orig. unknown, worldwide The harp is a plucked string instrument with so many cousins and forbears that it is not known exactly where in the world in originated. It may have developed in many places simultaneously. Early harp-like instruments have been found in Africa, Europe, North and South America, but the instrument was popularized in Europe and is still frequently featured in Western music composition.
Unlike the zither instruments, such as the lyre or piano, whose strings are positioned parallel to the soundboard, the harp is characterized by a plane of strings positioned perpendicular to its soundboard. Depending on its size, the instrument is played while held in the lap or while stood on the floor. The strings are made of nylon, wire, gut or silk, while the body is typically crafted of wood. A European-derived concert harp has foot pedals that change the pitch of the strings.
A classical harp player is know as a "harpist," while traditional folk and Celtic musicians tend to use the term "harper."