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Artificial Harmonics

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by gonzo85, Apr 15, 2001.

  1. gonzo85


    Mar 25, 2001
    Does anyone know how to play artificial harmonics? Can You play them on bass as well as guitar? Help for playing on either instrument would be appreciated.
  2. Christopher


    Apr 28, 2000
    New York, NY
    Stop the note with your left hand as you normally would. Use your right hand thumb or index finger to touch the string at the node that's 12 or 5 positions above where you've stopped the note with your left hand. Pluck using your right hand index or middle finger, simultaneously releasing the thumb or finger that's touching the node. You should get a nice bell-like tone.
  3. Alvaro Martín Gómez A.

    Alvaro Martín Gómez A. TalkBass' resident Bongo + cowbell player

    You can understand them like this: For playing a natural harmonic, you put your left hand fingers over different points of the string (without fretting) and pluck it with your right hand. How would you do the same thing with your right hand only? Placing your right hand thumb over the string (again, no fretting) and plucking it with your index, middle or ring fingernails. All your harmonics are based on the open strings (BTW, the only natural harmonics you can't get on a four string bass are D#/Eb and A#/Bb), but now you have your left hand free. This hand becomes your zero fret (or open note) when you use it for fretting notes: If you fret a C on the G string, fifth fret, all your harmonics on this string will be based on this note. The middle point of the string won't be the 12th fret but the 17th fret (5 frets higher than the open string), and so on. It's not neccessary to release the thumb for getting the effect. Just don't press the string too hard. You can play full scales and melodies with this technique. The possibilities of voicings and fingerings are almost infinite.

    Hope this helps. (and hope that my explanation doesn't sound too complicated. Please let me know.) :)
  4. gonzo85


    Mar 25, 2001
    Thanks for the help, I appreciate the explanations. I'd just like to make sure that I've got the concept now--artificial harmonics are just harmonics based on other notes than open E, A, D, or G? Previously, I was under the impression that A.H.'s were able to be played (mostly by guitar players) by gripping the pick close to the tip and lightly touching the string. Do you know anything about this technique?

    And taking a step back, by any chance do you understand the science behind harmonics? I'd be interested to hear about that.
  5. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    Well they are used by a lot of bassists, but almost always in the way described by the other posters. Most famous is probably Jaco's solo/intro at the beginning of Weather Report's Birdland and his method was definitely the thumb resting on the string - in this tune you hear him playing the same melody twice; firstly where his thumb is 12 "frets" above where the left hand is holding the notes down and then he shifts his thumb nearer the bridge to play it in a higher octave.

    The theory of artificial or false harmonics is that you are subdividing the string length - dividing by half gives you an octave up and then it follows the harmonic series which is "classic" physics.
  6. rubber chicken

    rubber chicken Guest

    Apr 7, 2001
    I'm so confused!!!
  7. Like Bruce said, check out Birdland by Weather Report. That is a great example of what you can do with artificial harmonics as a bass player.:)
  8. JMX

    JMX Vorsprung durch Technik

    Sep 4, 2000
    Cologne, Germany
    Billy Sheehan does it like this.
    Touch the flat of your thumb with the tip of your middle finger. The string is right next to where those fingers touch. Pinch the string by twisting both fingers so that the nail of the middle finger 'plucks' the string and the thumb just touches it. It's a clock-wise twist where the thumb goes down while still touching the string and the middle finger nail goes up while plucking the string.

    Hope this helps.

    This explains harmonics better than I can:



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