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So I 've been writing a track and I want to add some harp glissandi. I am neither a harpist, neither do I feel the need to be pedantic about what are the limitations of this instrument.

I always thought that an harpist "prepares" his glissandi with mysterious pedals or some thingamajig so that he could just stroke the strings and have all these magic arpeggios. But even if that's not the case with the real instrument, we now have the technology! We can add magic to every chord!

Quote:"Yeah, but your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn't stop to think if they should." - Dr. Malcolm, Jurassic Park

Quote:"Power can be dangerous for those who freely inherit it without going through the discipline to obtain it." -Some quote I like but I cannot find where it is from.
 
Lets say we have an Am6 chord so our arpeggio would be the notes a, c, e, f#. And we would have to play it in 3 or 4 octaves, up and down. However, if all the notes have the same duration it won't have at all the effect of a glissando. It should be free and organic. So what I do is I write each octave of the arpeggio with different note durations. But I feel that there must be a better way!

I am thinking of a solution (like a script) where I could write the whole glissando with say 16th notes and then alter its rate somehow with an equation or an LFO. Has anyone come across with something like that before?
(10-02-2017, 01:34 PM)oGatoulas Wrote: [ -> ]I always thought that an harpist "prepares" his glissandi with mysterious pedals or some thingamajig so that he could just stroke the strings and have all these magic arpeggios.

You more or less understand correctly. A modern harp has seven pedals corresponding to each note of the scale; each pedal tunes all strings of the given note to be either natural, a half step sharp, or a half step flat. This allows the harpist to easily set up the instrument to play in any scale; for example, to play in G Major, the F pedal would be put in the sharp position to tune all of the F strings to F#, and the rest of the pedals would be in the natural position.

Accomplished harpists can deftly change pedal positions while in the middle of a piece, and they are also highly practiced in all manner of glissandi, so it is perfectly reasonable to assume that a harpist would be able to play a glissando of some arbitrary chord.

Now for the matter of expressing a glissando with more feeling than straight 32nd or 16th notes. If you are able, you would probably have the best results by playing the glissando by hand on the keys of a midi controller; that way you're actually expressing it instead of trying to reproduce such expression computationally. If it's too fast for you, try slowing the tempo of your piece by half, recording your glissando, and then speed up the tempo again for playback to see how it came out. The additional benefit is that you can also get expressive note velocities as well.
Results will vary based on your DAW, but what I have done, is to enter the notes in step recording mode as quarter notes or eighth notes - it doesn't matter. That gives me natural variation in note volume though not yet in note timing. I would then group select all the notes, and drag the edge of the group to reduce the notes to 16th or 32 notes or whatever. Then I would select the humanization function to vary timing and velocity. I don't particularly worry about note duration. I think the start of each note will matter more than the ending of each note. This, for me, results in a realistic sounding glissando. I would do something similar for horn rips and flute runs.

I use Reaper while doing this.
Harpists can play *some* chords but not all. Much more common for them to gliss up a scale. Diatonics are common, but modes and wholetone work very well.

Typically I find the harpist drags a little at first but then speeds in the middle, then slows drags again towards the top. However, honestly, you can just step enter it at a fast speed- I typically do 32nd or 64th notes and it'll sound fine. If you want to be particularly fancy, figure out and enter the repeated notes that the harpist would play. This will add some realism to the gliss. I used to do this in Finale all the time and it sounded just fine.
(10-02-2017, 07:36 PM)Samulis Wrote: [ -> ]Harpists can play *some* chords but not all.

I stand corrected. I was basing my assertion on what I remember reading from The Technique of Orchestration, but I probably remembered wrong. Now I'm curious, could you elaborate on what kinds of chords aren't playable on the harp? I would assume that the harp is capable of all triads and seventh chords, but maybe not some chords involving more elaborate sets of intervals?
I happen to have a harp library (Soundscan Complete Harp) which includes quite a few different glisses in all imaginable keys, scales and BPM so I tend to reach for those first. But if I do a live gliss -- now don't laugh -- I usually do a few takes of what can best be described as the rock organ/piano "rake your hand across as many keys as possible" thing, choose the take with the most fitting timing and dynamics, and then edit the notes in the piano roll to fit the key and scale I'm after. I know it sounds silly, but it works for me.
Thank you Michael Willis, interesting to know how the harp works!

(10-02-2017, 03:26 PM)Paul Battersby Wrote: [ -> ]I use Reaper while doing this.

I use reaper too so my first thought was something like the rate automation but on an item level rather than the whole project. Hmmm, maybe JS effect with an arpeggiator and an LFO will do the trick!

(10-02-2017, 07:36 PM)Samulis Wrote: [ -> ]Harpists can play *some* chords but not all. Much more common for them to gliss up a scale. Diatonics are common, but modes and wholetone work very well.
Very interesting! Modality has a lot more color than tertian chords! I can imagine using the A Dorian instead of the Am6 I mentioned.
(10-02-2017, 07:36 PM)Samulis Wrote: [ -> ]If you want to be particularly fancy, figure out and enter the repeated notes that the harpist would play.
Where do the repeated notes come from?

(10-02-2017, 08:09 PM)Mattias Westlund Wrote: [ -> ]I happen to have a harp library (Soundscan Complete Harp) which includes quite a few different glisses in all imaginable keys, scales and BPM so I tend to reach for those first. But if I do a live gliss -- now don't laugh -- I usually do a few takes of what can best be described as the rock organ/piano "rake your hand across as many keys as possible" thing, choose the take with the most fitting timing and dynamics, and then edit the notes in the piano roll to fit the key and scale I'm after. I know it sounds silly, but it works for me.
That could work too but I don't have the skill for a good rake and I tend to favor more ready-to-go solutions! The library you mention for example! Must be a bit old though, I cannot find it anywhere for sale.
The harp has seven strings per octave-
C, D, E, F, G, A, B

Now each one of those can be flatted or sharpened, giving us this matrix-
Cb C C#
Db D D#
Eb E E#
Fb F F#
Gb G G#
Ab A A#
Bb B B#

These are then all the possible notes on a harp, but the harp can only be in one column per row until you give them a suitable break (I'd reckon at least 1-2 seconds per lever to be safe).

Let's say you want to spell Eb major scale. That's easy-
C, D, Eb, F, G, Ab, Bb

But to spell just the Eb major chord- that is not possible because you cannot skip playing a note- you would still get C (or Cb or C#) and F (or Fb or F#), but you COULD change D to D# (i.e. same as Eb), and A to A# (same as Bb). This would give you this tuning-
C, D#, Eb, F, G, A#, Bb
Or enharmonically a EbMaj6 add9 (I think?) with a repetition of the Eb and Bb, which I will rewrite below for clarity. That is where we get the repeated note from! Smile -
Eb, Eb, F, G, Bb, Bb, C

If you left the D natural you would get EbMaj9 add13 (again, chord names a little rusty, but that should be it)-
Eb, F, G, Bb, C, D

You could also flatten the D and sharp the C and get a pentad(!) rather than those hexads- Ebdom7 add13 (or do you call it Ebdom13? Can't remember, haha)
Eb, F, G, Bb, Db (Db)

Lastly it is also possible to spell a simple tetrad(!), in this case a minor 7th-
Eb, Gb, Bb, Db
This is realized as-
C#, Db, Eb, F#, Gb, A#, Bb

But this is only the case necessarily for Eb- each key may have different chords that are spellable and others that are not! In virtually all cases of scales lesser than 7 degrees, you will find repeated notes somewhere, so keep that in mind if you are doing anything less than diatonic. Obviously harps cannot gliss more than 7 degrees unless they are a chromatic harp, which do exist but really can only gliss chromatically or simple C diatonic to my knowledge.

So actually you can really ONLY fairly reliably gliss pentads (i.e. 5-note chord; standard "7th" chord with tension) or higher complexity (i.e. scales), although there are some tetrads that work. By extension, most (but not necessarily all) pentatonic scales should also be accessible to the harp. Hexads should be completely reliable and beyond that you're practically playing a scale, you just forgot a note. Tongue

And yes, it is actually not uncommon for harp to have compound (both sharps and flats) keys and tunings, or, for example, if the group is in flats, for them to be in sharps for one reason or another. Sharps and flats mean a lot less to harpists than, say, a piano, because what they are really reading are the note positions- the sharps and flats are handled by the levers.

It's also important to keep in mind that with pedal harps, these changes happen across all octaves (but they do have the two degrees of flexibility- sharp and flat), but with lever harps (i.e. "folk" harps), they can make changes different per octave (oooh!), BUT only have one degree of flexibility- raising by halfstep (so some might tune to a mild flat key so that they can access flats if needed by activating the 'sharp' lever to make a flat natural).

EDIT: Note: this does mean that there are MANY things which are a very simple matter on piano which are borderline impossible on harp. A melody which goes "C - C#- D" would instead need to be written as "B# - C# - D" to be playable, even if you are in the key of C. And remember, this doesn't mean "this one note should be B# and this one note C#"- this means until the harpist has a significant break, they cannot switch between what you have set and what you want it to be- at least not without making a weird noise (the sound of tuning being changed mid-note is not ideal, so the player usually dampens the string and preferably needs a period of silence to make the change, but it can be done while playing IF the note you are changing has not been used for a few measures, although it may cause a noise resulting in other strings vibrating anyway so...). It means your entire pretty C major piece would need to be written in almost B# Major (unfortunately no double sharps possible on harp though) just so that you can have a C# somewhere until you give them a few measures rest to reset everything.
Well, that is some solid piece of information Sam! It helped and inspired me a lot! Thank you!
Thanks for that Sam! Very good stuff. I'm still somewhat confused, though. I love to write melodic parts for the harp, but I'm often worried I'm overstepping the bounds of the instrument since I'm pretty ignorant of how it works in reality. Is it correct to assume these limitations are still something to consider when writing melodies and parts that require less speed / are not playing chords?
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