Lyre harps are much smaller instruments than lever or pedal harps, and can be carried in a person’s hands, more like a guitar. A normal harp, on the other hand sits in the lap or on the ground.
Lyre harps are much cheaper than normal harps and are mainly played by hobbyists or for much simpler music. They’re limited in strings, so your musical note selection is limited in turn.
On the other hand, “normal” harps like lever and pedal harps are the go-to choice for much more “hardcore” harpists.
This article will cover the differences between lyre harps and regular types of harps.
Table of Contents
- Lyre vs. Harp: What’s the Difference?
Lyre vs. Harp: What’s the Difference?
When comparing the lyre vs. the harp, some significant differences can be noticed. The most fundamental difference is that a normal harp has strings which enter directly into the hollow body of the entire instrument.
On the other hand, a lyre has it strings pass over a bridge, which in turn transmits the vibrations of the strings to the instrument body. A lyre, therefore, functions just like a modern guitar.
If you end up making your first harp purchase, remember to load up on some strings as well. It’s always good to have backups so you’re not scrambling when you need to replace one (we’re speaking from experience here).
[PRO TIP: Find a set of harp strings that uses color coding to make replacement easier. This set fits the bill.]
Generally, a vibrating string generates a wave, which typically propagates into a soundboard that amplifies the wave, and in turn produces a sound wave. The sound wave is transmitted through the air and eventually reaches our eardrum. The sound that can be produced by different vibrations from different instruments is exceptionally versatile.
The lyre harp produces a sound that lacks in projection in comparison to lever or pedal harps. The music mostly remains inside the box, so if you’re playing a lyre harp you probably need an amplifier for the crowd to hear it more clearly.
While we’re on the topic of sound, another important pickup for beginners is a multi-instrument tuner that will work well with a harp.
[PRO TIP: Avoid tuning frustration – find a multi-instrument tuner that works well with harps, like this one.
Origin & Greek Mythology
The modern lyre is an evolution from ancient harps. The transformation was driven by various cultural communities, such as nomads in the ancient Middle East, who sought to create a more portable instrument that still had the appearance of a harp.
So, in terms of origin, lyre harps are incredibly ancient tools of music which were in common use between about 3300 BCE and 300 BCE. Lyres were depicted in rock art and were a crucial component in providing enjoyable musical performances in ancient times.
Ancient lyre harps have been found in areas of Megiddo and parts of the northwestern Jezreel Valley of the old Israel, while regular lyres have been used in almost every corner of the world.
Lyres have been in use for musical entertainment as far back as ancient Greece, where it was a popular musical instrument. The Hebrews were also known to have used lyre harps, based on biblical accounts of both their music and poetry.
People of other cultures around the Mediterranean and the Middle East have used lyres to perform traditional songs.
The lyre harp is small, portable, and has a unique, almost curvy shape. The lyre harp is perfect for anyone who wants to bring their music on the go, whether it be to the park or on a road trip.
If you’re taking it on the go, just don’t forget to scoop up a case when you’re buying your instrument. It’s an easy thing to forget, but you don’t want to be without one when you need it.
[PRO TIP: Find a harp case that also brings waterproof and dustproof protection. This harp case is a bestseller that checks those boxes.]
As far as pedal or lever harps, these instruments are larger, heavier, and require a fair bit of upper body strength to move around. But, with its size comes a wider range of notes and a much bigger sound. Plus, the pedals and levers on this harp allow for quick key changes, making it a more versatile option for the serious harpist.
Which is the Best to Learn First?
Musicians and people who love musical instruments can find themselves in a bit of a conundrum trying to decide between making the plunge with a lyre vs. pedal vs. lever harp.
Ideally, you should try and choose the musical instrument that makes you feel best when playing, and gives off the sound that drew you to this class of instruments in the first place.
If you’re just looking for something that’s relatively cheap and easy to get into, a lyre is what most people should buy. It’s cost-effective, readily available, and easy to use.
These are some of the ones that we picked out as great overall, beginner, and budget options. With the Donner and AKLOT brands you can’t really go wrong, and you’ll get some nice accessories added on as well – always a good perk for anyone that is new to an instrument.
If you want to take the harp seriously, then we suggest getting into the lever harp and learning the ins and outs, and then graduating to the pedal harp. A “normal” harp like the lever or pedal will give you some more modern options, and can be used to play a wide variety of music.
Lever harps will definitely set you back more than a lyre harp, but they’re truly beautiful instruments (and very rewarding to learn). We’ve included our Top Pick below, plus some other bestselling options that are worth checking out.
PMV Top Pick – The beautiful hand engraving and the high-quality case seal the deal for this Celtic Irish lever harp on our top picks list.
- 19 strings – 2.5 octaves – Perfect for beginner songs & exercises
- Note range of F3 to C6 – Excellent, lightweight beginner harp
- Full lever harp – Easily change keys
- Saccend day delivery Avalible
- Item Dimensions: L 24″ W 9″ H 40″ inches
- Accessories: Extra Strings set, Tuning key
- 22 strings – 3 octaves – Excellent lightweight harp
- Note range of G3 to G6 – Color coded strings for easy play
- Full Chelby lever harp – Easily change keys
Last but definitely not least – if you’re new to this instrument, don’t pick one up without getting some songbooks to start out on. Some “freestyle” learning is fun, but with an instrument like this you want to make sure you get your basics out of the way and start working on some more structured songs before too long, to ramp your skills up more quickly.
[PRO TIP: Speed up your learning process big time with this beginners harp book from one of the most trusted educational brands.]
Both regular and lyre harps are stringed instruments and use similar techniques to pluck notes on the strings and produce sound. Even though the two instruments function almost the same, they have serious differences in size, and each will be better suited for different types of players.
What is a lyre?
A lyre is a stringed musical instrument, similar to a harp, that was used in ancient Greece for accompaniment and accompaniment in poetry recitations.
What is a harp?
A harp is a stringed musical instrument that has a triangular or circular shape and is played by plucking the strings with the fingers.
What is the main difference between a lyre and a harp?
The main difference between a lyre and a harp is their shape, with the lyre having a more curved or horseshoe shape and the harp having a triangular or circular shape.
Are lyres still used today?
Lyres are not commonly used in modern music, but they have been incorporated into some contemporary compositions and are sometimes used in historical reenactments or cultural performances.
What type of music is played on a lyre?
In ancient Greece, the lyre was used to accompany a variety of musical genres, including songs, hymns, and epic poetry.
What type of music is played on a harp?
Harp music can range from classical to folk and popular music, and can be played as a solo instrument or as part of an ensemble.
What is the origin of the lyre?
The lyre is believed to have originated in ancient Sumer (modern-day Iraq) and was later adopted by the ancient Greeks.
What is the origin of the harp?
The harp is believed to have originated in ancient Egypt and was later adopted by other cultures, including the Celtic, Norse, and African cultures.
How is a lyre played?
The lyre is played by plucking the strings with the fingers, typically using a plectrum for added volume and clarity.
How is a harp played?
A harp is played by plucking the strings with the fingers, with each string producing a different pitch. The harp can be played with the thumb, index, middle, and ring fingers of both hands.