Would love some more options for harp pedals

Short version: I want the ability to place harp pedals below the bottom staff, because Gould isn’t always right.

Long version:

First, Dorico is fantastic. The absence of pitch-before-duration was a real stumbling block for me until it was added, but now that it is there, I have been able to dive in, and I continue to be impressed with its features and beauty. No, it’s not always intuitive for me as a long-time Finale user, but I can almost always see the logic of the different approach taken by Dorico.

I love the devotion to Elaine Gould, but as good a reference as Behind Bars is I do not agree with it 100% of the time. In many instances, Dorico will still provide alternative options, but I was working on a harp piece recently and was frustrated with the lack of options for harp pedals.

Gould’s take on placing pedal settings is on p. 356. She says “Ideally, place the pedal settings mid-system so that there can be no doubt as to which system they refer…If there is no room mid-system, place a complete pedal setting above the system, and individual pitch-name settings below.”

My first issue is that Dorico does not provide any mechanism to achieve Gould’s exceptions: The only positioning option whether the pedals are positioned below the upper staff, or centered between the staves.

My next issue is that, though I appreciate her reasoning that positioning pedal marks between staves eliminates ambiguity, Gould’s positioning of the pedals is not in accordance with the recommendations or practices of any of the books devoted to harp writing that I have looked at, nor the practice of any of the harpists I have talked to.

Here’s a quick survey of what I mean, with examples.

Carlos Salzedo is pretty much the father of modern harp playing. Many of the techniques he pioneered were adopted by some of the most prominent composers of the 20th century, including Britten, Carter, Milhaud, Webern, and Hindemith. He founded the harp department at the Curtis Institute of Music, and taught at Juilliard for years. The example I’m including here is from his L’étude modern de la harpe . His example actually suggests to me that perhaps Dorico should support using fixed-do solfege notes as an option (with Si for B), but the main point is that the pedals are underneath the bottom staff.

Stanley Chaloupka was the principal harpist with the L.A. Philharmonic from 1943-1983. His book Harp Scoring (1979) was a pretty standard resource for composers for years.

Writing for the Pedal Harp: A Standardized Manual for Composers and Harpists (first ed. 1985, 2nd ed. 2006), by Ruth K. Inglefield and Lou Anne Neill, is somewhat of a spiritual successor to Chaloupka’s book. Indeed, he wrote the introduction to it. The book was written with funding and support from the American Harp Society. Inglefield was Professor of Harp at the Peabody Conservatory, and Neill was Chaloupka’s successor at the L.A. Phil (where she still plays, and teaches harp at UCLA’s Herb Alpert School of Music.

Yolanda Kondonassis might be the most famous harpist in the world today. In addition to her prolific career as a soloist and recording artist, she heads the harp departments at Oberlin Conservatory of Music and the Cleveland Institute of Music. All of the other examples I have given are not necessarily explicit in their directions as to placement, but in her book The Composer’s Guide to Writing Well for the Modern Harp she is absolutely explicit. This is what she writes:

  • Mark Pedals in the space directly beneath the bass clef staff, with RIGHT foot pedals stacked on a plane above LEFT foot pedals. Even then there is only one pedal to indicate, right and left foot pedals should remain on their appropriate graphic planes.
  • If the same pedal is being moved again, draw a horizontal line between changes to indicate that the foot should stay on the pedal.

Kondonassis also provides an example of an unusual technique, which is using a foot to cross over the center of the harp and change a pedal on the ‘wrong’ side. For this technique she uses a box for the foot that is being asked to do this:
This brings up a final point about Dorico’s harp notation options. Currently, the only option for harp pedals are for them all to be boxed (the default) or not, by unchecking the Border thickness box in Engraving Options. It would be great if Dorico supported this notation system, and gave the option of having a foot change pedals it doesn’t usually have access to, with these pedals indicated in their own box. Also, as far as I know there is no support for her recommendation for indicating a foot should remain on a pedal with a horizontal line, a notation that is also shown in the Salzedo and Chaloupka examples above. I know Dorico supports this sort of thing for fingering substitutions: It would be great to include it for harp pedals as well.

I certainly have seen published examples with pedal changes in the middle of the score as Gould prescribes, but the prevailing system in these resources from renowned harpists are consistent in placing pedal changes below the bottom staff. I hope future versions of Dorico offer this as an option.

Thanks for reading, and thanks to Daniel and the whole Dorico team for such a great program!

You can also add me to the list of people that would love to see some sort of roman numeral support for analysis, perhaps as an extension of the figured bass implementation.


Harp Pedals are just Playing Techniques. Have you tried selecting one, selecting more (a few times) and then typing Alt-M?

No, I hadn’t. Well, that works great, thanks Leo… But I still think that should be an option in Engraving Options as well! And it still doesn’t address the ability to add horizontal lines when a foot is supposed to remain on a pedal, similar to finger substitutions, nor the ability to independently box pedals being changed by the wrong foot.


+1 : I’m in agreement with the points you bring forward here @JWink and second these feature requests. I’m also familiar with these author references. Thank you for providing them.

In the years I have been working with orchestra musicians on recording sessions, one thing I’ve learned is that session musicians will read from anything without complaining. When asked, though, the consensus on pedal markings from harpists is that below the braced grand staff is ideal placement. This is common practice in the US. It would be helpful to be able to provide this as required.

Dorico’s harp pedal features are already great as far as they go, so hopefully, further enhancing these with a below the bottom of grand staff placement option in Engraving Rules (and a look at these other feature requests) is possible in future.


Sorry, I was just aiming to give you a quick way to achieve the one thing in your list that can already be achieved easily. I’m certainly not disagreeing with any of your feature requests.

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Oh, it’s definitely appreciated! Sure beats dragging them around in Engrave Mode! :laughing:

Thanks for the feedback on the harp pedaling features. I can’t promise that we’ll be able to return to this area of the program in the immediate future for more work, but I’ll certainly make a note of these requests and we’ll try to address some of them in future versions.


Thanks, Daniel, that’s great! Leo’s suggestion will work for me for about 99.5% of what I want to do anyway, so I think a backburner approach to this is fine. It’s great that it’s on your radar now!

I hereby retract some of my earlier criticisms :slight_smile:

While I would still like there to be a Layout Option that lets me explicitly display all harp changes below the bottom staff rather than between them, I have discovered that if I only ever select the bottom staff for either manual input of pedals or the ‘calculate harp pedals’ feature, the resulting changes/diagram is in fact placed where I want with no further editing required:

I have also found the line tool is great for making the “keep your foot on the pedal” type notation I reference above… Though clearly it is not as slick as a native implementation would be!