Arranging from Easy Piano Music by Louise Trotter


As a harpist you no doubt have discovered that it is not an easy matter finding arrangements [of the latest hits or special requests]. Even if you are able to buy them, the process of making your own is so convenient and satisfying, it is valuable to know how. In a well-balanced repertoire, there is an advantage to having a variety of styles represented, and the easiest source of music is naturally from piano. As a keyboard arrangement, the voicing and patterns will most likely be playable on the harp, with some modifications.

Try looking over the section in the music store [or online] called Easy Piano.  The notes are big, with lots of “white empty spaces” in which to write other filler notes. Also the arrangement is simple, eliminating difficult passages which may be unusable for a non-pedal harp.

Analyze the style and purpose of the piece, which determines the tempo and bass pattern to use. It is helpful if the chord symbols are given, so you can see the chord structure. Try playing what is written, and decide what to keep. Bear in mind that the right hand treble melody is the most important thing in pop and folk music.

You might go through the piece actually singing the melody, in order to feel its phrases, observing the spots where you pause to breathe. After all, the piece was probably written to be sung, and you must compensate for the lack of a singer. This creates phrasing, which determines the flow of the accompaniment. Does the arrangement need simplification, or embellishment? Is it too hard or too simple?

For Lever Harpers, my philosophy about accidentals is this: whenever it is possible to avoid lever changes, I do. Not only is it for physical convenience, but for the visual effect upon the audience. I find it very distracting watching a harpist’s hands jump back and forth continuously changing levers. I would rather eliminate any accidentals in the melody if it is too awkward to make a lever change. Two ways to do this are: substitute a melody note for the accidental by choosing another from the elements of the chord or using another tone . A neighboring tone or one just a few steps away will usually harmonize nicely without losing the integrity of the melody.   —  from The Creative Harpist by Louise Trotter.

The Creative Harpist is a compilation of the following three books, written over the past 20 years:  Let’s Play Country Harp, Getting Started in Pop Harp, and The Creative Folk Harpist.  These three books are not available separately anymore, they were combined several years ago into one book, The Creative Harpist.  Get started on your new arrangements now!

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4 Responses to Arranging from Easy Piano Music by Louise Trotter

  1. Linda Ashton says:

    Perfect timing for this article! I want to play in the Cameron (University) Civic Symphony, but there are no parts written for harp in the music they are using. I will be using the piano part on a couple of pieces. The information in this article will be most helpful in designing a harp part in another piece or two. A harp is not necessary or appropriate in some of the others pieces.
    The project I completed this morning, which will be used tomorrow, is modifying a cello accompaniment to a choir anthem. All accidentals have been eliminated! I downloaded the Finale NotePad to use to transfer notation on a tenor clef in the music to the bass clef. It was a good exercise, but I am so looking forward to learning more effective ways of accomplishing the task. Thank you!!!!

  2. Elayne says:

    Thank you.I am also a piano teacher and have been using piano music for my harp students.Aswell as the sight reading books,good challenge in working out the fingering.I love all the articles.Once again Thank you Elayne-Whitehorse Yukon Canada

  3. Great advice for beginning students. As a 45 year veteran of having to use piano music and conductors’ scores to cough up something in a hurry, I can say that theory is everything when it comes to arranging a piece. I always purchase leadsheets with chords, write in the appropriate fingering with the student, and work with accidentals for pedals and levers. This helps me teach them theory, and they learn how to work on fingering for themselves.

    I began playing back in the day when sheet music was expensive and there was NO music for harp for popular pieces of the century. I learned to be creative using my four years of college theory. I’ve been passing that along at festivals, harp camps and to my students for over 30 years! We all want to be different, and arranging helps us be unique!

    Even though I purchase a great deal of music, now, for my students, I rarely play these arrangements because I do “my thing” in my arranging which is different from everyone else! And yes I have borrowed from others’ “licks”! I love having my students learn the other arrangers unique ways of writing music, as well as challenging them to do their own “signatures” in their arranging. Again, theory is very important!

    • maryradspinner says:

      Hi Linda,

      Thanks for your comment. I rarely use arrangements myself, just like you. I do my thing. I think we are from the same generation – 45 years of playing! — Mary

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