Pizzicato Harmonics are called for less frequently than other harmonics techniques, but it is still important to understand how they work and how to practice them. They can be open or stopped, but the open harmonics produce much clearer tones.
In general, the lower strings are easier to work with than the upper strings. When using open harmonics, the nodes closer to the bridge are clearer than those in lower positions. With stopped harmonics, the longer the string length (meaning lower positions), the better.
- LIFT the left-hand fingers off the string immediately after plucking the string. This allows the string to vibrate.
- Pluck near the end of the fingerboard, where the string is a bit stiffer.
- Do not pluck the string too hard
- Start with the C- and G-strings, as they’re easier to work with.
- Likewise, begin with the lower-numbered open nodes. (2nd, 3rd, and 4th harmonics)
After doing a bit of experimentation with open harmonics, try the following three small pieces to hone your skills. The first is the tune from the clock tower at the Palace of Westminster in London (also known as Big Ben). Note the slurs that follow some of the notes below – these tell you to let the string vibrate (sometimes abbreviated “l.v.”)
The next two pieces should now be familiar from their previous appearances in earlier sections. Here is “Taps” notated at the upper set of nodes:
And here are eight bars from the Minuet by L’Abbe le fils. It’s printed twice so that you can try it at both sets of nodes to hear the different resulting sound qualities.
Stopped harmonics don’t speak quite as easily as open harmonics, but the principles remain the same. It’s very important to have your thumb firmly pressed down on the fundamental, and make sure to lift your 3rd finger quickly after plucking the string. With a little perserverance you can make them ring.
Begin with this D-major exercise. This uses the low string and a long string length throughout, which is easier than higher strings and shorter string lengths.
Now try Westminster Quarters again using stopped harmonics. Not easy! Here you use touch-5th harmonics, which are easier to make ring than touch-4ths.
Proceed to the final section to see examples of Harmonics in the Repertoire