Harp support in Sibelius


In Sibelius, there is some built-in support for harp notation and playback. At a basic level, you can manually enter text in a special format, and there are some plug-ins that ship with Sibelius that automate common tasks. But there’s also a wide range of additional tools in the form of downloadable plug-ins, fonts, and other resources, that you’ll want to take advantage of if you find yourself working with harp music regularly in your Sibelius scores.

One can create harp pedal diagrams in Sibelius character-by-character by creating a Text object, such as Text > Styles > Technique, and using Ctrl+Alt+7/8/9/+ (on keypad) for Windows, or Command-Option-7/8/9/+ (on keypad) for Mac.

The classic shipping pedal harp plug-in for Sibelius is Neil Sands’s Add Harp Pedaling, which by default is found in Home > Plug-ins > Other. It generates harp pedal diagrams from the notes in the selection. There is an updated version of this on the plug-in download page in the Harp category, which can be used for Sibelius 6.1 and 6.2. For Sibelius 7 and later, just use the version of this plug-in that ships with Sibelius.

Neil also wrote Check Harp Pedaling, found in Review > Plug-ins > Proof-reading, which writes warnings in the score if any notes in the selected passage are unplayable on a harp with the pedal configuration specified in the dialog.

The Harp category of downloadable plug-ins will be useful to composers and arrangers who work with pedal harp, as well as for harpists. Read on to learn more about those.

Plug-ins for playback

Harp Arpeggio, by Ian Cugley, uses Live Playback data to play harp arpeggios even across multiple staves. It is designed specifically for playback of arpeggios on the harp but may be used on other instruments, like piano. The speed of the arpeggio (delay between notes) can be set in the plug-in dialog.

Run the Harp Arpeggio plug-in to get lush playback across staves in passages like this
Run the Harp Arpeggio plug-in for even playback across staves in passages like this

Harp Gliss, by Ian Cugley, generates MIDI messages to play back a glissando between two pitches, based on an input harp tuning.

Harp Gliss Playback, by Bob Zawalich, is rewrite and enhancement of Ian’s Harp Gliss plugin. In addition to the playback, it can write out a harp pedal diagram, and/or tuning text describing the tuning. Like Harp Gliss, you can select 2 notes and have the plugin generate MIDI messages for that gliss from a typed-in tuning. It is also capable of calculating the tuning based on key signatures, notes, and tuning indications, and can process multiple glissando lines at one time, but only for non-magnetic gliss lines.

Harp Gliss From Pedal Diagram, by Bob Zawalich, is a front end for Ian’s Harp Gliss plug-in, which must be installed before this plug-in is run. It looks for any harp pedal diagrams or tuning text that come before the notes selected for a harp gliss, and calls Harp Gliss with the tuning string already set up based on the diagrams or tunings.

Plug-ins for notation

These were all written by Bob Zawalich.

Alternate Harp Pedaling allows you to type in some pitch names, and will generate a list of all the harp pedal settings that include those pitches. The plug-in will allow you to specify the order of the pitches in the pedaling, and produces, in an edit box, text that can be pasted into a text item in a Sibelius score to show both the pedaling as pitches and as a harp pedal diagram.

Change Text Accidental Size changes the size of an accidental within a piece of text, such as C#. This can be useful for increasing the size of the accidentals in pedal change text created by the Add Harp Pedaling plug-in, among others. By default it will only look at text with a font change and will skip chord symbol text.

Color Harp Strings colors all harp F/F#/Fb notes blue and C/C#/Cb notes red. All harps color their “C” strings red and the “F” strings blue or black, so coloring the written notes is sometimes used for introductory harp music.  As of Sibelius 8.3, individual notes in chords can be colored separately. Prior to that, if any note in a chord were colored, all notes in the chord would be colored the same color, so this plug-in could not be used to color notes in chords.

Filter Harp Pedal Diagrams filters any selected pedal diagrams. The diagrams must be of the type generated by Add Harp Pedaling, and use the special LMNO characters of the Opus Text/Inkpen2 Text/Helsinki Text/Reprise Text fonts.

Harp Gliss Pitches generates pitches to set the pedals of a harp for glissandos given the root and type of a scale or chord. This can be especially useful for jazz scores where only a chord name is specified. It lists a number of possible scale types and chord types. You can also define your own scales of seven pitches or fewer. For chords, you may type in any chord type name that Sibelius 6 or higher will recognize. The plug-in determines which pitches are available in the scale or chord, then tries to fill in any missing pitches so that all seven pedals are specified. The plug-in will find all combinations of pedals that contain all the originally specified pitches.

Harp Diagram From Tuning produces a harp pedaling diagram from a list of 7 pitches that you type in.

Harp Gliss and Octave Notes will create a gliss line, preceded by an octave of cue-sized notes, based on the harp tuning, between 2 selected notes.

Label Harp Diagrams can add a hidden text label consisting of the pitches in the pedal diagram next to any selected diagrams. It can also add a hidden harp diagram next to any “tuning text”, and can trace the location of selected harp diagrams and tuning text.

The Harp plug-ins may be downloaded directly through Sibelius 7 or 7.5 at File > Plug-ins > Install Plug-ins > Harp. Users may also install these manually in Sibelius 6, 7 or 7.5 by visiting the plug-in download page and following the usual manual installation procedure, or by using the Install New Plug-in plug-in.

Other harp-specific materials by Bob Zawalich

Bob has written a PDF Document, Notating Music for the Harp in Sibelius, which describes techniques for effectively producing notation in Sibelius for the pedal and lever harps. It describes how to use the font Norfolk Harp Std, which provides access to a number of pedal harp-specific symbols, including many of the symbols used by Salzedo. You can download Norfolk Harp Std, which is included in the Norfolk fonts set, available from NYC Music Services, here.

Bob has also produced a set of Sibelius scores, in Sibelius 7 format, which provide examples and instructions for producing the notation elements used in the Special Effects chapter of The Composer’s Guide to Writing Well for The Modern Harp by Yolanda Kondonassis. The examples should be useful for reproducing notational elements often used in pedal harp music.

You can find and download these scores and documents here.


  1. Rex Thomas

    Wonderful, Philip!
    I downloaded them quick as bunny. ;-)

  2. Tim Benjamin

    Thank you! This was worth reading just for discovering the Harp Arpeggio plugin – arp across 2 staves – now if only it would work across 2 voices (on even 1 stave) … does it?

  3. Bob Zawalich

    >now if only it would work across 2 voices (on even 1 stave) … does it?

    Yes, Ian’s plugin processes all notes in a selection, regardless of voice, as long as the notes are at the same bar number, and start at the same position.

  4. Bob Zawalich

    The plugin Colored Noteheads on Harp Strings, which is included in the plugin suite Colored Notehead Styles (category Color – Sibelius 7 or later) is a replacement for Color Harp Strings. It provides separate colors for each note in a chord, so you can just mark the Cs and Fs without having to split up the chord. I am glad this is finally possible!

  5. Bob Zawalich

    One final note on colors: Individually colored notes are finally available on Sibelius 8.3 and later. Most of the plugins I have written for coloring notes, including Color Harp Strings, have been updated so if you install the most recent versions of the plugins you can just run the plugins in 8.3 and later and notes in chords will be colored separately!

  6. Saul Davis Zlatkovski

    What is also needed is a wider wavy arpeggio line to indicate a broadly arpeggiated chord, or a tighter line to indicate a quickly arpeggiated chord. There are many other special symbols for harp music, and I hope to find them in sibelius Ultimate, though I don’t count on it. The curved melodic accent symbol is not unique to the harp, but may be rare elsewhere. It can be described as two tenuto lines, one above the other, connected with a curved line on the right side.

  7. Paul Gay

    Pedaling diiagram question –
    Using harp pedaling plugin I accidentally created it again creating double all resulting symbols.
    Facing a nearly 400 measure orchestral score with lots of harp it gets very time consuming deleting
    one of the two symbols when needing to move things around between staves to accomodate nuances.
    Question: How to delete the entry of the prior plugin in order to start over?

    Thank you

    1. Bob Zawalich

      On rereading Paul’s question 2 years later, I see that I missed the point that the pedal diagrams are doubled and he wants to delete just one of each pair. My offered solution would delete all the diagrams.

      The installable plugin Delete Duplicate Text Lines Symbols would be useful here. Since harp diagrams are Text objects, it will find any text objects that have the same text at the same location. It can trace the location of duplicate objects, or select the duplicates, in addition to optionally deleting them. To minimize unintended changes to a score, I would probably use Filter Harp Diagrams first so I am just dealing with those objects, and then run Delete Duplicate Text Lines Symbols on the results of the filter.

      Better late than never????

  8. Bob Zawalich

    If the harp diagrams are generated by Add Harp Pedaling you can install Filter Harp Diagrams snd run it to filter all the diagrams. You can then delete the filtered objects.

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