Virtual Harp




When you are writing music for harp it's hard to keep track of pedal changes. What you need is a reminder so you always know which pedal is where - and therefore what notes are available. A kind of virtual harp...

The picture shows the prototype. Yours will be much posher - see the pdf.

Step 1: Print Out the Pdf


1. Print the pdf onto 160gsm card with p2 on the back
2. With a sharp knife, cut along all the dotted lines

You should now have a half page with seven sets of slots and seven strips marked with note names

3. Take the strip marked Db D D# and slide the top edge (i) into the lowest left hand slot (marked 1)
4. Turn the paper over and slide the top edge of strip D through the next slot up
5. Turn back to the front of the sheet, and slide the top edge of strip D through the next slot up (3)
6. Turn the paper over and slide the top edge of strip D through the next slot up
You should now have a kind of woven effect, with the strip showing at the top and bottom.

The strips should slide up and down and show the letter name in the window.

7. Repeat the process for the remaining strips
Now work through your music, moving the strips as you go along. Now you always know what pedal settings are current, and what notes you can use.

Step 2: More Info

Writing for the Harp

The concert harp has seven pedals, three on the left and four on the right. Each pedal controls a set of strings - ie the C pedal controls ALL the C strings on the instrument. Each pedal has three positions: middle (giving the note itself), up (giving the note flattened) and down (giving the note sharpened). So if all the pedals were up the available notes would be DbCbBb EbFbGbAb.

There are therefore some note combinations that cannot be used and some chromatic scales that won't work. It takes time to change a pedal; there can be a clunk if the string changed is still vibrating; and replaying the same string quickly can cause an unattractive buzz. On the other hand, you can get a good tremolo by alternating two neighbouring strings tuned to the same note (eg B and Cb).

Write on a double stave; notes in the bottom stave will be played by the left hand and the top by the right. Use no key signatures - write the notes the way the strings are tuned. So if the B pedal is down (B#) write B#s (not Cs) whatever the rules of harmony dictate. Chords with a gap between the highest note and the others are idiomatic, as the thumb plays the higher note (like piano left hand - NOT right hand). Harpists will normally arpeggiate chords unless told not to - they sound better that way. Only use four notes per chord/arpeggio: harpists don't use their little fingers.

In the first bar, write out the initial settings for the pedals from left to right - eg DCBb EFGA. Thereafter, just write each new pedal setting as it comes along.There's no need to write an arrow from the old setting (B > B#) - just put B#. (Use The Virtual Harp to keep track of which pedal is where.) Write them in the middle of the stave. If possible, do pedal changes in order, and one foot at a time: DCB or BCD - not DBC; DBFG - not DGBF. Always get a harpist to check your work.



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    5 Discussions


    10 years ago on Introduction

    Yup, .pdf with directions and its link to the .pdf template both worked for me, too. Thanks for sharing your idea!


    10 years ago on Introduction

    That's so clever! While I don't write music (yet), I've had to write pedals in on pieces that were obviously not written for harpists - remembering what's where is really painful. Plus, I work at an ensemble, so all the pedal harpists would love this. (Publicity for you!) Just a note on your last page: in general, the reason for playing a chromatic scale would be for jazz. Generally, jazz doesn't require the kind of buzz-free playing that classical music does; pedal slides and pedal kicks are encouraged. Park Stickney (wonderful jazz harpist) actually puts his pedals halfway between one half step and another to purposefully buzz the string. At times, he sounds exactly like a guitar.

    3 replies

    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    Thank you - glad you like it. Feel free to circulate it to any pedal harpists you know. Good point on the jazz style, thanks - and thanks too for putting me on to Park Stickney, who I hadn't heard before. Great stuff!


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    As a side note, your PDF doesn't work. I decided not to mention that in the first comment because it's been awhile since you posted it, so I wasn't sure if Instructables had given up on you or something. xD But it shows two blank pages, and a message comes up that says "An error has occurred. There is a number out of range." And then it says to contact the person who made the PDF. So there you are! Monika Stadler is another good jazz harpist. She's also got more in the way of sheet music for sale.