Buzzing Harps: Bray Harps (Popular in the 14th to 18th Century Wales)

Mike Parker 16thC. style gothic harp with bray pins on some notes. Bass ronde misattributed to Beatrix of Dia, 

I heard Bill Taylor perform music using his bray harp (also known as gothic harp) and it was something. These harps sound like they are buzzing when you play them. So totally different from the harp sound we came to know. According to the BBC 3, these harps were popular among the Scots of the lowlands and this was commonly played in Welsh society. Along with the Clarsach, these two became popular from the 14th up to the 18 century. I can’t find any video of Bill Taylor playing the bray harp for my example so I am using this video by Mike Parker. Just check this info I got from Ardival Harps:

Bray harps, also referred to as “gothic harps”, are characterised by their long, slender shapes, which resemble the wings of angels.  But the real difference is in their sound:  they buzz.

Said to “bray like donkeys”, these harps are fitted with tiny L-shaped wooden pegs called bray pins. These bray pins hold the strings in the soundbox and also lightly touch them. This light point of contact causes the buzzing sound as the string vibrates.

Although it may be a strange sound to us today, this was the familiar sound of the gut-strung harp across Europe for several hundred years, played between the 14th and 18th centuries, and heard in Wales into the early 19th century.  They were the classic harps during the Renaissance, and described by Michael Praetorius in his 1619 publication as “the ordinary harp” (illustrated right).

With the wire-strung clarsach being the choice instrument of the Highland Gaels, the gut-strung bray harp appears to have been the harp preferred by the Lowland Scots.  Bray harps have long strings, with often narrow spacing, and over time tend to develop a slightly arched back due to tension of the strings.  Evidence from the Welsh manuscript of Robert ap Huw points to their use with fingernails; otherwise, classical fingerpad technique is also appropriate.


Also, check out the website of Bill Taylor:


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s