The big day has come – you are a pedal harpist at last! Pedals expand your musical horizons, free up your left hand, and give you two more limbs to coordinate.
Don’t get discouraged; the rewards far outweigh the inconvenience. And though you will hear pedal harpists complain about “the feet,” we wouldn’t want to give up playing the fabulous music that the pedals make possible.
So for those of you who have just taken the plunge – or those of you who want a refresher course – here are some basic pedal tips.
Chair height becomes even more important when you have a pedal harp. You still need to sit at the correct height for playing. But now, it’s no longer enough to be able to have your feet flat on the floor. Your feet should learn a “resting position” on the C and F pedals, heel on the floor and the ball of your foot on the pedal. You should be able to reach the farthest pedals without changing your body position, which should be nicely in line with the harp, not twisted to one side.
The pedals are operated by a big spring. This spring has one function: to bring the pedal back up. When you push a pedal down, you are working against the pressure of the spring, because the spring wants to bring the pedal up. When you let a pedal up, you are also working against the spring. The spring wants to bring the pedal up FAST (and loud!). Get the picture? Your feet must push firmly on the way down, and control the upward motion on the way up.
When pushing the pedal down, press it slightly to the outside. This way the pedal will slide smoothly along the side. Then, guiding the pedal with the ball of your foot, pull it slightly inward to lock it in the notch. To raise a pedal, slide the pedal outward from the notch and let the spring raise the pedal, keeping light pressure on the pedal so that it doesn’t slam noisily into the position above.
Your heel should stay on the floor as much as possible. If you need to raise it, to get enough force to put a pedal in the sharp position for instance, you may raise your heel a little, but don’t raise your knee. That doesn’t look nice and it isn’t efficient. You want the least movement possible, so that you can push your pedals quickly.
Harp shoes will now be important to you. Harpists aren’t supposed to practice barefoot, although most of us will admit to doing it. Thin soles, a medium heel or flats, and closed toes are generally recommended.
Pushing your pedals rhythmically (on specific beats) will help you integrate them into the coordination of a piece.
Timing is everything! Push a pedal too early or too late and you may get the dreaded pedal noise.
Your reading of the pedal markings will be easier if you always write them one foot over the other. I always write mine right foot over left foot, but the other way is fine too, as long as you’re consistent.
There are many good pedal drills in exercise books, but here is a great way to practice pedals with any piece you are learning:
Play one hand alone, very slowly, and touch your foot on the pedal for each note. This will help you locate the pedals quickly. (Remember, you’re not supposed to look!) As a next step, rather than merely touching the pedals, push each pedal up or down. It’s a good idea to use a metronome. You don’t have to follow the rhythm of the piece: just the progression of the notes will be a fabulous drill for your feet.
Remember to tune with your pedals in flat!
Post a picture of your favorite harp shoes in the comments below!