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Bass harmonics

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by superbassman2000, Dec 20, 2000.

  1. Hi i am sort of new to playing bass. I was listening to Jaco Pastorius' "Continuum" when in the beginning, he plays something called a harmonic. I asked my dad what a harmonic is because he has been playing the electric guitar for years. he wasn't sure how to play it so I am going here. So the question is, How do you play harmonics. I will give you an example of how one looks on a tab sheet for help.


    (the example is from the tab "continuum" by jaco pastorius)

  2. Well to play harmonics:

    To play a harmonic you just lightly touch the string directly above the fret shown, which would be the 4th on that tab, and play the string as normal. Make sure you touch it lightly and not push it down to the fret. It may take some practice to get it perfect.

    Just to give a little background on the physics of harmonics:
    A harmonic is when the string vibrates in a standing wave pattern. This is achieved by placing your finger where you want the node (place where no vibration occurs). when you play a fretted note there is always just 1/2 a wavelength (an arc from the fret to the bridge that vibrates), but when you play a harmonic there are more wavelengths there. For example if you play a harmonic on fret twelve the string will make one wavelength (s shape) from the nut to the bridge, or if you play a harmonic on 7 it will make 3 humps (s shape continued for one more hump) from the bridge to the nut.

    For harmonics the not is not made because of the fret, it is made because of dividing the length of the string into perfect fractions like:1/2 at 12, 1/3 at 7, and 1/4 at 5. The fact that they are directly over the fret is coincidence. Some harmonics occur not over the fret like one slightly ahead of the third fret. Anyway I hope that helps a bit.
  3. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    Very good explanation from Drake! Just to add that if you are getting into Jaco's stuff, he uses other methods of getting harmonics as well as the way Drake explains.

    In some pieces, hew will "fret" a note and then use another finger on his left hand to get a new "node" by just touching the string higher up the board. He was also a pioneer in the use of artificial or false harmonics on bass.

    Jaco did it by putting the thumb on his right hand just touching the string at the point an octave (you can think of this as 12 frets although, of course he played fretless!) above the note his left hand is holding down on the fingerboard; then plucking with his first and second fingers. This gets you the harmonic an octave above - shift the whole right hand setup closer to the bridge and you can get even higher harmonics. You have to follow what your left hand is doing though - otherwise you will get "unpredictable" notes!

    These are just a couple of the techniques that Jaco used - lots more to "discover" (!), which is half the fun with listening to Jaco's playing. ;)
  4. Try and find a "Brand X" cd if you can. Their bassist (Percy Jones) also does some wonderful things with harmonics. Using a fretless, you can slide the harmonic up or down the fingerboard by using just the slightest little touch. It takes a little practice (and I wish I could explain it better), but it is a very cool effect. I could show you easier than tell you. But, look for anything with Percy on it. I would recommend the Brand X cd "Livestock".
  5. The1ManMoshPit


    Jan 2, 2001
    Just another thing to add, I find it's ten times easier to draw harmonics out of a bass if you boost the midrange as high as it will go (on the amp, and if you have active do it right on the bass), but don't boost treble like you might think at first (that just seems to emphasise the 'click' when you press the string, which is real bad...)

    So yeah. Another thing to listen to for harmonics, by the way, is some stuff by Stanley Clarke. He's got some awesome songs with artificial harmonics, and in School Days he frets at the seventh on G, plays an artificial harmonic an octave higher and bends it like nobody's business (I heard a rumour once that he actually 'hollowed out' the area in between his frets by carving it down so it actually dipped like |\__/| so he could make massive bends). Crazy stuff.

    Oh yeah, and though it may be cliche by now, don't forget to give a good listen to 'Portrait of Tracy' off that same Jaco album. It's practically ALL harmonics. But I'll prolly get a kick where the sun don't shine for even drawing it into the discussion, as most people 'in the know' are probably sick of hearing that phrase (Portrait of Tracy,Portrait of Tracy,Portrait of Tracy).

    [Edited by The1ManMoshPit on 01-02-2001 at 10:51 PM]
  6. eli

    eli Mad showoff 7-stringer and Wish lover Supporting Member

    Dec 12, 1999
    NW suburban Chicago
    You also need bright-sounding, CLEAN strings to get decent harmonics. Roundwounds for sure.
  7. JcHc


    Jun 3, 2006
    Chico, CA
    cv gjy ym
  8. DustinHolleman


    Oct 28, 2007
    I can get a good harmonic at the 19th fret. would that be like 2/3rds?
  9. 69nites


    Jul 11, 2006
    that's not true at all

    I can get strong harmonics out of (old) flats just fine.

    use of the bridge pickup will help bring them out.
  10. Yeah, using the bridge pickup and boosting mids will help. I can actually get better harmonics on flats than rounds.
  11. EADG mx

    EADG mx

    Jul 4, 2005
    No you dont

    but they will help

    how to get clean harmonics:

    - fret-hand technique (takes practice)
    - pluck harder
    - pluck near bridge
    - bridge pickup
    - boost high mids/highs
    - compression
    - boost gain
    - new strings

    in no particular order
  12. Why is it everyone has to revive these stupid old threads? :rollno:
  13. 73jbass

    73jbass Supporting Member

    Apr 17, 2004
    Because the op is a new bass player,and he had a legitimate question.At least it wasn't "What's the best ___ for rock"?
  14. 69nites


    Jul 11, 2006
    he was referring to the fact that the OP was 7 years ago.
  15. Rune Bivrin

    Rune Bivrin Supporting Member

    Oct 2, 2006
    Huddinge, Sweden
    My guess is DustinHolleman did what so many fail to do: A SEARCH! Kudos!
  16. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    But a 7-year old thread!! :eek:

    There have defintely been more recent ones than this - it just seems "perverse"... search for most recent! ;)
  17. EADG mx

    EADG mx

    Jul 4, 2005

    note the 7th is the same

    from nut to bridge the 7th is 1/3, 19th is 2/3

    from bridge to nut it's reversed
  18. Your dad's been playing guitar for years but doesn't know how to play a harmonic???:confused:
  19. EADG mx

    EADG mx

    Jul 4, 2005
    Also what I thought...
  20. Nitto


    Mar 18, 2007
    Adelaide, South Aus
    If you can read music (or are learning to) Get the book "Jaco pastorius- Modern electric bass" it has a comprehensive outline of the harmonics and where they are on the 'board.. good luck!

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