Communication between composers and players means working together, improvising and experimenting with the instrument. However, it is more often the case that composers and players communicate indirectly – through sheet music. The purpose of notation is to translate the composer’s thoughts and imagination, so that the player can realize them in gesture and sound. Sometimes there are misunderstandings because it is hard for composers to imagine the physical realities of harp playing. This is why our ten instructional films focus on showing all principal gestures, and aim to help composers understand what harpists and harps actually do.
Other misunderstandings occur because, like all texts, notation can be understood in many different ways. It depends on who is writing it down, and who is reading it.
Alongside the techniques and sounds we show, we list the most common types of notation. We specially emphasize notation where harpists read it differently to other instrumentalists (harmonics, for example).
Concerning extended techniques, we show only a very few basic signs, since only these are common to all harpists. There are a lot more signs in use, but not every harpist will immediately recognize them. We do not want to give the impression that certain symbols are standard, when in fact they are not. You are better off explaining non-standard symbols at the start of the piece, or adding other explanatory media, like a videolink.
Often we talk about limits, for example, regarding how far a harpist can reach with their right arm. You will also find these ranges described in the downloadable PDFs, but of course there is some variation across players and instruments.
Finally: scores and general explanations also have their limits. It is still essential to experiment, to discover new ideas. The best way is always to get touch with a harpist, and start trying things out!