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The Lyre Harp

Origin of the Lyre Harp

Although the exact origin of the harp is unknown, early discoveries have found harp-like paintings on rocks dating as far back as 1500 BC. Harps are depicted in multiple Egyptian tombs dating some 5,000 years ago including the tomb of Egyptian Pharaoh Ramses III; however the lyre harp began to appear more commonly in ancient Samaria around 2800 BC.

The lyre was held in different positions depending on culture for example, the Sumerians held the lyre vertically with the crossbar at the top and the Egyptians played with the crossbar pointing away from their body. Harps were equally popular in ancient Assyria, Mesopotamia and ancient Greek culture.

The lyre was wide spread and a common instrument in the ancient world. Today the lyre is limited almost exclusively to parts of Africa and Siberia. Ever changing cultures across time and geography has led to many changes in the lyre harp throughout history. Those changes include the number of strings, how the instrument was held, and whether it was plucked, strummed or played with a plectrum.

Description of the lyre

The typical lyre harp has a hollow body or sound-chest. It has an overall length of twenty-five inches and two raised arms extend up from the sound-chest that curve out and then forward connecting near the top by a cross-bar. The number of strings varies from 5 to 16 and passes over a bridge positioned diagonally on the soundboard. On either side of this bridge are rosette sound holes carved into the soundboard. These strings are tuned by turning the pegs. The vibration of the strings is transmitted by an additional cross-bar that forms a bridge on the sound-chest.

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