As everyone playing the pedal harp knows, things can get really busy down there! The accuracy of the piece depends a lot on the accuracy of our feet when executing pedal changes. How do we make sure they know where they’re going? Here are seven quick tips which will help them stay on track (and finally nail pieces like Wagner’s “Magic Fire Music”)!
1. Decide WHEN you’re going to move a pedal.
When you only have a few pedal changes it is usually best to execute them on downbeats. This will give you a very strong rhythmical feeling which supports the movement.
When facing a lot of pedal changes, try to make them easier by:
– changing the pedals which are next to each other in succession (if possible). If you’re going all the way from E to A perhaps you can fit that F change in between the two?
– pairing pedals which go in the same direction on both sides of the harp. Example: C# and G# work nicely together.
– moving your together when you’re going inside/outside the harp. For example, after you have changed G and C it may feel easier can go to A and D, rather than changing G and D and moving to A and C – although that is subject to personal preference.
If a section of music is repeated, your pedals should ideally remain the same. Write your pedals in exactly as you did before.
2. Know the notes, understand the harmony.
It’s important for you to be able to tell whether you are playing a B-flat Major chord (B flat, D, F) or B major chord (B, D sharp, F sharp). This often affects more than one note and correcting a mistake may require more than one movement of a foot.
Every now and then ask yourself the questions:
What are the names of the notes that I am playing?
What key am I in?
The more pedal changes there are, the more often you need to ask yourself these!
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3. Mark the pedals changes clearly.
There’s nothing worse than not being able to recognise which markings in a part are yours and which were made by other harpists (often many of them).
If it is a a solo piece which requires working out the best pedalling carefully, I usually make a copy where I can try out different ways. Once I’m happy, I move the pedal markings onto a clean copy.
When it comes to an orchestral part, ask if you can photocopy it, and on a copy tippex all the old markings. With orchestral parts that I probably won’t have to memorise, I use a red pen to make sure they are really visible.
4. Keep your feet on the pedals
I normally let my left foot rest on C pedal, and the right foot on either F or G. Unless you play a piece with no pedal changes at all – don’t keep your feet on the floor. It will take you much longer to bring them to the pedal when it’s time to make a change. You are more likely to forget about it, as well as create unnecessary noise while moving the foot of the floor.
5. Move your feet in advance.
Now all your pedals are neat and clean. Can your feet to make a right use of them though? If you’re approaching an F# pedal change and your foot is still on A, it may seriously slow you down if you start to move the foot only when you spot the mark.
To avoid that, some people prefer to mark their pedals in slightly earlier before they actually need to make the change. However, I prefer to keep my markings exactly where the change is happening. Then I train my feet to move to the next pedal as soon as they are done with the previous change.
Sometimes there is a bit of time until the next change and it’s not easy to spot and remember where exactly your foot needs to go. In such case, I use additional temporary markings that remind me of the subsequent position of the foot. See the pink stickers in the picture? This are the “road signs” for my feet. They are removable, so I can take them off the music as soon as my feet know what they’re doing!
6. Practise feet (pedals) only.
First change them as fast as you can, moving your foot straight to the next pedal. Then put put the metronome on and practise pedals only, but rhythmically now. Remember to still have your foot ready earlier!
7. Say them out loud.
Another version of the exercises above. Add the names of the pedals and shout them out loud when you change them! If there are many pedal changes, instead of “B natural” you can just say “B”. If there are two pedal changes at the same time, just say both of them as fast as you can.
Now I would really like to hear from you – how do you make sure your pedals are always changed on time? Your tips will be much appreciated!