Harps of the Bible

Steve Rees Origins of Music Tags: , , , , , , , , ,
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Harps of the Bible

I have been getting a lot of questions from readers on what type of harp is referred to in the Scriptures. Many who ask this question are focused on following the Scriptural model and want to make sure that if they are going to play a harp, they want it to be the right one. This is a really good question, but it requires a bit of explanation and it actually has several answers.

There are two words for harp in the Hebrew language. The first is Kinnor which is a smaller more personal instrument that has from 5 to 15 strings on which to play. A couple of the Psalms refer to the 10 string Kinnor, and that I believe has led many to believe that that is the truly Scriptural harp. Some call it the Davidic harp because it is believed that David played the 10 string Kinnor.

The Jewish Talmud even has a reference to the 10 string Kinnor returning just before Messiah comes; so many believe that unless a person is playing on a 10 string Kinnor, they are not playing a real biblical harp. I have had many   people ask me if I could make a Davidic harp, and I just completed one so I could demonstrate it to those who are interested.

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The second word for harp in Hebrew is Nevel. It refers to a larger instrument that has a sound box. The number of strings placed on this model is not definite. I believe that David may have invented the Nevel because in 1 Chronicles it says he invented instruments for the priests to play in the temple and the word Nevel is used many times throughout the Psalms so David clearly knew what a Nevel was. There have been some archaeological finds recently that show pictures of a Nevel that date close to David’s time so I am convinced that He played a Nevel.

There are some who believe that a Nevel should have 22 strings so that there is one string for each letter of the Hebrew alphabet. In fact, Micah Harrari (House of Harrari)  makes such a harp with a Hebrew letter carved by each string. This allows a novice musician to play a song from the Hebrew text of any Psalm by just playing the string next to the letter that matches the letter that they are reading in the Psalm.

The reality is however that there is no mention in Scripture of how many strings a Nevel has. Further, there are only 7 notes to play before you get to the 8th note which is a repeat of the first note, just an octave higher. So no matter if you have 22 strings or 33 strings, you are going to have the same notes – just the 33 string harp will have more octaves to play with for a greater range and selection.

Many readers ask which modern harp would be a good one to buy that is a good balance between having enough octaves and reasonable cost as well as portability. I have to say that I am particularly impressed with the Harpsicle made by William Rees in Indiana – USA  (go to www.harpsicle.com) This is a 26 string harp and you can get it with full sharping levers or partial. One called the Sharpsicle has enough levers for 4 different keys and cost about $600 plus shipping. I have one myself and it is a great starter harp with good sound – you can see me using it on the first 3 lessons on my youtube channel (see link below). It is also very good for traveling as it can fit into the overhead bin in the airplane and I have had no trouble taking it through the security check lines.

YouTube – Tuning the Harp

My all time favorite is the Voyager Harp that I make from a kit available from Music Makers in Minnesota. It is one of the best harps for the money that I have found and has 33 strings for great range and selection. It is also only 22 pounds so it is very easy to transport. My personal Voyager has been serving me well for over 9 years and has traveled around the US several times. I keep a sleeping bag over it so it doesn’t get too banged or scratched.

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I recommend tuning your harp to the 528Hz for best sound and results. I explain how to tune to this in my lesson on tuning. Basically you will calibrate your electronic tuner to 444Hz instead of 440Hz. This will make your C note a 528Hz instead of 523Hz. All the other notes will harmonize just fine.

Playing the music of the Psalms can be performed on any of these instruments. There is a slightly different technique between the Nevel and the Kinnor. It may take a little time to get used to how the strings are laid out, but with a little time spent, you will soon be producing a pleasing sound. I hope my lessons on YouTube will be of use to you in the process.

I hope this will be helpful to some of you asking these questions of what harp to get and where to get it from. If you have any further questions do not hesitate to write and ask.

Happy Harping 🙂