Phantom harmonic

August 4, 2019, 3:17 PM · So for as long as I can remember, I've had a phantom harmonic.

Often I'll play an open E while performing (because stylistically, it often makes sense). And there's a dangerous likelihood that the E won't sound. In fact, what sounds is a harmonic... a very high C#.

Harmonics aren't supposed to happen when you're NOT touching the string... I've never been able to figure this one out. Any logical explanation for this? I'd really like to at least have an idea of what causes this, so I can work to prevent it from happening.

Replies (11)

August 4, 2019, 4:11 PM · High C# (or Db) sounds like the 7th or 14th harmonic of E.

I get open E failing when slurring from the A-string; I guess the E is already in vibration, via the bridge and nut, when the already moving bow tries to "catch" it.

I found one solution is to place a little square of thin leather in the E groove of the nut; the open E then behaves like a fingered note.

Also an aluminium-wound E, being more flexible for the same tension, behaves better.

August 4, 2019, 4:43 PM · That makes sense. I've noticed as well that it seems to happen on slurs from the A.
Edited: August 4, 2019, 10:00 PM · That might be what the rest of us call "whistling" I am told that it happens when the string spins on its axis instead of the usual sideways. It happens when we slur lightly on a down-bow from the A- string, or, if the base of the 1st finger touches the E. Preventions: The Warchal Amber E, which has a twist in the opposite direction, or an aluminum wound E.
August 4, 2019, 6:20 PM · You just have to find an E string that works for your violin. For me, the Goldbrokat does not whistle nearly as much as the PI Platinum, but others swear by the latter string as better. Go figure.
August 4, 2019, 8:31 PM · Try slower bow when crossing onto the E string, with a little more depth (weight) to avoid the whistle.
August 4, 2019, 11:38 PM · Play closer to the bridge with more weight and slower bow. Also rosin enough. Use mirror to double check that your bow is relatively straight on string crossing slurs from A.
August 5, 2019, 2:03 AM · May I insist that my sliver of leather does work!

Anyway the open steel E is an abomination: but then I am really a violist...

August 5, 2019, 2:37 AM · Adrian, I'll try your solution. Not for whistling, but for the sake of another violists ear...

In my experience (and how I was taught), whistling happens if the string crossing isn't well prepared. Preparing means, when you're playing the last note on the A, you should move your bow towards the E as close as possible without touching it. Then the crossing will need only a very slight, controllable movement and will come out clear. The process is very well described in Simon Fischers "Basics". I'm sure you all are aware of that, but this doesn't mean that everyone is doing so.

August 5, 2019, 10:47 AM · Until I improved my technique I used to generate "whistling" when sluring from A to E because my downward elbow motion kept going after I initiated contact with the E string. Presumably this was creating a circular vibrating motion in the string rather a sideway motion as I kept pulling the string from differing angles.
August 5, 2019, 11:39 AM · Adrian, you've got me curious...with the leather hack, are you still able to freely play harmonics?
August 5, 2019, 11:49 AM · Yes. The leather bit or parchment or bit of plastic tube etc. does not interfere with harmonics. But on many violins it also doesn't stop the whistle entirely.


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