Harp notation question - mute or staccato?

I have a series of alternating eighth notes and eighth rests in a harp part. I do not want the notes to “ring” but be muted after each attack. Is it clearer to mark them as staccato, or with a “plus” sign (“+” - mute symbol), or something else like possibly just writing “damp” at the beginning of the passage? All advice appreciated.

I was thinking I’d write secco at the start of the passage.


@Derrek - yes, that makes sense. “Dry-ly”. Very good.

If this is chords, it makes a big difference whether it’s the same notes repeating, or different. If the same, it almost doesn’t need to be marked other than the rests because you have to place the fingers on the strings before plucking again. If changing, depending on the tempo, it could be very complicated to play, because you have to first dampen and then find the next note(s) during the rests.

But if it’s only one note (or one hand) at a time, it’s easy to dampen with the other hand.

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Harpist here:
Strictly speaking, if I see staccato dots over eighth notes, I pluck then immediately damp them out. Writing secco accomplishes the same thing.

And depending on tempo, the result might be just what you want, OR it might actually be TOO short. Plus, there is a certain sound effect that comes with quick damping on each note (a subtle sort of “gulping” sound) that you may or may not intend.

If you simply want the harpist to play your notes as written (eighth note, then eighth rest), then you could simply write “damp on rests as written,” which would be crystal clear. If your tempo is very quick, then staccato dots might be the better approach.

Part of the problem is generations of piano-trained composers who would routinely write rests in harp parts, that harpists routinely ignore. Until ignoring them turns out to be a bad idea, when you suddenly realize the whole orchestra has paused for a rest and the conductor still hears your harp ringing. Harpists get good at using their ears to judge context.


Hi @SteveMain - this was perfect advice. Since I am not a piano/keyboard trained composer this made absolute sense to me. Thank you for taking the time to help me out.