Harmonics on the Violin

January 14, 2019, 12:52 AM · Could you all help regarding the science of harmonics on the Violin?

In addition, musically, please explain how to achieve the correct harmonics on the Violin?

Replies (8)

January 14, 2019, 9:58 AM · When you divide the length of the string in half, by stopping in the middle with your finger, the frequency is doubled and the pitch goes up by one octave. By placing your finger very lightly you create two lengths, both of which vibrate.

See this explanation. There is a useful picture about halfway down the page.


January 14, 2019, 10:05 AM · Are you asking specifically about natural harmonics? Paul's answer is correct, and there are other harmonics as well--1/4 and 3/4 of the length of the string will give you two octaves higher, and dividing the string by thirds will take you up an octave plus a fifth.

There are also artificial harmonics, created by stopping the string with the first finger and lightly resting the fourth finger in place--this will give a pitch two octaves above the pitch of the stopped finger. There are other, less commonly used, artificial harmonics as well, such as are in the second movement of Saint-Saens Concerto #3.

Here's another useful link: https://www.violinonline.com/additionalskills.html

January 15, 2019, 3:10 AM · Thanks Paul & Mary for your help and the links! I believe music students must understand a bit of Physics and the science behind the playing.

Mary: I have heard about artificial harmonics, but I am yet to learn them. And the science is tricky..

January 15, 2019, 4:25 AM · The science of artificial harmonics is identical to the science of natural harmonics.
January 15, 2019, 7:08 AM · Also, always do harmonics a tiny bit sharp, because they are naturally flat.
The puns in that statement were PUN-mistakeable.
Edited: January 15, 2019, 7:33 AM · Andrew is correct. Artificial harmonics are artificial in name only. But, Mary Ellen is correct too: That's what everyone calls them. Essentially one uses one's first finger to create an artificial nut (a hard stop) and then the fourth finger is used to create the two-octave harmonic in exactly the same physical manner as described by Mary Ellen, by adding a soft stop a the 1/4 point along the remaining string length.

As to whether harmonics are flat, about this I do not know. I can only speculate that a hard-stopped string vibrating at the same fundamental frequency might have different anharmonicities that might cause the perception of a slightly different pitch. I have never been taught by any of my teachers to aim high on harmonics, so I would appreciate the perspective of a professional on that point.

Edited: January 15, 2019, 8:49 AM · I think Nina is right but it's hard to explain.
It's not that harmonics are flat, it's that when you stop a string it goes a little bit sharp.
If the nut is very high it's obvious - on my $50 fiddle if I stop a third overtone harmonic on the A string, I hear D# not D. That's simply because the nut is so high that you get a big increase in tension when you stop the string. On a better violin it's a noticeable but much smaller effect.
January 15, 2019, 11:14 AM · If you stop a string so that it "rings" the harmonic of another string, then it's at the same fundamental frequency. Your finger does have finite thickness so if you are going to play an A harmonic (halfway up the A string) and then the same note with a regular stop, you do have to move your finger down a little. But that doesn't mean the harmonic was flat! It's just a consequence of your physicality.

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