Teaching Harmonics to Children

June 20, 2004 at 09:43 PM · Greetings,

in my early morning stupor I thought I read that someone wanted ideas on teachiing harmonics to children but now I can't find the question so here is a new thread on it.

I belive harmonics should be introduced much earlier to children than they generally are. When? To my mind this should be done before teaching vibrato.

The reason I offer for this is that it seems to me teaching vibrato has focused very strongly on the mechanics of waving the hand or arm and not enough on one specifc aspect of the finger technique: the degree of pressure involved and how it varies. If we accept that one of the main trigger/control mechanisms of vibrato lies in the fingertips (this is the fairly standard position) then we ought to pay attention to what they are doing.

This point was brought home to me recently when I was asked to teach a viola player wrist vibrato since she already had a self taught arm vibrato. This player had been leanringfor about 8 years and she is very bright and musical. There was, as far as I could tell a mismatch between her obvious ability and the level of achivement she had reached. She absorbed the basic vibrato exercises very quickly so the mechanics were all fine but somehow she didn"t seem to be integrating the hand action /vibrato either into her playing or with te arm vibrato which is my long term goal. The problem was easy to find. She has virtually no awarness of finger pressure. the maximum degre eof pressure necessary to keep the finger in one place while executing vibrato. And, it necessarily follows, she is therefore unable to practice therelease of pressure that is also an essential part of the fingertip aspect of vibrato.

In order to develop this awarness of pressure, I had her practicing stopped notes that change slowly into harmonics and back again on long slow bows. After she could do this I began asking her to practice a continuous vbrato on the harmonic/stooped notes.

By this method she has finally come round to a sense of vibrato.

This to me, is the main significance of teaching harmonics to children,



Replies (10)

June 20, 2004 at 09:50 PM · Buri, excellent point. I actually have never thought about harmonics helping vibrato, but I suppose they definitely do! I have students play with "whistle tones" to experience how little weight is really needed to produce a sound. Students often think that they are being light in the left hand when in actuality it is still too heavy to produce a harmonic or whistle tone!

I teach harmonics early because it is a great introduction to shifting. I introduce harmonics by having students play Twinkle using harmonics for every A, E, and D (shifting up). You have to be pretty soft to able to do this. The first time they play it in a piece is the last note of Musette in Suzuki Book 2.

I introduce vibrato and harmonics at around the same time. I usually will have students do whistle tones before this if they have issues with squeezing or tightness. (which they almost always do!)

June 20, 2004 at 10:28 PM · that is an excellent exercise which i think benifited me a lot, my teacher stresses lightness in the left hand and i spend lots of time practising anything like dont 3 or something along those lines first not pressing hard enough for tone, then trying to get a semi tone, then going to full tone.

Buri, are you thinking children should be taught ALL of the harmonics, just 1-4 artificial harmonics or just natural harmonics?

June 20, 2004 at 10:38 PM · I think Auer made a good point about Harmonics: We should practice broken fouths with the 1-4 pattern... not only will it help intonation considerably, Students will have consitancy in their harmonics.

June 20, 2004 at 11:39 PM · Greetings,Owen, why not both? Teach the natural ones first but then the articicila are an excellent way of working on the basic hand frame and degree of finger pressure at the same time,



June 20, 2004 at 11:51 PM · Very interesting topic indeed!

June 21, 2004 at 01:31 AM · fourths seem under-stressed in many scale systems (mainly flesch), i wonder why that is, to me it seems one of the most important intervals. i recently started practicing 1-4 fifth harmonics which people dont think about too much.

June 21, 2004 at 01:33 AM · Owen, I once observed an excellent masterclass by [virtuoso-]guitarist and pedagoge Scott Tennant where he wanted a student to practise that "semi-tone" exercise. He wanted the student to be aware how soft you really can put your finger on the string, and still make a full tone.

On the other side of the ladder, Bron often showed his students how hard you have to press down the strings (perticulary in higher positions) to let the string vibrate without the fingerpad dampinig the string at all.

I believe that any advanced student should be aware of both these extremes, but the question is when the proper time is to introduce them.

The most relaxed way to produce a tone should be taught first, in my view, since many student have a tendency to press and be unrelaxed in the left hand, while the pressing methode aught to be taught (or rather, tested until the point is getted) when the player have a bigger understanding of facility.

June 21, 2004 at 11:32 AM · There is a beginners method book called Violin A (there is also Violin B, Violin C has not been printed yet) based on the Kodaly method by Hungarian-Finnish pedagoque Geza Szilvay. After some work on left hand position and some rhytms on open strings he starts practising stopping with 1st and 2nd octave harmonics together with left hand pizzicati. Only after this the normal stopping in 1st position starts. Szilvay suggests this being beneficial for relaxation, shifting and vibrato. Later on his book contains a lot of pieces with shifts from 1st position to harmonics and back. I have recently used this with some of my beginners and it works well.

June 21, 2004 at 07:09 PM · The Colourstrings method teaches natural harmonics almost straight off, using a fingerboard sticker to mark the spot. The idea is the get children whizzing around the fingerboard comfortably way before they'll actually have to play in position.

I think harmonics should be brought in even before vibrato; you certainly need to be able to apply a light touch to learn to shift, and too much weight is one of the most common problems in learning this.

June 23, 2004 at 12:36 PM · Both Janne and Sue are talking about the same method as the Colourstrings is infact written by Geza Silvay and I would like to add a third voice to the success of this approach.Silvay remains with harmonics for quite a while and this might be a difficult concept for some.I like to use the natural harmonic excercises almost from the beginning as this gives an immediate feel for the fingerboard and a concept of its length.Also it does not presuppose years in the 1st position only.The advantages of a relaxed hand are obvious as the child naturally has to release any grip on the violin in order to ascend and has to touch lightly in order to produce a sound.


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