In order to execute open harmonics so that they speak quickly and clearly, you must develop a good sense of the spacing between the nodes and refine your sense of touch in the fingers of the left hand. Use the examples below to help you build your mental “map” of the nodes.

First, a few tips for practicing harmonics:

  1. When activating the harmonic, the left-hand fingers should tap the string lightly to deaden the node immediately.  Without this subtle articulation, the pitch is less likely to speak quickly.
  2. Move the bow closer to the bridge for the higher-numbered harmonics.
  3. At first, give a slight “ping” with bow speed to the front of each note. This also helps to activate the harmonic quickly.


Open Harmonics: Step 1 »

The following examples are all on the D-string. Make sure to try each of these patterns on all four strings, and at different tempos.

First, slide between nodes on one finger, changing the bow upon arriving at each harmonic pitch:

Next, practice with the following fingering. This helps to learn the space between the nodes. (Make sure to lift each finger as you place the next one down.)

Now try with the other set of nodes.

Open Harmonics: Step 2 »

Bugle calls work very well for practicing harmonics because they only use notes of the harmonic series. The following two simple songs are notated on the D-string, at both sets of nodes. Make sure to try them on all four strings.

Open Harmonics: Step 3 »

The following piece was written by violinist Joseph-Barnabé Saint-Sévin (also known as L’Abbé le fils), and was first published in his treatise in the year 1761. Originally written for the violin, the Menuet is a harmonics exercise.

Here it is arranged for cello, and the sounding pitches are notated in the upper staff. There are two instances of stopped harmonics in measures 18 and 19. Be sure that you prepare the thumb before the downbeat of measure 18.


Read on for instruction on practicing stopped harmonics.

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