Over the past few years I’ve been in the very lucky situation to be written for as a lever harpist as part of a few new commissions. I’ve developed some handy images to try and explain how lever harps work and what is possible to non-harpist composers: a key wheel to show what is easily accessible, and a slightly different way of writing out the same stuff with some fun pentatonics too.


Lever harp key wheel for composers


Recently composers have been writing for me in the extreme ranges of #s & bs. Obviously I don’t have those keys, so whats the best way to write it out? I frequently end up rewriting sections for myself. I have two approaches and sometimes use both:

1, I’m a harmonic and tonal beastie. Knowing my centre and harmonic context is very important to me and my ear so I try to rewrite so this is clear. Gotta love a key sig. This harmonic structure helps me remember and learn pieces. It isn’t always clear from a single part.

2, If the section is in Ab, Db, Gb or related keys then write everything in Eb major (my no levers key) with added sharps / naturals only. This is the simplest set of instructions you can give me with the least processing on my part. For pedal harpists you’d write in C (no key sig) and their pedals can do the work. C is also their central key, pedals go up and down but levers only ever go up.

I’m sure I’ll try new approaches, but for now this is where I’ve got to. Composers: good luck! Check with your lever harpists what they tune into – that’s the key you should be writing in if you would normally give them no key sig.