For over a century now, harmonic glissandi have been used by composers from Ravel onward.  One of the more notable examples from the standard cello repertoire is found in the 2nd movement of Shostakovich’s Sonata in d minor. Many varieties of glissandi exist using both open and stopped harmonics, and each produces different effects.

Open Harmonics
The first type is a glissando of the open harmonic series, as in the Shostakovich. Running the finger lightly over any portion of the string will cause harmonics to pop out.  Quite often, though, composers will write for some segment of the ordered overtone series.

Some composers will only notate the terminal points of the glissando using diamond note heads, drawing a line between them; others will notate each pitch.   Sometimes the little circles used to indicate harmonics will be placed along the glissando line.  In many cases, the words “gliss,” “harm. gliss,” or “arm gliss” will be used for sake of clarity.

Check out the examples and the video below for what you might see in practice:


Stopped Harmonics

The most common type of glissando using stopped harmonics is one that maintains the same musical interval between the fingers throughout, in this case a touch-fourth.  In the example below, the sounding pitch is notated in the upper staff.

Sometimes the end of the gliss is not notated, meaning that it should end on some indeterminate pitch, somewhere near the graphical end of the glissando line:

You might also see an arrow at the end of the gliss indicating that you should “whip” the end sharply to the highest possible point in the time allotted.

The next variety of glissando is a sort of hybrid between the stopped and the open. It is a stopped harmonic where the fundamental note is held firm, while the other finger moves through the nearby nodes, yielding a portion of the overtone series. (The sounding pitch is notated in the upper staff.)

The final type that will be covered here is the “seagull” effect, used most famously (and perhaps created?) by George Crumb in Vox Balaenae for Three Masked Players. This is a stopped harmonic beginning in a very high position with an octave span between the fingers. Glissando down the length of the fingerboard, without adjusting the space between the fingers (which thereby diminishes the interval).  The fixed finger spacing causes higher partials of lower fundamentals to be activated as the left-hand motion continues towards the scroll, which repeatedly restarts the glissando.



 Keep going! Pizzicato Harmonics

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