The strings of the clarsach are arranged in repeating ascending groups of seven (A-G), with the lower notes (longer strings) further away from the player and the higher notes (shorter strings) closer to the player.
Some strings are coloured to aid identification – F strings are blue/black and C strings are red. The white strings come in groups of two and three, the middle of the group of three is A
Section of strings, looking at harp lever-side on (from side player sits):
It should be noted that the last top and bottom note of each instrument can differ however the pattern of A-G will always remain the same even if cut short.
The clarsach is tuned using slight turns of the pins located on the opposite side of the instrument from the levers. This is done using a tuning key – these are generally one size fits all and share the same square head as a radiator bleeding or drum tuning key.
When tuning all levers or blades of the harp should be in the down/neutral/off position.
For the most accurate tuning an electronic chromatic tuner is useful – this should be set to 440 hertz and will indicate if the note is sharp (normally displayed to the left of the note note letter on the screen, rectified by turning the tuning key a fraction towards player) or flat(normally displayed as being to the right of the note, rectified by turning tuning key a fraction away from the player). There are also several ‘chromatic tuner’ Apps available for free which will do the trick!
Clarsachs are normally tuned to the key of Eb (Flat) Major – when all levers are down (see levers explained sheet) so the correct note names displayed on the tuner screen will not be the standard string name, they will be as follows:
Tuning can also be done by ear or using another instrument known to be in tune such as an in tune piano or an electric keyboard however using an electric tuner will always be the most accurate method.
To check your instrument is in tune, a scale should be played, with all levers down. Beginning on the E string, working up seven strings and finishing on the above E (eight strings up). This should sound like a happy, major scale (you may recognise this as Do, Re, Mi, Fa, So, La, Ti, Do) or the scale of E flat major on the piano.
- Be careful you are tightening the correct string – if the pitch isn’t moving STOP you’ve got the wrong pin for the string.
- Use small turns when tuning.
- Ensure you are tuning to the right octave – string should be close in pitch to neighbours and a similar tension
- Strings will snap if over tightened so if you’re unsure STOP and check.
This video is also worth watching before giving it a go!