Music Composers Unite!
I love the sound of the harp and often compose parts for it. However, I have zero experience with the instrument and end up writing for it with the techniques and style I tend to play on guitar. But I would like to write more harp-appropriate music with pedaling (if it isn't the same as for piano) and traditional techniques. Can anyone recommend a resource that might give notation and live audio/video examples?
You might check with members Dave Dexter, Julie Harris - I seem to recall them discussing harp composition lately -
MM, I've some experience writing for harp and having it recorded so I'm fairly sound with the concept and restrictions of the instrument. I always first recommend a site called 15secondharp.com, though - run by a professional harpist who records short passages sent to her by composers unfamiliar with it. She's done dozens or hundreds of clips with score feedback and critique on playability and idiomaticness (that a word) in many styles.
I can collate some of my explanations on here for you as well if you like, and of course I'm not the only one here with knowledge (nor the most knowledgeable!) Notation comes after understanding the basic mechanical principles of harp so best get that down first.
Thank you Gav, Bob, and Dave. Both of those sites will be incredibly helpful.
Dave, I would appreciate any knowledge you could pass on. Even a list of "how not to compose" (aka rookie errors) for any instrument, actually, would be beneficial for myself and, perhaps, others.
I and others discuss it in-depth in these two posts, which might be better than me reposting here as it's the context of specific music.
As for "how not to compose" . . . I suppose the root of harp writing is that harps are not chromatic and you cannot write for them as you would with piano or other instruments; you have to take into account the player's feet as they change pedals and the time this may need; and you only have 7 notes at any one time, across octaves - DCBEFGA, in any combination of flat, sharp or natural. Some composers get around the restraints by composing for two harps. I wouldn't dare.
Wow, I thought I knew everything there was to know about the harp. Arpeggios, glissandos, plucked chords, everything you could ever want to know. But now there are bisbigliandos, pres de la table, haut dans les cordes.. (Pardon my French.) I'm going back to writing for harmonica.
If it's a single change, you can write that change on the note and no prep time is needed. If it's a double change and the pedals are on either side (say D and E) then again, on the note - a harpist can change two pedals at once if they're on opposite sides. Anything more - DC F say - needs a few beats as the D and C can't be changed simultaneously. A bar is a good rule of thumb even if they need less. You can indicate pedal changes far in advance to avoid clutter, if it's not a string being used. Watch some videos of harpists and you'll get an idea of how fluent they can be with pedal changes.
MM Coston said:
Just one more question. If a piece is 60 bpm, is there a general rule of thumb as to how many beats are required to pedal prior to playing the string changed?
Honestly, whenever possible, I'd find a player and work with them. Of course, I realise that not everyone here has access to instrumentalists.
For pedalling, I would say that you want to work out how long a note is going to resonate, because if you change pedals while the note is still ringing, it creates a buzzing effect. Speaking of buzzing, pedal buzz effects in the low register can be quite interesting.
The sites that Bob and Dave have provided look useful too.
Didn't see this posted, so also sharing: