How to Analyze Harmonics

Reading harmonics can be challenging since it requires reading the musical notation and then transposing the note depending on the type of notation indicated. There are several methods to notate harmonics. Natural and artificial harmonics require different techniques and produce different pitches. Learning these basic harmonics will enable the musician to identify the actual pitch notated in the music.

Artificial Harmonics

Step 1

Determine if the note has a small diamond an interval of a fourth above the pitch. If it is, it is an artificial harmonic. If there is not a diamond shaped note, but rather a circle, skip to step 3.

Step 2

Calculate the interval that sounds with artificial harmonics. The artificial harmonic will sound two octaves higher than the notated pitch. You have analyzed the interval of this harmonic and do not need to continue to step 3.

Step 3

Determine if the note has a circle above the note and if there is a specific string indicated in the score. When an orchestrator writes artificial harmonics, he does not indicate the string, this is reserved for natural harmonics. This is a less commonly used method of notating artificial harmonics. If there is a circle without a string indication, move on to step 4. Otherwise, move to the next section on natural harmonics.

Step 4

Determine the pitch of the note that is underneath the small circle. This is the actual pitch that the harmonic sounds. Unlike the previous form of notation, this style of notation provides the actual pitch. This method is more confusing for performers, since notating the interval a fourth above the harmonic tells the performers where to place their fingers.

Natural Harmonics

Step 1

Determine if the notated pitch is an artificial harmonic by completing the steps in the artificial harmonic section. If it is not an artificial harmonic, then it has to be a natural harmonic.

Step 2

Determine if there is a circle above the note. If there is, then the pitch notated underneath is the correct sounding pitch as well. If there is a diamond note by itself, continue to the next step.

Step 3

Find the string that the diamond note should be played on. The string is written above the harmonics and will say Sul G, Sul D, Sul A or Sul E. The strings begin with G below middle C and then ascend by fifths.

Step 4

Determine what note the diamond is on. If it is an octave above an open string of the violin (G D A E), then the pitch will sound exactly where the diamond is located. This is referred to as the second partial.

Step 5

Determine if the diamond is a fifth above an open string (G D A E), if it is, then the pitch will sound an octave above where the diamond is notated. This is called the third partial.

Step 6

Determine If the pitch is a fourth above the open string (G D A E), then it will sound an octave and a fifth higher than the notated diamond. This is called the fourth partial.


The first partial in natural harmonics is the fundamental note and is played on the open string. There is no special notation for this.

In some cases, natural harmonics are indicated by placing a diamond directly on the sounding pitch. You will be able to tell when this is the case because the notated pitch will be too high to qualify as a second, third or fourth partial.

Adler, Samuel: The Study of Orchestration


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