Harp Composition Review

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    Zanoni Bel on #234645

    I have written a contemporary piece that I’m not sure is viable for a harpist to play. Does anyone know of a service that works with composers composing for harp to review and recommend changes? I’ve attached a snippet below. It goes in and out of naturals to flats so much. I’d hate to get into a recording situation and the harpist just not be able to play it.


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    Gretchen Cover on #234658

    Harpists love flats. You can certainly ask for volunteer testers here. As far as your passage goes, do you want a pedal slide sound at the Gb/G? Otherwise you can simply use an F# instead of G flat. Then the pedal is set for the F# that follows.

    There is a new book for harp composing by Yolanda Kondonassis published by Carl Fisher titled Tge Composer’s Guide to Writing Well for the Modern Harp. Cost is $26.00.

    emma-graham on #234673

    You could send a section of it to https://www.15secondharp.com/

    I recommend watching the clips and reading her comments and tips either on the website or via her Instagram account. This resource is absolutely brilliant and invaluable to anyone wanting to learn about the dos and fonts of writing for harp.

    carl-swanson on #234678

    Zanoni Bei- You don’t say what the tempo is of the extract you printed. But whatever the tempo, I think it is probably playable, but it needs to be edited by a good harpist to clarify the notation. For example, why use G flat when you have just used F# everywhere else? The F# works easily, the G flat does not.

    In the second extract, you have a G natural in the right hand, immediately followed by a G in the left. Is that one also a G natural? I would think it needs to be marked with a natural sign same as the right hand G. If the tempo is faster than a slow tempo, that left hand G will probably muffle the right hand G that was just played.

    Sylvia on #234705

    Personally, I don’t like linear writing. Might as well have a flute play it.
    Also, the base is skimpy. Harps play chords and arpeggios.

    carl-swanson on #234717


    I do agree with you. Makes me wonder if he worked this out on a keyboard with the “harp button” on. If that’s the case, then that is what should play this part.

    Zanoni Bel on #234726

    Thanks for the feedback. I’m starting out writing for harp, and yes, you are correct in that I come from writing for keyboard, but I’m trying to break into this marvelous world. I composed this in Sibelius and really appreciate these responses, because I feel like a total imposter. lol. My main fear is that I get a harpist in the studio and they can’t play it – the tempo is slower – around 90, so the previous post by carl swanson gave me some hope.

    I’ve made a note about the bass lines and arpeggios…and I’m going to submit to https://www.15secondharp.com/! Her submission service looks great!

    carl-swanson on #234727

    The most important thing you can do if you want to write effectively for the harp is to take about 6 months to a year of harp lessons. It’s not that you need to be able to play the harp in order to write for it. But you need to understand the instrument the way the player understands it. It will teach you what acoustically works, and what doesn’t. It will teach you how each octave of the instrument has things it can do and things it can’t. The harp is not at all “like a piano but with the sound of a harp.” It’s totally different. You won’t be able to get that unless you take some lessons on the instrument.

    Gretchen Cover on #234734

    If harp lessons aren’t an option, find a harpist to work with through the American Harp Society. There is another website to explore: www composingforharp.com

    Tacye on #234773

    I advise composers to work out and write in all the pedal changes necessary. Harpists will probably think they are in the wrong place and move them, but putting them in is your basic check that you aren’t writing for a harpist with 4 feet, or two left feet.

    carl-swanson on #234799


    I just had what I think is a “lightbulb” moment! Try this. Wanna see what your part is like to play on the harp? Get some one inch wide masking tape and securely tape your 5th finger(pinky) to your 4th finger. Do that on both hands. NOW, play the part you wrote on the keyboard (with 4 fingers available on each hand). This will give you some idea of what harpists face when playing parts written by composers who don’t play the instrument.

    Zanoni Bel on #234886

    So, I’m very interested in taking lessons. I’ve stopped composing for harp as of now. I have two pieces that I’m going to have to deconstruct with a harpist. Let this be a lesson to people that just heard Joanna Newsom for the first time and thought ‘Hey. This would be cool to do.’ Take a step back. Get yourself into some lessons. Not sure how Joanna does it.

    Gretchen Cover on #234896

    Joanna Newsom is a classically trained harpist who studied music (piano, harp, composition) for years. She has a unique singing style and of course, writes her own music. Her music is the result of a good musical foundation and years of working at it.

    Saul Davis Zlatkovski on #238171

    Study harp music. Learn from the examples. See what the masters did. Check your orchestration books. Do not use the playback on the software, use your inner ear. The software will totally mislead you on what is playable. Write what you know will work and build from there. Kudos to Yolanda for taking on that task, it is an enormous one.

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