Serving the Harp World Since 1817

How to Tune With An Electronic Tuner

1. Prepare the harp:

Lever Harps

Disengage levers.

Pedal Harps

There is some debate as to the best pedal position for tuning. Many classical harpists will tune with the pedals in the flat position. This is because a lot of pedal harp music is written in flat keys, as the harp is more resonant in these keys. However, if your harp is not perfectly regulated, some tuning deficiency could be discernable in sharp keys. My own preference, when playing in a variety of keys, is to tune with the pedals in the natural/middle position, so that the harp will be reasonably in tune in both flat and sharp keys. However, when performing a single piece, I would tune with the pedals in the correct position for the key of the piece in question.

2. Switch the tuner to its “auto” position and place near the harp.

3. Starting with the low end of the harp*, pluck an individual string. Wait for the tuner to detect a note (which it should do automatically – if it does not, see below for a solution) and watch whether the tuner indicates that the note is on pitch – in which case, the central, green light will be lit – or whether it is sharp or flat (the pitch indicator will be pointing to the left or right of the central, “in-tune” position.

*We start from the low end because moving the heavy bass strings can cause slight movement in the upper strings. If we tuned the higher strings first and then went on to the low strings, we might have to re-tune the high strings again.

4. It can be confusing for beginners if the tuner displays notes as sharps, when you are thinking in flats. However, by using the table below, you can identify the note you need whatever your tuner calls it:

Another confusing issue for beginners is that we talk about sharp and flat in two ways. The first way refers to notes: the note C Sharp is a separate note, one exact semi-tone above C Natural and the note B Flat is a separate note, one exact semi-tone below B Natural.

When we are talking about tuning, the terms sharp and flat also refer to notes that are not at correct pitch. As we know, the correct frequency for A is 440Hz. If we pluck our A string and it sounds at 438Hhz, for example, it will sound slightly lower than the correct pitch. It would, therefore, be referred to as flat – it would not, however, be low enough to sound the separate note of B Flat.

5. If the string is sharp or flat, you need to turn the tuning pin with the tuning key to alter the pitch. It can be helpful to pluck the string just before you turn. This way, your tuner can pick up the changing pitch of the string and can show you how far you still need to turn. This is usually not very far.

6. In a noisy environment, the tuner will be unable to distinguish between the plucked string of your harp and other sounds. The solution to this problem is to use a tuner pick-up. This clever device clips onto the harp, then picks up the sound of the wood vibrating as you pluck a string and conveys the information to the tuner.

More information on on our recommended tuner pick-up, the Korg CA-22.

7. Sometimes, neither the tuner, nor the pick-up can identify very high or very low notes. In the first instance, you need to start at the lowest note the tuner can hear and then tune in octaves by ear. In the same way, with high notes, move down to the nearest octave that the tuner (or pick-up) can hear.