Violin harmonics

Violin harmonics

Can anyone please provide me with an idiots guide to playing harmonics on the fiddle? The stuff I have googled so far hasn’t really helped. Is there a chart or something that simplifies the whole matter?
By the way, I’ll be over in the West of Ireland end of July, beginning of August (usual Galway races trip), so if there are any rip roaring sessions going on …

Re: Violin harmonics

Er, okay, I won’t ask why.
(As you may know) when you bow normally the whole of the string length is making the note, but you can persuade the string to divide into halves, thirds or quarters by touching it lightly where one of those halves or thirds ends. Touch an open string lightly right in the middle whilst bowing it, and you’ll divide it into two and the note will jump up an octave. Touch it two thirds of the length up and it’ll vibrate in three lengths and the note will go up an octave and a fifth. (you can then compare this with the octave harmonic on the next string up to see if you’ve tuned "perfect fifths".)
That’s open strings. It’s a lot harder when you’re fingering the string as well, (apart from the mistake when you touch the next string up whilst fingering a normal third finger note. That will give you the note two octaves up from the open string.)

Re: Violin harmonics

Yeah, what chad says. :)

The critical piece of information here, is that if you lightly touch the string in the right place (rather than hold it down, as you would normally), the string vibrates on *both*sides* of your finger, which gives the whistling overtone particular to harmonics. If you touch the string with any other fingers, it will not vibrate cleanly, and you will lose the note.

Some typical harmonics, in rough order of difficulty (on the A string here):
1) touch the string lightly in the middle (dividing it in half), where the note would be a high A. (in this case, the harmonic note matches the one you’d get if you played it normally).

2) touch your 4th finger where you would normally play the "e", this will give you a note one octave above your e-string. (here, the string is vibrating in 3rds)

3) touch lightly with the 3rd finger where you would normally play a "d", and the harmonic will be 2 octaves above the A-string. (the string is vibrating in 4ths)

4) If you place your first finger firmly down (on "B"), you can touch lightly with your 4th finger ("e"), and get a harmonic note two octaves above "B". Now, it’s possible (though tricky) to actually play entire scales by sliding your hand up the neck of the fiddle like this.

Harmonics aren’t particularly difficult, but they do require a light and sensitive touch on both the bow and the finger(s) in question.

It’s worth noting, that this isn’t really very applicable to Irish traditional music. The only time I’ve heard someone do it successfully was Martin Hayes playing "Port na bPucai", and while it was unusual, it was certainly not necessary to the tune.

Re: Violin harmonics

I may be ignorant (correction - I am ignorant!) but I don’t think Martin Hayes was using harmonics there, nor artificial harmonics. I can get that creaky octave higher sound by carefully manipulating bow placement, speed, and pressure. In the avantgarde classical world of which I’m a refugee, 20th century composers sometimes asked for "pedal tones" out of fiddles - if you press really hard and move your bow really slowly, you can get some (terrible sounding) notes below the range of the instrument. As it turns out, those fundamentals are there all the time, but we hear the upper partials as being the "note". The way Martin Hayes (possibly) uses his bow in that recording is a similar but opposite technique.

Artificial harmonics, put one finger down solid and barely touch with another finger on the same string at the interval of a 4th or 5th (like, finger an E on the D string, touch an A or a B - bit of a stretch there).

Oh, and yeah, harmonics, slide your finger gently on the string while bowing, we can get tons more than other string instruments because of the bow… get closer to the bridge and work with your bow speed and weight if they’re not workin’

T.J.
http://www.myspace.com/tjhullandjeffk

Re: Violin harmonics

Find a waterfall( it doesn’t have to be a big one) and approach it gently with your fiddle in hand. Throw a bone behind the water and out will come a little man to teach you how to tune your instrument. If you wish to "play" the instrument, then you must throw a bone with meat and all behind the waterfall, and he will teach you harmonics. A good fatty bone works well for harmonics…

Re: Violin harmonics

I gypsy-slide a lot in ITM, though I don’t use many harmonics (only for the ocassional place in a slow piece). To gypsy-slide, just slide your hand from whatever note you were playing to the midstring harmonic very quickly, and then come down again and keep on playing.

Re: Violin harmonics

Harmonics are an excellent test for accuracy in finger placement and bow control - you’ve got to be 100% accurate with both otherwise they won’t work, especially with examples 2-4 in Georgi’s post.

I haven’t checked it out, but it wouldn’t surprise me if harmonics come up occasionally in J Scott Skinner’s compositions.

Those "pedal notes". On brass instruments they’re difficult to get, which is why brass instrument playing starts at the 1st harmonic and above. On a fiddle or cello those "pedal notes" actually are real fundamentals in the same way that an open string on the fiddle is always a fundamental, unless you bow very lightly and bring out the natural harmonics of the strings (which perhaps explains what M.H. was doing deliberately, and certainly the "glassy" sounds that beginners often produce). I think what is happening is that the very strong and slow bow pressure is forcibly lengthening the string and reducing its frequency. I can do it on the cello and get a true low B-nat out of the C string - but as Reenactor says, it’s not an attractive sound.

Now a fast bow movement will sharpen the frequency of the string, perhaps by half a tone in extreme cases on a lower string, although quarter or a fifth of a tone is more likely. It works best on the two lower strings, and isn’t so noticeable on the upper two. That’s why some players say that if you’re going to be playing loudly then you should always tune up at the dynamic you’re going to be playing at, and avoid light tuning with harmonics. I think this advice is intended more for the classical concert soloist.

Re: Violin harmonics

Very helpful. Thanks very much. A friend of mine, who prefers bluegrass to ITM, says he gets frustrated that trad fiddlers only use half of their instrument (meaning we don’t venture up the neck much.) I suppose he has a point.

Re: Violin harmonics

send me an email and I can send you a 2-page guide to harmonics that I have foud very helpful

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Re: Violin harmonics

Hi, it’s Mari Kimura here:

I have a new web URL with a lot more examples of Subharmonics and the works I composed for it now. It’s

www.marikimura.com