I am writing a piece in which I want the harp to play a glissando containing only specific notes, like so: proposed glissando notation, notated as arpeggio

Is this the best way to notate this type of thing, or is there a better way?

  • 3
    Do you know how a pedal harp works? For this music the harpist will have to silently press a pedal in the space of that dotted 1/8 note to sharpen the G - that could be a challenge. Aside from that, whether you get an answer to your question here, I recommend the book Behind Bars by Elaine Gould - it has answers to most notation questions Jul 26, 2021 at 2:53
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    That's not a glissando. For a glissando you need one note for every string. @ToddWilcox A quarter note is plenty of time for a pedal change: youtu.be/ntNsrCPsS10
    – PiedPiper
    Jul 26, 2021 at 7:52
  • 1
    A glissando will play each and every string from the low to the high note (as here), but since several of those available strings are not played, it isn't a glissando. It's far more like an arpeggio - as specific notes are played. It can only be notated as OP has done.
    – Tim
    Jul 26, 2021 at 8:31
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    @ToddWilcox The pedal doesn't need to be down until the G# is played: that's a quarter note plus a 32nd. There are 64ths written so the tempos is presumably fairly slow, but in any case the example linked from my previous comment demonstrates pedal changes on every beat at a tempo of about 170.
    – PiedPiper
    Jul 26, 2021 at 14:25
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    To be fair, the term "harp glissando" is very widespread even if it isn't always actually glissando.
    – user45266
    Jul 27, 2021 at 15:22

1 Answer 1


The exact notation depends on the specifics of how you'd like the arpeggio to be executed. Here are a few possibilities. (The open-ended ties in the first example can be used on any of the others to express sustaining the notes.)

As notated

As notated, it's an arpeggio played in time. A harpist would interpret the notation literally.

Allowing that all of the notes should be sustained, open-ended ties will communicate that.

OP notation with open-ended ties

As arpeggio

A more concise notation would write the arpeggio as a chord and include the arpeggiation symbol alongside.

Standard arpeggio notation

As grace notes

Allowing the topmost note is the "arrival" note, it could be written as grace notes (which are given no time) leading to the main note (which receives the notated duration).

Arpeggio notated as cross-staff grace notes

As cadenza

In this case, the arpeggio would be interpreted as being played out of time, according to the interpretation of the performer.

Arpeggio notated as cadenza

  • 3
    None of these is as clear as the original example.
    – PiedPiper
    Jul 26, 2021 at 7:59
  • @PiedPiper Yes, that's what I said at the outset. If the notation in the OP in literally how it is to be executed, then keep it. The others notations I've suggested are alternatives that reflect other possible ways the OP might have intended the arpeggio to be performed. The OP is not clear in that regard, given that the term "glissando" is being used.
    – Aaron
    Jul 26, 2021 at 8:04
  • I think the simplest answer is essentially as written but with “l.v.” or open ended ties used to indicate how the notes should sustain Jul 26, 2021 at 12:20
  • There are a couple issues with this answer. 8vb in treble clef is a no-no, since that's what bass clef is there for. There should either be a clef change, or, better, those "8vb" notes should be written on the existing bass staff. The first arpeggio example is not correct because it instructs you to play two simultaneous arpeggios rather than one. Instead, there should be one single wavy vertical line going from the bottom note in the bass clef to the top note in the treble clef to indicate a single arpeggio across the staves. Hope this helps :) Jul 26, 2021 at 20:37
  • @ToddWilcox I've added open-ended ties to the first example. Does that accurately reflect your comment?
    – Aaron
    Jul 27, 2021 at 2:49

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