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#1153135 - 01/31/09 02:30 PM How to notate harp runs?  
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xxmynameisjohnxx Offline
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I'm working on a piece involving a full orchestra right now, partly for experience with transposing instruments and partly for a video game a friend of mine is designing, and I was wanting to have a section where I use a harp to modulate myself into a major key, and perhaps even a time signature change.
I was wanting to use a fast harp glissando, first ascending in a fast minor scale, 2 octaves,, then doing an actual gliss in a major scale. I can hear what I want in my head but I don't know how to notate it and it's driving me crazy!
also, what types gliss' are possible for a harp? I don't even really know the physical capabilities of a harp. Right now my harp part is just arpeggiated chords to give the piece a good sense of what chords I wanted, but now that I'm wanting more I want to know how much the harp is capable of....and how good of a harpist I'd need if I ever get this performed with a real orchestra [unlikely for a long time....but I can dream!


Chopin: Nocturne No. 15 in Fm. Op. 55 no.1.
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#1153136 - 01/31/09 02:37 PM Re: How to notate harp runs?  
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Gyro Offline
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The impression I have is that anything that
can be played on a harp can be played on
a piano and the notation for both is essentially
the same. You often see on scores the
note "for harp (or piano)."

#1153137 - 01/31/09 05:35 PM Re: How to notate harp runs?  
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mrenaud Offline
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Quote
Originally posted by Gyro:
The impression I have is that anything that
can be played on a harp can be played on
a piano and the notation for both is essentially
the same. You often see on scores the
note "for harp (or piano)."
No. Just... no. Simple harp parts might be playable on a piano, but generally, that's not true (and it's especially wrong the other way round).

The harp is a difficult beast to write for, which is why it gets its own chapter in many orchestration books. Some points to keep in mind:

- The range of the harp is almost as large as that of the piano: from the lowest C-flat on the piano to the highest G-sharp.

- The harp is not a chromatic instrument. It has seven strings per octave, tuned to a C-flat major scale. Also, there are seven pedals (one for each scale note) which can be set in three positions. For example, when the C pedal is in its top (original) position, all C strings are tuned to C-flat. Push it down once to its middle position and they're all raised to C. Push it down again to the bottom position, and all C strings are now tuned to C-sharp. There are exceptions though: The top G and the bottom C and D strings are not connected to the pedals. They have to be tuned in advance to either flat, natural or sharp, and cannot be retuned during the piece (unless, of course, the harpist has plenty of time to do that).

- Therefore, fast chromatic runs (and chromatic chords too) are not possible. You're limited to no more than seven different notes at a time. You'll have to plan which ones you need and give the harpist time to change the pedal settings (left foot: D, C, B; right foot: E, F, G A). Changing pedals while the string is sounding will result in a loud buzz. Unless you want that as a special effect, don't change pedals on sounding strings.

- Glissandi, too, are therefore limited to the seven notes you can get at a time. There are several ways to notate them: You could just write the bottom and top note, connect them with a wavy line (or a straight line labelled "gliss.") and indicate the notes you want in text; or you could fully write out the first seven notes of the glissando and start the wavy line from there to the end note. Either way, the harpist has to know which notes exactly you want.

- When notating the part, keep in mind that E-flat (unlike on a piano) is NOT equal to D-sharp. The former is played on the E string while the latter is played on the D string. Depending on your chord progressions, you might have to resort to adventurous enharmonics which might look weird to a pianist. One example: you have a C-sharp minor chord followed by a C minor chord. How would you do this? You have to respell them as C# - E - Ab / B# - D# - G, or Db - Fb - Ab / C - Eb - G because there are only seven strings per octave and you can't have both Eb and E at the same time. Of course, you can have both E-flat and D-sharp and have them played at the same time for a slightly bigger sound.

- That said, plan well so your part will be actually playable, but don't write in pedal changes. Harpists in general will look over the part beforehand, cross out your markings and write in their own, so don't bother with it. Just make sure it actually works.

- Unlike on a piano, only four fingers are used. The fifth finger is too short to be of any use. Also, unlike on the piano, the thumb has the top note on both hands. So, no more than four notes per hand at a time.

- The harp is resting on the player's right shoulder, therefore the right hand can't reach as low as the left hand.

- Since there are only seven strings per octave, you can write larger chords. A tenth is no problem at all. Due to the anatomy of the hand, you should keep the bottom notes closer together, while the top note can be a bit farther apart (the distance between the thumb and second finger can be larger than that between the other fingers).

- The harp is a soft instrument. It won't cut through a loud orchestral tutti, so if you want the harp to be heard, score more lightly for the other instruments. Also, of course, a harp forte will not be as loud as a trumpet forte.

- The harp's strings resonate quite for a while (especially in the lower range), so you should write exactly how long a note should sound (the harpist will mute them with his palms). If you just want it to sound indefinitely, attach a small tie to the note, with or without the indication "l.v." ("let ring").

- It is possible to play harmonics on a harp. This is done by touching the middle of the string with the palm of the hand before plucking it (this can be done with one hand). The resulting sound will be one octave higher and have a glassy and ethereal quality to it. You indicate this with a small circle over the note. Harp harmonics are notated at the octave they're played, not the one they sound. Other harmonics (12th, double octave, double octave+major third) are possible, but these are difficult and should not be expected from the average orchestral harpist.

There are also numerous 20th-century techniques (like playing with a guitar pick or tapping the body of the instrument) which I haven't explained (this post is long enough as it is). If you're interested in them, I could tell you about them.


I have an ice cream. I cannot mail it, for it will melt.
#1153138 - 01/31/09 07:05 PM Re: How to notate harp runs?  
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Wow thanks for the in depth reply. Some of the chords I wrote, now after reading your reply, wouldn't be possibly on a harp due to their chromaticism.[not even that chromatic, I'm in g- and I've used a V/VII, a V/III, and a couple others. But I guess those wouldn't work so well. :p . I'll just rewrite the part for piano since I know exactly what that can do. :]. Thanks!


Chopin: Nocturne No. 15 in Fm. Op. 55 no.1.
#1153139 - 01/31/09 07:45 PM Re: How to notate harp runs?  
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Wow..good question John. I learnt a great deal by reading your response Renaud. I have some minor questions which you may know the answer to:
What are harp strings made out of?
Would you name a few musicians who composed specifically for the harp? Is there a reasonable repertoire or is it mostly transpositions?
(insert sheepish look here..) are there men harpists?

#1153140 - 01/31/09 08:08 PM Re: How to notate harp runs?  
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To answer the last one, I think that few guys pick up the harp because they;d be made fun of it to much in their younger years and by the time they would no longer be made fun of....they already have an instrument. haha.


Chopin: Nocturne No. 15 in Fm. Op. 55 no.1.
#1153141 - 01/31/09 08:18 PM Re: How to notate harp runs?  
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I've seen a few men play harp, but I cannot remember who. shocked The instrument is definitely dominated by women.

My piano teacher's daughter is a fine harpist, and I've had the opportunity to examine her instrument. The strings are mostly nylon (similar to the classical guitar's treble strings, but much heavier gauge). The lower bass notes are strung with wrapped steel strings that are not unlike wound steel guitar strings; but again, the harp's strings are much heavier, though not as heavy as piano bass strings.


Close only counts in horseshoes, hand grenades, and nuclear weapons.
#1153142 - 01/31/09 09:23 PM Re: How to notate harp runs?  
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There's a reasonably new poster called jtattoo who has been a professional harpist. He/she might be able to answer your question (and others).


Du holde Kunst...
#1153143 - 01/31/09 10:04 PM Re: How to notate harp runs?  
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Interesting topic. Thanks.

Thank you renaud for the in-depth post.

The best to your compostition!


Private Piano Teacher,
member MTNA and Piano Basics Foundation
#1153144 - 01/31/09 10:39 PM Re: How to notate harp runs?  
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I'll make sure I post it here once it's done. I'm starting to like the sounds of it so far, I just need to give it....more of a sense of direction I guess. Of course there will be a few surprises, but the chord progression right now is somewhat loose, I need to tighten it up.
And, as a side note, can anyone here think of a good instrument that is able to play chords like a piano but has a sound more like a harp? I'm meaning it can play Chromatic chords.


Chopin: Nocturne No. 15 in Fm. Op. 55 no.1.
#1153145 - 02/01/09 12:40 AM Re: How to notate harp runs?  
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Depends on what you mean by a "chromatic" chord. If you can fit your chords into the tuning paradigm that mrenaud so excellently described, then there's no reason that a harp wouldn't fit the bill.

As for harp music examples, just head over to imslp - a quick search there turned up numerous results that should prove useful to you.


What you are is an accident of birth. What I am, I am through my own efforts. There have been a thousand princes and there will be a thousand more. There is one Beethoven.
#1153146 - 02/01/09 07:16 AM Re: How to notate harp runs?  
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If everything else fails, write for two harps.

As for good examples, the French (Debussy and Ravel especially, but also Boulez) are hard to beat. Carlos Salzedo (one of the most important harpists of the early 20th century) also composed some music. They're no masterworks but show well what the harp is capable of. For something newer, check out the solo music of Heinz Holliger (whose wife, Ursula Holliger, is one of the foremost living harpists).


I have an ice cream. I cannot mail it, for it will melt.
#1153147 - 02/02/09 11:49 AM Re: How to notate harp runs?  
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Quote
Originally posted by xxmynameisjohnxx:
And, as a side note, can anyone here think of a good instrument that is able to play chords like a piano but has a sound more like a harp? I'm meaning it can play Chromatic chords.
Classical guitar. :p

laugh laugh


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#1153148 - 02/02/09 12:28 PM Re: How to notate harp runs?  
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Betelgeuse, baby!
More tips on writing for the harp can be found here .

Also, check out the section on the instrument in the Berlioz-Strauss Treatise on Instrumentation, which can be found at:

imslp.org/wiki/Treatise_on_Instrumentation_%28Berlioz%2C_Hector%29

For further listening, you could download a recording of Marcel Tournier's Sonatine for harp here . It's an interesting work that shows (to my ears) the influence of Ravel's Sonatine for piano.


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Die Stockfisch bleiben dicke,
Die Karpfen viel fressen,
Die Predigt vergessen.

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#1153149 - 02/02/09 02:58 PM Re: How to notate harp runs?  
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Quote
Originally posted by xxmynameisjohnxx:
Wow thanks for the in depth reply. Some of the chords I wrote, now after reading your reply, wouldn't be possibly on a harp due to their chromaticism.[not even that chromatic, I'm in g- and I've used a V/VII, a V/III, and a couple others. But I guess those wouldn't work so well. :p . I'll just rewrite the part for piano since I know exactly what that can do. :]. Thanks!
I'm not quite sure if you understood mrenaud's explanation correctly... Of course you can write chromatic chords for a harp. With innovative enharmonic thinking, you can achieve pretty radical chromatic writing even without retuning. Perhaps you should post the chord progression you were planning, then someone can tell you how to do it.

#1153150 - 02/02/09 07:29 PM Re: How to notate harp runs?  
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I'm sorry if i repeat anything since i haven't read all the previous posts but if a harpist is going to play it then you should probably talk to one after you write the part.

If not(as in using computer programs to voice things), well, why bother making it playable on a real harp.

Also it might also be a good idea to write the part for two harps to make things playable. (perhaps this would take a high level of coordination but still...)

Also thanks to "mrenaud" for making a very explanatory post. May i ask if chromatic harps are used? If not why? Is it because that it will limit the chords?


Both music and dance
Are voices of the Way.
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#1153151 - 02/02/09 09:07 PM Re: How to notate harp runs?  
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Quote
Originally posted by RogerW:
Quote
Originally posted by xxmynameisjohnxx:
[b] Wow thanks for the in depth reply. Some of the chords I wrote, now after reading your reply, wouldn't be possibly on a harp due to their chromaticism.[not even that chromatic, I'm in g- and I've used a V/VII, a V/III, and a couple others. But I guess those wouldn't work so well. :p . I'll just rewrite the part for piano since I know exactly what that can do. :]. Thanks!
I'm not quite sure if you understood mrenaud's explanation correctly... Of course you can write chromatic chords for a harp. With innovative enharmonic thinking, you can achieve pretty radical chromatic writing even without retuning. Perhaps you should post the chord progression you were planning, then someone can tell you how to do it. [/b]
Well the main chord I wasn't sure on was that I have one D b9 chord....which only works because it's in the minor....I don't think a harp can play a b9 chord can it? They don't appear in major tunings, and you can't just raise the seventh scale degree on a harp like you can on a piano.

And the reason I'd want it playable on an actual harp is just for the principle of the thing. Honestly, this will probably never be played by a real string quartet/flute/harp, but I want it to all be possible just because. I'm thinking that when I give it a recording with my keyboard, I'll play the piano part on a soft electric keyboard rather than piano, that'd suit the piece better.


Chopin: Nocturne No. 15 in Fm. Op. 55 no.1.
#1153152 - 02/02/09 10:16 PM Re: How to notate harp runs?  
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Hmm, then perhaps you would like to explore the 2 harps idea if the piece calls for that.

by two harps i don't mean unison or smt. I mean assigning notes in different keys to a second harp so when they play together they should sound as if it was one harp with a lightning feet harpist.


Both music and dance
Are voices of the Way.
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#1153153 - 02/03/09 12:09 AM Re: How to notate harp runs?  
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Quote
Originally posted by xxmynameisjohnxx:
Well the main chord I wasn't sure on was that I have one D b9 chord....which only works because it's in the minor....I don't think a harp can play a b9 chord can it?
I can't see why not. You mean a D7b9 chord? - let's see, that's D F# A C Eb isn't it? As a chord that's possible just as it is. If you want a glissando of that chord, you just need to double up some in-between notes so you have one of each letter name. So D Eb F# Gb A B# C

I'm with RogerW - I'm not sure you understood mrenaud's post. Then again, maybe I've misunderstood what you are saying smile .


Du holde Kunst...
#1153154 - 02/03/09 12:49 AM Re: How to notate harp runs?  
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Currawong is right. As a chord it would be D F# A C Eb, as a glissando C D Eb F# Gb A B#. Try rereading the part in mrenaud's post that explains the pedals and how they retune. The pedals can be used easily while playing, harpists can even operate several pedals at a time with one foot, as long as the pedals are next to each other. A simple sentence for remembering the pedal order: "Did Columbus Bring Enough Food Going to America". Then keep in mind that there's three on the left and four on the right.

#1153155 - 02/03/09 01:22 AM Re: How to notate harp runs?  
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Oh i TOTALLY misread the part on pedals. I thought that it was meaning that each pedal retuned the whole harp not each string, my bad!!


Chopin: Nocturne No. 15 in Fm. Op. 55 no.1.

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