Harp chord finger spans

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    unknown-user on #152136

    Hello. I am a beginning composer trying to increase my harp writing competency. Can anyone tell me what are the safe finger spans for non-arpeggiated chords? Based on what I’ve been able to find out so far, here is what I have:

    Fingers 1 to 2 (max of 7 strings)
    Fingers 2 to 3 (max of 4 strings)
    Fingers 3 to 4 (max of 5 strings)
    Max span of a chord is 10 strings

    Are these spans correct, or off?

    Also, I read somewhere that for rolled chords, the max spans can be increased by one string. True, or not?

    Thank you for any help you can provide on writing for harp chords.


    unknown-user on #152137

    For me:

    1 to 2 = 9 strings

    2 to 3 = 7 strings

    3 to 4 = 6 strings


    Yes, the span can be increased by 2 strings (in my case) maybe three by rolling.

    side note:

    unknown-user on #152138

    Sam, thank you very much for your helpful input. It sounds like your hands have a larger span than most harpists.

    I think for the most part I will try to stay within conservative limits since I never know who might be playing a given harp part.


    Elizabeth Volpé Bligh on #152139

    My 3rd to 4th fingers can just barely reach 4 strings, and I have met harpists with fingers even shorter than mine. Also, you can’t have large spans between every finger or you would get no grip on the strings, and risk having a tinny sound. Sometimes, when presented with huge chords that I can’t reach, I have to leave out a note or re-voice the chord. So, write what you want, within reason, but be prepared for the occasional edit by the smaller-handed harpists.
    The other solution is to put the outside note in the other staff, to be played by the other hand. Sometimes you can make your chord smaller by using an enharmonic note. For example, if the bottom note is an E natural, make it an F flat and now your span is smaller.

    unknown-user on #152140

    Elizabeth, this is a very helpful response. For a composer, nothing beats being able to hear from musicians regarding their instrument.

    Thanks a lot.


    andy-b on #152141

    I would highly recommend you get Stanley Chaloupka’s Harp Scoring book and also Writing for the Pedal Harp by Inglefield/Neill. They explain a lot of the idiosyncracies of the harp besides just chords. Vanderbilt Music carries both of them, and harpists everywhere will love you for it! Hope this helps,


    Misty Harrison on #152142

    Yes, I agree with Elizabeth. My hands are small so I have a smaller reach and also I think if you want a lot of people to play what you write you should always write well-within what people say is possible so that more

    unknown-user on #152143

    Hi Andy. Thanks for the tips. I have the excellent Chaloupka book, and I have just now ordered the Inglefield/Neill per your suggestion.



    unknown-user on #152144

    Yes, I think it is best to play it conservatively. I definitely do not want people tripping over my parts. I get a little confused sometimes because two or three different books may give slightly different parameters for what’s doable. From there I look for other sources to see if there is a consensus, and if I can’t find one, I err to the side of caution.

    Thanks for your input.


    Tacye on #152145

    Rolling chords only really helps me with huge spans if it is a slow roll- i.e. I can start the roll without all my fingers on the strings and place as I go.

    Sylvia Clark on #152146

    I think it would depend on the tempo.

    unknown-user on #152147

    Another tip: If you can find any harp music (composed by harpists) you will surely be able to see a good representation of the types of common chords and what is possible. Though there are many chords that are common to both the harp and other instruments (like pianos), harps definitely have a set of common chords that most other instruments tend to stay away from, and these would jump out at you very easily. The first composers that come to mind are:

    Carlos Salzedo, Henriette Renie, Marcel Tournier, Marcel Grandjany, Alphonse Hasselmans, Elias Parish Alvars, and

    unknown-user on #152148

    Thanks Tayce, Sylvia and Sam.

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