Boxes around harp pedal indications - does the Dorico default make sense?


I was at a Zoom session the other night with orchestrator Tim Davies where he was critiquing others orchestrations and he took someone to task for putting boxes around the harp pedal changes. Of course they used Dorico and so these show up by default.

This isn’t just something that I’ve heard from Tim. I was at reading sessions for harp pieces just last year, and the harp player was complaining about unnecessary boxes around all pedal changes for those who made their pieces in Dorico.

I checked Gould and could not find any reasoning there for putting these boxes around the pedal changes, and she shows the pedal changes with no boxes around them.

I know obviously that these boxes can be turned off with a simple setting, but I’m wondering if this is a particular case where the program default should perhaps be changed? I don’t really have much input on the matter myself other than relaying what others have said, as I have only done some basic writing for harp.



I’m certainly open to persuasion that note name-based harp pedal changes should not be boxed by default. What do other forumites think?

As long as the set of note names looks convincingly like a block, there’s no need for a border. The spacing (both horizontal and vertical) is critical, and I think the current default spacing with Academico is good.

I have no strong opinion about this subject. Harpists should shout out what they think!

having just had the entire harp part of my 2nd symphony looked over and reviewed in depth by a professional harpist (whom I paid for the work), the question of boxes around harp pedals never came up.

Now, why does my copy of Dorico NOT show boxes around harp pedals by default? Maybe I deactivated this feature when I first installed Dorico. I honestly don’t remember.

But no mention was made of a need for boxed harp pedals, and quite honestly, I can see them as being overly intrusive and doing nothing but adding clutter to an already complex instrumental part.

I’ve consulted a local professional harpist about this. Their preference was for pedal changes not to be notated at all. They saw it as their own responsibility to mark up the part with pedal changes (much as a string player would note their own fingerings) and those marks needed to suit their own preferences as to the timing of those changes.

That said, they acknowledged the benefit of tools being available to help composers understand when pedal changes might be needed. “But please don’t publish those in the parts!”

When pushed - they preferred published pedal changes to be as unobtrusive as possible ie. unboxed.


I’ve heard harpists say that you should never mark pedal changes, and others say that you should always mark pedal changes, so they aren’t entirely consistent in their advice. I can also find conflicting advice online quite easily from professional harpists.

This website says simply that some composers mark pedal changes and others do not:

This professional harpist on YouTube advises that composers mark pedal changes in most cases and gives an example of a piece where he feels they are completely necessary for the composer to indicate:

This harpist on the other hand agrees that pedal changes should not be indicated: Writing for the Harp

So I don’t know that they are a monolithic group in that regard. There also might be a different practice to use in different situations - if it is more diatonic with fewer or simpler pedal changes, it may not be necessary. Or if they are able to rehearse it may not be necessary, but in a studio recording situation like film scoring where they just have the chart stuck in front of them and it has a large number of pedal changes and they have to play it right away the first time without having time to mark in their own pedal changes, that can be justification for composers to include them in the part. There can be all sorts of different scenarios where you might prefer one over the other.

However, I haven’t been able to find any examples with boxes around them though, aside from Dorico engravings.

We’ve already had several discussions of whether harp pedaling should be written. Though the majority of pro harpists always do their own markings, that’s not going to stop some users from writing them in anyway. So when they do, Daniel’s question was only about the default box.

Adler (Study of Orchestration) makes no mention of boxes around pedal changes. All examples are without.

Very non-scientific sample sizes here, but I was curious and decided to see what current trends were. For anyone with access to an Alexander Street account, I just checked the 11 Harp solo, duet, or trio publications they have in their library listed as published since 2020, and the results are:
Nothing - 7
Pedal Diagram - 1
Unboxed Pedal Letters - 3
Boxed Pedal Letters - 0

On Babel Scores, the 10 pieces with Harp they have published in 2020 have:
Nothing - 8
Pedal Diagram - 1
Unboxed Pedal Letters - 0
Boxed Pedal Letters - 1

On Boosey’s perusal site, searching for Full Orchestra has the following for the results on the first page that have Harp:
Nothing - 9
Pedal Diagram - 1
Unboxed Pedal Letters - 0
Boxed Pedal Letters - 0

At Scores on Demand (Schirmer, Peters, Novello, Hansen, etc), the first handful I checked:
Nothing - 10
Nothing / Scale Names - 1
Pedal Diagram - 0
Unboxed Pedal Letters - 8 (Hansen seems to prefer Unboxed Letters as a house style)
Boxed Pedal Letters - 0

Obviously not very scientific, but I only saw one score with boxed letters out of all of these.


it IS important to note, however, that pedal markings are rarely, if ever, included in a full score. generally reserved for only the harp part.


Good point! Obviously only the scores were available for perusal, so I have no idea what was in the parts for the “nothing” scores.

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Yolanda Kondonassis in ‘The Composer’s Guide to Writing Well for the Modern Harp’ (Carl Fischer) uses the box notation only when a foot crosses over to the other side of the harp.

The rest of the examples in the book which show pedal indications have no box around them.