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The most beautiful instrument?


I have oftentimes heard people say that the harp is the most beautiful instrument. Do you agree? Why do you suppose that is? I have wondered if it is because of the sustaining nature of the strings.


It’s known from research that the richer the sound of an instrument, the more it causes the human brain to produce serotonin (the “feel good” hormone) and even endorphins (the euphoria hormones).
The musical term “rich” refers to how many harmonic overtones occur when the instrument is sounding. Since a harp has many strings, and every string produces many harmonic overtones when plucked, most harps have a very rich tone. Plus, there is the added benefit of sympathetic vibration (one plucked string causes others to vibrate), adding even more to the richness of tone.
Few other instruments have as many strings that can sound at the same time. Pianos and hammered dulcimers come to mind. But the strings are struck instead of plucked, so to many listeners they don’t sound as sweet as a harp.


The reseach is clear as Laurie says, and another difference, which may attract some listeners/players, is that (non-celtic) harps are strung with nylon strings, pianos and dulcimers with steel strings.

That said, I think the most beautiful instrument is the one that grabs your innards when you hear it and won’t let you go until you dance with it and play the music that is pulls from your soul.


I don’t know if there is a most beautiful instrument as that is very subjective. I think you have to judge that based on what is being played, how well it is being played, and when and where it is being played. Your child playing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” badly on a recorder may be the most beautiful thing you have ever heard. Joshua Bell playing the Bach Chaconne in Dm on his Strad in an echoy canyon would be exquisite, the Wiener Philharmoniker playing Beethoven 9 may be the most grand thing, or the sound of a harp solo being played well in a redwood forest may send you over the moon. It is all up to you to create the value we call beauty. To quote Robert Frost, “of course there must be something wrong, in wanting to silence any song.”


We have talked about the harp’s sounds and alluded to it’s dynamic range. I do think there are a few other things that make a harp so appealing to so many people. First, it is perhaps the most ancient stringed instrument, appearing in some guise in every culture - let’s call that ancestral memory. Second, a harp is physically beautiful and invites a person to play it (can you imagine someone falling in love with the looks of a trombone?). And finally, it is one of a very few instruments that sounds lovely even if played by a complete beginner.


Hi, actually go ask a trombonist and they will tell you they love the instrument how it looks, the sound, etc. Everyone gravitates to an instrument for their own reasons. Yes, the harp is one of the most ancient of instruments. With his Lyre Orpheus charmed man and beast and even Hades. Even a dinged up old violin can have a sweet voice. I appreciate all instruments though I am partial to string instruments which is why I play them. Pax, Don C.


I’ve heard it said that the violin is the musical instrument most similar in sound to the human voice itself, thus supposing that violas, cellos and bases would be judged similarly in their ranges. Perhaps that may be why many folks are naturally drawn to strings. With a harp, not only can you produce just one particular vibratory pitch,like one single human voice, but you have the choice of many vibratory “voices” that can be played “all at once”. A vocal chorus sounds their chords all at once, but harp vibrations have no words or mouths to distort its purity. A guitar chord is struck altogether; does it sound beautiful or sweet? So, does the plucking itself play a role in a harp’s sweetness? Can the plucking itself change the character and softness of the tones played? Can the plucking change our overall perception of whether a harp can be, for many, the most beautiful instrument?


Hi Pepper,

That is what I love about playing the violin and viola they sing. They can laugh, cry, be plaintive, firey, evil, kind, or sweet. I have also read that when Andrea Amati and Gasparo da Salo were inventing the violin in Brescia in the 1500 s they were trying to replicate the human voice. What has bewitched me about the harp is its lyrical magical tone. It really is mysterious and enchanting. That is why I decided to get one and learn it. I have admired the harp for years but it intimidated me for the longest time until I recently encountered one live and a nice person showed me all about it. I can’t wait to get my fingers on it and begin employing the technique I have been studying on the net. We really are lucky there are so many great harp videos on the Youtube. Tomorrow she comes and I become a harpy. I know it is harpist, but I think harpy fits my personality better.