How is it possible to perform a chromatic glissando in a fast passage on a harp, as in the example below?

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2 Answers 2


On the common pedal harp- not very quickly. The harp does not have a string for each chromatic note; rather, it has one string for each note in Cb major, and the pitches of strings can be altered with pedals to play any note in any key. You can't have more than 7 notes per octave immediately accessible, so a chromatic glissando like the one shown in the question would require the player to alter and re-strum several individual strings very quickly. Not viable.

If you want the glissando to sound atonal, you may try starting with a glissando through the notes of Cb major only, and adding some sharps so that many of the notes fall outside the key of the piece.

Alternatively, you can require the player to use a multi-course harp which is truly chromatic.

  • 3
    @Tim A Google search for are harps tuned to cb will confirm Edward's post, and a Google search for why are harps tuned to cb will yield "Strings are tuned to Cb major (7 flats) so that when all pedals are in the middle position, the harp is in the key of C major (all pitches natural)."
    – Aaron
    May 31 at 8:16
  • 2
    @Edward Aaron's comment suggests that making a convenient set of notes available with pedals in the middle position is the motivation for making that the standard tuning. To somebody with no knowledge of harps, if a tuning is chosen to give a nice convenient set of notes with no flats or sharps in one specific pedal position, it's easy to imagine that would be in some way the standard/default position. I'm sure you can understand how "we tune in Cb to make it convenient to play in C" sounds quite odd on the face of it. Tuning being performed in the flat position helps make sense of it.
    – Chris H
    May 31 at 13:39
  • 7
    @Tim The pedals have 3 positions. The top position is like open strings on a guitar, which is why you tune in this position. The middle position is like 1st fret and bottom position is like 2nd fret. (The pedals cause the strings to be stopped.) All pedals at top position is 7 flats; all pedals middle position is 7 naturals; all pedals bottom position is 7 sharps.
    – Theodore
    May 31 at 13:51
  • 3
    I would double down so far as to say it's not possible to do a chromatic glissando on a (single-course) harp; you can do a chromatic "run" at a certain speed, but not fast enough to truly consider it a gliss. May 31 at 14:08
  • 1
    What about a bottleneck ;) ?
    – Tom
    May 31 at 22:14

If we allow to go a bit into contemporary, I would suggest using a bottleck, moving to shorten the string.

Of course this would have to be done on a unwound string, so not starting to low.

  • @Edward yes of course !
    – Tom
    Jun 1 at 15:56

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