How harmonics work on the double bass

Harmonics can be confusing, but this book from a great bass community member clears it up!

With Chris West · London, UK

Chris West has an awesome book on bass harmonics in our store, and he describes the way they work is such a clear way.

Playing harmonics on the double bass can create a beautiful and unique sound that adds depth and texture to a performance. But how do harmonics work on this instrument?

How Harmonics Work on the Double Bass

Harmonics are produced by lightly touching the string at specific nodal points while plucking or bowing the string. These nodal points are locations on the string where the vibrations are essentially cancelled out, resulting in a higher pitch. The locations of these nodal points are determined by the length of the string, so longer strings have more nodal points than shorter strings.

In order to produce harmonics, the player must locate these specific nodal points on the string and lightly touch them with the finger. This creates a point of cancellation, resulting in a higher pitch. Harmonics can be played on both open and stopped strings, but the technique differs between the two.

Types of Harmonics

On the double bass, there are two types of harmonics: natural and artificial. Natural harmonics can be played on an open string, simply by touching the string at the appropriate nodal point. For example, touching the string lightly at the halfway point will produce a harmonic one octave higher than the open string.

Artificial harmonics, on the other hand, require the player to use a combination of left-hand finger placement and right-hand bowing technique to produce the desired pitch. To play an artificial harmonic, the player needs to press down on the string with one finger while simultaneously touching the string at the appropriate nodal point with another finger. Then, the player must use the bow to play the string, resulting in a higher pitch than the fretted note.

Uses for Double Bass Harmonics

Composers have found all kinds of practical applications for double bass harmonics, including:

1. Creating Unique Sound Effects

One of the most obvious uses for double bass harmonics is to create unique sound effects that add interest and texture to a performance. Because harmonics produce a higher pitch than the open string, they can be used to create a sense of tension or urgency in a piece of music.

2. Enhancing Melodic Lines

Harmonics can also be used to enhance melodic lines in a piece of music. By incorporating harmonics into a melody, the player can create a more intricate and interesting line that adds depth and emotion to the music.

3. Adding Color and Depth to Chord Progressions

In addition to enhancing melodic lines, harmonics can also be used to add color and depth to chord progressions. By playing harmonics on the different notes of a chord, the player can create a richer and more complex sound that adds interest to the music.

4. Creating a Dreamy or Ethereal Sound

Finally, harmonics can be used to create a dreamy or ethereal sound that is perfect for certain types of music. By playing harmonics with a soft touch and a slow tempo, the player can create a sense of calm and relaxation that is perfect for ballads or slower pieces of music.

Playing Harmonics on the Double Bass

Playing harmonics on the double bass requires a delicate touch and precise technique. The nodal points on the string are very specific, and even the slightest deviation from the correct placement can result in an incorrect pitch. Additionally, the player must use the right amount of pressure with the bow to avoid overplaying the harmonic and causing unwanted noise.

Conclusion

Harmonics are an important aspect of double bass playing that can add a unique and beautiful sound to a performance. By understanding the nodal points and techniques required to play natural and artificial harmonics, players can effectively incorporate this technique into their playing and elevate their musical expression. In conclusion, harmonics on the double bass are a fascinating technique that adds a special dimension to the music. With the right technique and practice, players can create beautiful and unique sounds that will enhance their musical performances. So, if you’re a double bass player, be sure to experiment with harmonics and see how they can add depth and texture to your playing.

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