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Concept

In August of 2011 I submitted this version of the claims to the British Patent Office as part of the rebuttals and revisions that were required:

“Integration of one octave of full sized piano keys oriented towards the toe pin block parallel to the string raised at least 10cm, to provide a left hand keyboard position adaptive to pianistic tradition and right hand strumming/plucking position adaptive to autoharp traditions through use of a pulley string system connecting piano keys to reverse sprung damper bars, damping octave occurrences of individual pitches.”

This wasn't accepted at the time and the claims had to be revised several more times before the patent was finally granted. Nevertheless, this is the clearest single statement that I have been able to make that demonstrates the exact intent of the piano harp.

How the Instrument Works

Reverse damping all octave occurrences of strings in relation to a one octave keyboard has this effect: if I press the D key, and then strum right across the string surface of the instrument – all of the D strings would sound – but no others; the keyboard doesn't make a sound by itself, that only happens when you strum. Greater accuracy of register (playing only one D instead of all the octaves) relies on the right hand. This interface approximates the interface of an autoharp in several ways. Keys substitute for over-damped chord bars, which effect the damping, and the playing positions are very similar (although it was important to me to take out the twist of the left wrist characteristic of autoharp playing).

But the behaviour is unlike an autoharp and much more like a piano in some respects: the coupling between key and note is intuitive for a pianist - if your left hand knows all its chords and chord changes effectively - or better still if you have learned all of your four note substitutions - you can immediately play these on the piano harp - all chords are possible; immediately.

The reverse damping also gives a more intuitive damping arrangement for the whole instrument from a pianist perspective. If you release the key(s) - the instrument damps immediately (it shuts up!).

The absolute starting point for the design is that the best playing position has priority over all other design considerations; the placement of the keyboard gives comfortable access to both hands and is adaptive to players of both traditions. In principle, you only need to have twelve keys on the keyboard – each acting as a lever system to a reverse-damping bar. In practice, as I built successive prototypes I found that the pianistic adaptivity of the interface was significantly improved by adding just a few more keys. The first prototype had only twelve, beginning from C at the bottom and ending at B. This looked superficially pretty because of the symmetry, but I wasn't satisfied with it. Eventually I have settled on seventeen keys ranging from a C to an E an octave and a major third above. The doubled keys are coupled to the same damper bars, and perform the same function - they are there to provide the fuller range of access and chord positions that the left hand expects from a keyboard.

Is it better than the autoharp?

From the perspective of a pianist: it certainly is. But the keyboard interface is only one part of mastering the instrument. The current generation of autoharpists are very probably the best there has ever been, with some astonishing examples of right hand technique. There is so, so much more to the right hand technique upon this instrument than basic strums, and the overwhelming majority of the technique that I have gained has come from studying and playing with autoharpists.