.

Common Playing Styles

Lap harps are often used for simple, melodic playing. They are popular in folk music and for solo performances. Regular harps are used in a variety of musical styles, from classical to jazz. Their versatility makes them a favorite among professional musicians.

Musical Range and Repertoire

Types of Music Played

Lap harps are commonly used in folk and traditional music. Their simple design and bright tone make them perfect for these genres. Regular harps are used in a wide range of musical styles. They are prominent in classical music, orchestras, and even contemporary music.

Popular Compositions for Each Harp

Lap harps are often featured in folk songs and traditional melodies. Their sweet sound complements these compositions perfectly. Regular harps are used in a variety of compositions, from classical pieces by composers like Debussy to modern film scores.

Versatility in Genres

Lap harps are versatile within their niche. They excel in folk and traditional music but may not be suitable for more complex compositions. Regular harps are incredibly versatile. They can be used in almost any genre, from classical to pop, thanks to their wide range and tonal qualities.

Tuning Mechanisms

Lever Mechanism in Lap Harps

Lap harps use a lever mechanism to change the pitch of the strings. This allows players to easily switch between different keys. The levers are manually operated, making them simple and straightforward to use.

Pedal Mechanism in Regular Harps

Regular harps use a pedal mechanism to change the pitch of the strings. Each pedal corresponds to a different pitch and can be adjusted with the foot. This allows for quick and seamless changes in pitch, making pedal harps ideal for complex compositions.

Ease of Tuning

Lap harps are relatively easy to tune. The fewer number of strings and simple lever mechanism make tuning straightforward. Regular harps require more time and skill to tune. The higher number of strings and pedal mechanism add complexity to the tuning process.

Learning Curve and Accessibility

Beginner-Friendly Aspects

Lap harps are beginner-friendly instruments. Their small size and simple design make them easy to learn. The gentle string tension is forgiving for new players. Regular harps are more challenging to learn. The larger size and higher string tension require more skill and practice.

Instructional Resources Available

There are plenty of resources available for learning both lap harps and regular harps. Online tutorials, books, and classes can help beginners get started. However, regular harps may require more advanced instruction due to their complexity.

Common Challenges

Lap harps are easier to play but offer limited musical range. This can be a challenge for players looking to expand their repertoire. Regular harps offer a wide range but require more skill to master. The physical demands and complexity of playing a regular harp can be daunting for beginners.

Cost and Affordability

Price Range of Lap Harps

Lap harps are generally more affordable than regular harps. Prices can range from $100 to $500, making them accessible to beginners and hobbyists. The cost depends on the quality of materials and craftsmanship.

Price Range of Regular Harps

Regular harps are a significant investment. Prices can range from $2,000 to $20,000 or more. The high cost is due to the quality of materials, craftsmanship, and the complexity of the instrument. Professional-grade harps can be quite expensive.

Factors Affecting Cost

Several factors affect the cost of both lap harps and regular harps. These include the quality of materials, craftsmanship, brand reputation, and additional features. Custom-made harps and those with intricate designs are usually more expensive.

Maintenance and Care

Regular Maintenance Needs

Both lap harps and regular harps require regular maintenance. This includes tuning, cleaning, and checking for any signs of wear. Proper maintenance ensures the longevity and performance of the instrument.

Longevity and Durability

Lap harps are durable but may require occasional repairs due to their lightweight construction. Regular harps are built to last but need more care due to their size and complexity. Both types of harps can last for many years with proper maintenance.

Common Repairs

Common repairs for lap harps include replacing strings and fixing any loose levers. Regular harps may require more extensive repairs, such as adjusting the pedal mechanism or fixing the soundboard. It’s essential to address any issues promptly to avoid further damage.

Popular Brands and Models

Leading Manufacturers

Several reputable manufacturers produce high-quality lap harps and regular harps. Brands like Lyon & Healy, Dusty Strings, and Camac are well-known in the harp community. These manufacturers offer a range of models to suit different needs and budgets.

Recommended Models for Beginners

For beginners, the Harpsicle Harp and the Dusty Strings Ravenna 26 are popular choices. These models are affordable and easy to play, making them ideal for those new to the harp. They offer good sound quality and are built to last.

High-End Options

For those looking for a professional-grade instrument, the Lyon & Healy Style 23 and the Camac Athena are excellent choices. These harps offer exceptional sound quality, craftsmanship, and durability. They are perfect for advanced players and professionals.

Choosing the Right Harp for You

Personal Preferences and Needs

When choosing between a lap harp and a regular harp, consider your personal preferences and needs. Think about the type of music you want to play, your skill level, and your budget. A lap harp may be perfect for casual play, while a regular harp may suit more serious musicians.

Purpose and Usage

Consider how you plan to use the harp. If you want a portable instrument for casual play, a lap harp is a great choice. If you’re looking for an instrument for performances or professional use, a regular harp is more suitable. Your purpose will guide your decision.

Long-Term Considerations

Think about your long-term goals as a harpist. If you plan to advance your skills and perform professionally, investing in a regular harp may be worth it. If you want a hobby instrument for personal enjoyment, a lap harp is a practical and affordable option.


Understanding the differences between lap harps and regular harps can help you make an informed decision. Each type of harp has its unique features, benefits, and challenges. Whether you choose a lap harp for its portability and simplicity or a regular harp for its rich sound and versatility, both offer a rewarding musical experience.


1. What is the main difference between a lap harp and a regular harp?
The main difference lies in their size and complexity. Lap harps are smaller and more portable, while regular harps are larger and offer a wider range of notes.

2. Which harp is easier for beginners to learn?
Lap harps are generally easier for beginners due to their smaller size, fewer strings, and simpler design. Regular harps require more skill and practice.

3. Can lap harps be used in professional performances?
Lap harps are typically used for casual play and folk music. While they can be used in performances, regular harps are more suitable for professional settings due to their richer sound and versatility.

4. How much does a regular harp cost compared to a lap harp?
Lap harps are more affordable, ranging from $100 to $500. Regular harps are more expensive, with prices ranging from $2,000 to $20,000 or more.

5. What type of music is best suited for lap harps?
Lap harps are best suited for folk and traditional music. Their bright and clear tone complements these genres perfectly.

FeatureLap HarpRegular Harp
SizeSmall and portableLarge and stationary
Number of Strings15 to 2240 to 47
Weight2 to 5 pounds50 to 90 pounds
SoundBright and clearRich and resonant
Price Range$100 to $500$2,000 to $20,000+

Harp Comparison Video Part 1: Fourteen Lap Harps!