Having a basic understanding of how sound is transferred to technology also helped me make better informed decisions about the equipment I was buying and how it would interact with my harp.
So since this science is at the basis of what we do when we combine technology with our instrument, let's look into how it works! (In simple terms, because why make it more complicated than it needs to be??)
It all starts with sound waves, which are graphical representations of the changes in pressure as sound travels from your harp through the air.
But our electronic devices, (like recording softwares, amps, fx pedals and audio interfaces), aren’t designed to process physical soundwaves…they are built to process sound in it’s electrical form, meaning there's a conversion that needs to take place!
This conversion is carried out by a handy device called a transducer, which is just a fancy name for any device that converts one form of energy into another. In our case, transducers convert the sounds from our instruments into electrical signals. Some transducers you are likely familiar with are microphones and pick-ups. When we play the harp, these devices pick-up the sound waves from either the air or the surface of the soundboard and convert them into electrical versions of sound that we call audio signals... the electrical form of sound that our devices can recognize!
There's actually one more important step in order for our harp sounds to be able to be processed by electronics:
Most devices like amps and recording softwares require a certain signal level that they need in order to properly process and output sound. The audio signals coming directly from our instruments or mics are typically too small and weak to be picked up by powerful devices like amps. That’s why we have what’s called a preamplifier. This is a device that boosts a weak signal into a stronger signal that’s able to be further processed and amplified. Without it, the final signal would sound noisy and distorted. Luckily, our lives are made easier because most amplifiers and audio interfaces have built in preamps that adjust and prepare the incoming signal to be used by those devices, although it is possible to buy stand-alone preamps!
To summarize all of this:
Since the devices we use to record, amplify and modify the sounds of our harps are built to process only electrical versions of sound, we need a transducer to convert our sound waves into these electrical audio signals. Once this takes place, a preamp boosts the weaker signal up to a signal that's powerful enough to be interpreted and processed by these devices.
So in my opinion, that's the overarching concept you want to be familiar with when it comes to using tech with your harp. There are of course many smaller processes within all of this that would take much more than a blog post to cover, so be on the lookout down the road for my in-depth, easy to understand guides on how this works.
I'd love to hear your thoughts and answer any questions you may have. Feel free to comment or send me a message through email or my social media!
How many times do you see a harpist or other instrumentalist using cutting-edge technology and want to try it for yourself, but feel directionless on where to begin? You know how you want to use it: to create and explore the harp in your own creative way, but you feel held back by the uncertainties of what you don’t yet know.
I was in the same position about two years ago. I had this deep-seated desire to explore the harp through modern technology. I knew that doing so would completely open up my world of how I create on the harp, and I was so beyond ready to try it for myself. But there were many aspects of the process that intimidated me and held me back for awhile: I didn’t know what equipment to buy, it all seemed way too expensive, and I was even more clueless on how to use it all.
“Which cables go where??”,
“What do all the buttons on this pedal mean??”
“Is my amp supposed to make that sound or….”
Those are just a FEW of the many questions I had...
So in this blog post, I want to address three common hurdles that many harpists struggle with when it comes to utilizing modern technology, and give you some practical ways you can overcome them based on my own experience!
1. Feeling Overwhelmed by the Options of What to Buy
From surveying harpists, this is one of the most common reasons people are hesitant to try it out. There’s SO much technology out there…how do you know what will work best and be worth your money??
The best advice I can give on this is to:
Ask other harpists you see using the type of technology you want to use! I did this when I was first looking at what to buy. I reached out to a harpist I followed on Instagram who was using the technology I was interested in and simply asked her what brands/models she used. She happily responded and I ended up buying some of the very same equipment she had. So utilize the people in our industry! Realize that it may take some trial and error to find the equipment that works best for you. Start with what other harpists recommend, and overtime as you become more familiar with this world of music-tech, you can always try out different amps/pedals/cables etc.! Check out my most recent ebook that lists specific equipment recommendations, including where to buy those items.
2. Cost of Equipment
We all know it’s expensive to play the harp… it’s expensive to play any instrument for that matter! So I get that the idea of putting even more money towards equipment seems daunting…amplifiers, fx pedals, microphones, etc. But can I be honest? It’s actually amazing that we can access so much quality equipment for relatively decent prices.
Let me put it in perspective: Up until recently, the only way to produce professional, high-quality audio recordings was to go into a recording studio and pay an audio engineer biiiig bucks per hour. But we now have the luxury of buying equipment for only a FRACTION of that cost, and we can make those recordings OURSELVES from the comfort of our living rooms.
Let that sink in for a minute!
If you are planning on using technology as a vital part of your career as a harpist, then it is worth the investment of buying reliable, high quality equipment. If you are interested in purchasing equipment more for leisure purposes (which is a perfectly good reason because it’s all SO FUN), then you might prefer investing in equipment that is reliable, but not the top-rated, most current models out there.
The beauty in this equipment is that you can invest in however much or little, according to what serves your needs. It all comes down to how you prioritize your money. If you see this equipment as really benefiting your career, then it IS worth the investment!
Here’s some practical ways to make purchasing equipment more affordable:
~ Buy second-hand items. There’s always a risk involved of course, but you really can get good deals on gently used items like amps, effects pedals and mics off places like Facebook marketplace. Ask if you can try them out and ensure they aren’t damaged before committing. You could even ask around your circle of musician friends if anyone has any equipment sitting in their closet that they would be willing to sell. You just never know! I’m always on the hunt for a good deal.
~ Buy things incrementally over time. When I first started buying equipment, I used to saved up gig money to purchase the bare minimum of what I needed: a pick-up, amp, instrument cables and a loop pedal. Over the next year, I added a delay pedal and other accessories I needed like patch cables and a power adaptor. My point is, you don’t have to buy it all at once!
~ Put things on your Christmas list/birthday list.
~ Start a Go-Fund Me. I can bet that if you explain your goals of being innovative on the harp by plugging it into amps and fx pedals, there will be people so blown away by the possibility of it that they will gladly cheer you on and support you financially.
3. Lack of Understanding in How to Use it All
As classical harpists, we have access to SO many wonderful resources and method books for learning proper technique from the legends who have paved the way before us. But as the harp branches out into new genres, specifically with the use of technology, the step-by-step resources we are used to referring to have not yet been created. Harpists are having to figure things out on their own.
This is both exciting and terrifying.
Exciting, because when it comes to using technology, there is no rule book. You can quite literally do and create and sound however you want. Through your own unique combination of effects, digital modifiers, transpositions, and of course your own style of playing, you can truly customize your sound.
That idea excites A LOT of harpists-including myself. But without any foundational training on how to use the necessary equipment to get to that point of creative freedom, the journey can be really confusing and frustrating.
I think a lot of harpists desire that kind of musical exploration but have no idea how to get there.
For a while I wondered why more harpists didn’t take advantage of this technology. I always thought it was a lack of interest or lack of exposure to the possibility of it, but I realize now that actually, A LOT of harpists are super curious about it all. They aren’t using it because they don’t want to try it, but more likely because they have no idea where to even begin in using it all.
This realization is at the core of why I started this venture of mine to provide resources for using technology with the harp. As modern harpists living in a technology-run world, we need the training not only to attempt to keep up with these unique times, but to thrive.
So for the harpists who are ready to jump in and explore the harp in new ways, keep following along and I will provide straight-forward, up-to-date trainings and resources in order to equip and empower you along the way.
What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments or feel free to reach out by dropping me a message on Facebook, Instagram or email! I’m always happy to hear from you.