Basic hand and finger positions:
Standard playing techniques:
Dynamics on the harp:

main droit/main gauche

Right hand/left hand. Notated m.d./m.g. The really good harp composers (e.g. Debussy and Ravel) lay out the music so that it is clear which hand plays which notes.


Note that the little finger is never used in harp playing. Stretches beyond the standard chord shapes (root position, 1st and 2nd inversions) present considerable physical problems for the harpist.


Italian word meaning 'whispering'. This is a form of tremolo on chords (or indeed on enharmonic notes) Fr: chuchotant Germ: flüsternd Sp: murmurando. Notated as for trill, but often used with chords. This effect is designed for quiet dynamics only.

Près de la table

hands near the soundboard of the harp. verbal instruction, often abbreviated to p.d.l.t.
Près de la table:

enharmonic trill


Trills on the harp are really tremolos, and notated as such. The notation given here shows a common solution: the enharmonic trill. This is rapid alternation on a single pitch but across two strings. This allows for more resonant trills.



Stopping the string vibration with the flesh of the hand. Notated, Fr: sons étouffés; Germ: dämpfen; It: velare; Sp: amortiguar. When this is not specified, it is assumed that the note will die away naturally. If in doubt, indicate l.v. (laissez vibrer) to hear a note undampened. It is possible to damp some notes in a chord but allow others to ring on. Note that staccato is not very common on the harp.

The Orchestra: A User's Manual is a free resource and will remain so. It still receives between 8,000 and 16,000 unique visits per month from all over the world. See the testimonials. Thanks to all the donations, I have been able to create this responsive re-design. But the movies and sound clips recorded in 2004 do show their age. I would really like to re-record everything and add many more techniques, especially for solo and ensemble writing. I estimate this will cost around £30,000. If you know a source of such funds, please contact me: a.hugill [at]