How to Make Harmonics Come out on a Violin

The violin is capable of a dizzying array of playing techniques. The standard method of playing the violin is by depressing a string with a finger and then bringing the bow across the string. However, there is another method to produce pitch on the violin that creates a hazy, dreamlike sound. This technique was used in the opening of Gustav Mahler's 1st Symphony. It is a technique all violinists should know and learn to play. There are two different forms of harmonics, and each requires a different technique to play correctly.

Artificial Harmonics 

Step 1:  Determine the pitch that is two octaves below the pitch you wish to create.
Step 2:  Firmly press down with the first finger the note found in Step 1.

Step 3:  Lightly touch the pitch that is a fourth above the note from Step 2 with the fourth finger. Continue to hold the first finger on the first pitch. Lightly touching the string a fourth above the pitch will divide the string into fourths.

Step 4:  Pull your bow across the string. This will create an artificial two octaves above the firmly held pitch.

Natural Harmonics 

Step 1:  Find the middle point of the string you wish to play. The strings of the violin are G D A E, starting at the G below middle C and moving upwards in fifths. This method will create a harmonic that sounds one octave above the string.

Step 2:  Lightly press the middle of the string with a finger.

Step 3:  Pull your bow across the string using a normal bowing technique. This will produce the harmonic an octave above the lowest string.

Natural harmonics can also be produced by dividing the violin string into thirds, fourths and fifths. The string can be divided on either end of the string. Dividing the string into thirds produces the pitch an octave and a perfect fifth above the open string. Dividing the string in fourths produces the pitch two octaves above the open string. Dividing the string in fifths produces the pitch two octaves and a third above the open string.


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