Harp font makes easy work of creating diagrams in any program


When it comes to harp pedal diagrams, Elaine Gould says in her music notation reference Behind Bars, “Harpists themselves frequently use a diagram to indicate the pedal notches… It is best to leave such diagrams for players to write in, according to their own preferences.” This is usually sage advice, since the diagram can be confounding to the novice composer or orchestrator:

Harp pedal diagram, from Behind Bars

However, with a bit of study, a composer or orchestrator can make good use of these diagrams as a shorthand to communicate with the harpist. This can be most effective on glissandi, where space might be tight, and the pedal diagram is the most direct way to convey the notes. As Elaine Gould says, “this is faster to assimilate than pitch names.”

Entering these diagrams in some desktop scoring programs can be a chore, either requiring the use of a plug-in, as in Sibelius, or the use of a font with characters that are difficult to remember, as in Finale, which also required the composer to know the order of the notes on the harp diagram. (Dorico 3 added a dedicated tool to help create semantically rendered harp pedal diagrams.)

HP Diagram

Composer and engraver Jawher Matmati saw an opportunity to improve this process for the user. He said:

I wanted to create a simple way for composers to correctly enter the harp diagram while thinking more musically; meaning if one wants a gliss gesture of an E major scale, he can simply write the scale in its correct order starting from E without referring to the actual order of the pedals. Other reasons include the possibility to use this font on Dorico, since harp diagrams are not yet natively included; the possibility to have full control over the size of the diagram on the score which the plug-ins don’t really offer; and lastly, the possibility to instantly correct any accidental without relaunching any plug-in.

The result of Jawher’s efforts is the HP Diagram font, available for $4.99 at Notation Central. When using this font, the user can think musically, without being concerned with the order of the pedals. In other words, in HP Diagram, you can type the pitches in any order, and the font will automatically display the pitches in the correct order: DCB|EFGA.

The font works very intuitively:

  • Pitch names (and natural notes) are typed using either lower case or upper case letters, or by solfège note names (do, re, etc.).
  • Sharps are indicated by either s or and flats are indicated by either f or b so that the user can type accidentals thinking either textually or symbolically.
  • The pedalboard is typed by P.
  • All notes need to be followed by a comma or period.

In practice, using HP Diagram in Sibelius, I first created a text style with the following settings (18 pt. works well):

I then entered the diagrams as Expression text, and when I was finished, changed the text style to my newly-created Harp diagram style. As you can see, entering the notes in any order and using any of the variants produced correct results:

One would follow a similar process using HP Diagram in Musescore and Finale, using the standard ways of creating and applying text styles or categories in those programs. It can also be used in Dorico, should you not wish to make use of the built-in harp pedaling tool. If you work with two or more different notation programs regularly, this could be an easy way for you to create harp diagrams in each program without having to remember the idiosyncratic method used to by each one.

For German users, Jawher created a similar font called HP Diagram German that uses the note names common in that language, such as “H” instead of “B”, “B” instead of “Bb”, and “Es” instead of “Eb”, for instance.

The HP Diagram font is available for just $4.99 at Notation Central and easy-to-read documentation is included with the font.

Roman Ionic

Jawher’s talents don’t just extend to music fonts. He’s also created a beautiful text typeface called Roman Ionic, also available at Notation Central.

“Roman Ionic,” Jawher says, “is a unique revival of a typeface that was once popular and used in many late 19th century and early 20th century music publishing houses, such as Durand. It displays a happy marriage between the beautiful features of the Clarendon type and the legibility of the Scotch roman class and is thus aimed to work for titling and body text.”

Roman Ionic (click to view large image)

At the moment, only a regular variant is available, but other variants such as italic and bold are planned.

Roman Ionic is available for $24.99 at Notation Central.


  1. Greg Sims

    Thanks for reviewing this helpful plug-in, Phillip! Always appreciated.

  2. Claude Werner

    Hmmm… I’ve always used a diagram at the beginning of the score or movement and then simply pedal changes, notated as uppercase note names with # and/or f. I never had a complaint, but then again British harpist are very polite. Have I been doing it wrong all these years?

  3. Saul Davis Zlatkovski

    Glissandi should always be written with wavy lines! Straight lines are for musical voices that jump from one staff to the other. It influences how one plays as well. Glissez is the proper French word, Sdrucciolando in Italian, and Aeolian Flux in Salzedo’s terminology. A glissando can be simply slid, or one can push through the strings for a completely different effect, as preferred by Salzedo, hence the use of the word, “flux.”

    1. Saul Davis Zlatkovski

      It is also best practice to indicate the pitches played in parentheses in small notes, and/or to give a pedal diagram. With no definition, a harpist would assume it is a diatonic scale in the key of the music. This often becomes vague in music where there have been some accidentals introduced. Were they cancelled or not? Is a chordal glissando or flux desired? It should be labeled then with the chord name, if there is no other detailing. Gould is wrong. It is fine to put in pedal diagrams, as long as they are accurate. It is the individual pedal changes that are not necessary, IF the harpist is going to have time to write them in. For orchestra parts, they must be printed accurately, so you really should have a harpist write them in or check them for you. While their preferred location can vary from one player to another, you won’t go wrong with having accurate indications, either below the system or between staves, in which case you must have extra room. You must have extra room between systems as well. The worst place to put them is above the system, though some old French publishers did so. The even worse place is to put them in different places at different times. Also, they must be quite large enough to see easily.

  4. bob zawalich

    I think this is great. I have plugins that can take a set of pitches as input and generate diagrams, but as you say, if you want to change anything you need to run the plugin again.

    I am curious as to how the font can generate the diagram correctly if the pitches are input in any order. Does code get executed somewhere in the font?

    ANyway, cool to see, and I like that you have some cool tools up in Notation Central.

    1. Philip Rothman

      Hi Bob. I think it’s advanced use of OpenType features, that process ligatures and then fix their position.

  5. bob zawalich

    Actually, I have seen straight lines for glissandi used in a lot of pedal harp music. Stanley Chalupka uses them in Harp Scoring, Darhon Rees-Rohrbacher uses them in The Pocket Guide to Harp Composing, Inglefield and Neill use them in Writing for the Pedal Harp, and Gardner Read, Kurt Stone, and Elaine Gould all use straight gliss lines most of the time when describing harp notation. Salzedo does seem to use the wavy lines exclusively, though.

    I suspect it won’t be an issue for the most part, but if you happen to be working for a harpist, you could follow their lead, and if you are working for a publisher, they will have their own style.

    In my experience with harpists, I have almost never found any who wanted pedal diagrams written in. They wanted to do it themselves, and were often very adamant about it. I always ask if I have the chance.

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