Composing for harp students

Posted In: Teaching the Harp

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    unknown-user on #88547

    Hi all,

    I am a composer who has a specific interest in writing repertoire for students. I have had two books of elementary-level piano pieces published, and have also recently completed similar collections for violin (I teach both instruments). I would like to explore the idea of writing for students of other instruments, including harp. I have a few questions before embarking on this project:

    1. Is it best to write for lever harp? It seems that lever harp is more predominant among less advanced students, but please correct me if I���m wrong about this.
    2. Is there any particular reason that students choose to play the harp? Any particular music that they tend to enjoy?
    3. Do harp students tend to be male or female? Do they tend to be any particular age?
    4. Are there any special playing techniques that are especially useful or enjoyable for harp students?
    5. Harp teachers: what do you look for when choosing music for your elementary-level students?

    I would be grateful for any knowledge that I could gain.



    carl-swanson on #88548

    Christine- I’m going to give you the most important suggestion you need to write successfully for the harp.

    unknown-user on #88549


    Thank-you for your feedback. I intend to secure some harp lessons, and never compose at the piano unless I’m writing piano music, but the things that I could learn from a harp teacher are not the kinds of general things that I wanted to learn from posing questions on this forum. I seriously doubt that the questions I have posed here will be answered by taking harp lessons.


    carl-swanson on #88550

    Christine- 6 months of harp lessons will introduce you to the harp world and what is going on in it.

    Elizabeth Volpé Bligh on #88551

    There are some good books on this subject, such as “How to Write For the Harp in the Commercial Orchestra” by Lisa Coffey, and Beatrice Schroder Rose’s “The Harp in the Orchestra”. Carl is right; it would be much better if you could sit down at the harp and play it before you write. But a lot of composers write something, then take it to a good harpist for a consultation and then go back to the drawing board. Keep in mind that you should be writing for harpists with average-size hands and abilities, not some freakishly-endowed Paganini of the instrument. Check out this web site for some further information.

    unknown-user on #88552

    It is not necessary or advisable to learn to play the harp first. You wouldn’t learn enough without studying for years. But I do recommend coaching with a harpist and learning what works and what doesn’t. I also recommend listening to a lot of harp repertoire, and trying to get a feel for its essence and true voice. You’d be surprised how difficult simple pieces can be to do well, or perhaps you already know that. I am available for consultation.

    marguerite-lynn-williams on #88553


    I tried to send quite an extensive answer to your questions to your email, but it was returned to me.

    unknown-user on #88554

    Thank-you to everyone.

    Marguerite: my address is



    Elizabeth Hagberg on #88555

    I also agree with Carl about taking at least 6 months of lessons.

    Anonymous on #88556

    The late Eileen Malone who taught harp at the Eastman School for time out of mind grew tired of helping her students negotiate impossible harp parts that they were asked to play by composition students.

    Evangeline Williams on #88557

    I’m going to assume you’re writing original pieces, and not adaptations of pop or classical.

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