( ( ( AirHarp® ) ) )
An open source gestural autoharp!

As seen on Synthtopia, SparkFun Electronics and Ask an Engineer with Limor "Ladyada" Fried!

"O mio babbino caro" on AirHarp

How to play the AirHarp (tutorial)

"Cowboy Chords"

What is an AirHarp?

The AirHarp is a type of digital autoharp that allows musicians of diverse skill levels to play music of advanced harmonic complexity simply by pressing four pushbuttons and "strumming" invisible harp strings in the air. Developed by musician-turned-engineer Peter DeSimone, the AirHarp is pocket-portable and suitable both as an introductory instrument and an accompaniment tool for singers and songwriters. It allows direct access to fourteen chords within a given key (including the seven diatonic chords), and can automatically transpose to any key with the push of a button. This allows the AirHarp to easily play most songs, from baroque arias to modern rock songs. As a "plug and play" USB MIDI controller, your AirHarp can sound like any instrument in existence. With thousands of software synthesis ("softsynth") sound banks available today, you will always be discovering new sounds to make with your AirHarp.

To illustrate exactly what I mean by this, I created the following song in about an hour using nothing but a standard AirHarp and an awesome music production program called Apple Logic:

AirHarp Groove

All the sounds you hear were played on the AirHarp with the exception of the drum tracks, which are canned samples. I could have used the AirHarp for the drums as well, but I'm no percussionist and I have trouble conceptualizing music in purely rhythmic terms. Thus I will leave the exploration of the AirHarp's percussion capabilities to someone else.

How does it work?

The AirHarp emits a beam of ultrasound that's undetectable to the human ear. It bounces this beam off your free hand to determine the distance between your hand and the device. This is a form of ultrasonic sonar ranging. A microcontroller continuously monitors the output of this sensor, along with the status of each pushbutton. Calculations are performed to decipher the coded chord input and compute the desired note pitches based on readings from the ultrasound. A list of active notes is maintained and used to determine which notes to turn off and when. Information on which notes to activate and deactivate is coded into a serial data format called MIDI and transmitted out of the microcontroller into either a synthesizer module or to an outboard computer through a USB cable. The synthesizer module or computer then converts these "note on/off" commands into audible sound.

Can I buy an AirHarp?

Instruments were formerly manufactured and sold by the electronics firm Lyratron, which shipped AirHarps internationally from 2011 through 2018. At this moment, the AirHarp is not being manufactured commercially. However, people around the world still make them at home and in hackerspaces, owing to the project's open source nature.

Can I build my own?

Yes you can! In the spirit of the open source movement that made the AirHarp possible, we have published all the required schematics and source code under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-ShareAlike license. Check out the following links:

AirHarp Pico (most recent model) resources

How to build an AirHarp (Instructables)

3-D Printable Cases

AirHarp Firmware for Arduino

AirHarp Chord Guide

AirHarp Songbook (work in progress)
Little AirHarp Book

AirHarp Lira EAGLE PCB design files

AirHarp Shield Eagle / Gerber files

AirHarp Nano Eagle / Gerber files

LightHarp YouTube Channel (our early work)

Amusing comparison between the AirHarp and the Autoharp

(cc) BY-NC-SA 2007-2012
AirHarp® is a registered trademark of Peter Alaric DeSimone

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