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Discussion in 'Orchestral Technique [DB]' started by aliasneo, Feb 22, 2001.

  1. aliasneo


    Feb 22, 2001
    I'm playing a piece (an excerpt from Ravel) which requires an F natural harmonic (F two above middle C), but there appears to be no way to do this.
    How is it possible?

  2. There are F natural harmonics on the G string. I'm not sure it's the right octave, but they exist. I believe it's the 6th harmonic in the series. At the double octave you get G, B, D then F natural.

    Are you sure the resultant pitch is supposed to be an F natural? Often Ravel wrote the harmonics where they should be actually played - he would name the string and over which note to place your finger. This often results in quite a different pitch entirely.

    What piece and movement is this in? If I knew that I might be able to better help if I have the music handy here. I have a few Ravel parts in my files.
  3. Bassturbator

    Bassturbator Guest

    Jan 26, 2001
    Show-Low, AZ

    Although I am unfamiliar with the works of Ravel, I do know that some of these "harmonics" found in similar genres of music often do not exist on some bass viols. For these i have given the name "false harmonics", as in incorrect. The composer probably had the intention of producing the notated pitch, but obviously was not familiar with our system of flageoletts. I find it most effective to tune my tailpiece before a performance to match the pitches of the designated "false harmonics". I then bow below the bridge to produce "the harmonic effect". Just hope there are no more than 4 incorrect harmonics in the piece.

  4. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY

    How does one go about "tuning one's tailpiece"?
  5. Bassturbator

    Bassturbator Guest

    Jan 26, 2001
    Show-Low, AZ
  6. From what I understand though, this isn't the purpose of the adjustable tailpiece. I believe it is meant to allow the player to tune the portion of the string behind the tailpiece to sound at the
    fifth (plus however many octaves) the open string is tuned to. For example, the portion of the G string behind the bridge would be tuned to D. This supposedly has some effect on how the string resonates.
  7. Well, tunable tailpieces can be very useful for dealing with wolf tones (gee, that's something I can't remember ever being discussed here!). I used to have an old Italian bass that had really bad wolf problems - an adjustable tailpiece can help greatly fixing wolfs (or is it wolves?!) Otherwise, most people use metal weights on one of the tailpiece strings to help control a wolf.

    Back to the original question...

    If your piece is by Ravel, most of the time he wrote down what string to play on and then he would 'hollow' out the note head to indicate the harmonic is to be found under that note. I can't recall where he ever indicated the desired resultant pitch (although there may be cases of it).

    I have to play a piece by Ravel next week with the symphony here and there is a harmonic written on the F natural - but the D string is indicated and you are supposed play the note located at that point on the D string. In this case, the resultant pitch is actually a high A (3 octaves above your open A). To see it written on the page, it just looks like a hollowed out F natural but that is not at all the pitch that should come out.

    I actually tend to play many of the Ravel harmonics in different places than indicated. I first figure out what pich he's looking for, then I'm often able to find a clearer, more secure way of fingering it. For example - in the above case, instead of playing over top of the F natural in first position, I get a much more clear sounding harmonic in thumb position by doing a sort of 'split' harmonic. I place my thumb on the octave D harmonic and place my third finger on the A harmonic above that. With both lightly pressed, I get a much louder and clearer version of that high A harmonic.
  8. They don't exist how? Some basses don't have all twelve notes and therefore can't produce harmonics of those notes? The makers of some basses forgot to build those harmonics into the instrument? What?
  9. BassLix66


    Jan 26, 2000

    Mr. Bassturbator has a point with the tunable tailpiece. I do the same quite often, although I do not have adjustors on my tailpiece. Instead pull the tail piece really hard. I don't do this manually, of coarse (the first time I did, and I almost tore the bridge off), but rather I use a complicated system of magnets, allen head wrenches, electrical wires, and duct tape. I have just patented this, so be on the lookout for "Tailpiece Tuners" in music stores throughout the country. Another thing you can do is detune your bass. You said it was an F harmonic? Well, if there are any bars of rest, you can tune your G down a step (to an F) to play the harmonic. Of coarse, to compinsate for the lack of tension, you would have to tune your E up a step (to F#). I do this quite often. Gerde Rienke, the greatest contrabass player in the world, does this all the time. Anyways, if you don't want to bother with the tailpiece or the tuning of the strings, I believe you'll find a natural F harmonic on the G string, above fingerboard (above the second octave). Good luck!
  10. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY

    "Mr. Bassturbator" made his debut on this board with one of the most obnoxious posts I have ever seen. If I recall correctly, the first word out of his mouth was "Idiot", and it was directed at one of the most helpful and knowledgeable members of this forum. This response had several other members of the forum - including myself - poised and ready to bind his ridiculously monikered ass up with a very simple system of electrical wires and duct tape and toss it out the door tailpiece first. We wouldn't even have needed the magnets and allen head wrenches. He'll get very little sympathy around here with that attitude.

    Any composer worth his salt knows damn well which harmonics are and are not possible on the instruments he is writing for. Certainly Ravel did. If a composer wants to write a harmonic in a piece that is not naturally possible on that instrument, the onus is on the composer to explain how that harmonic is to be produced, not on the performer to alter his instrument in order to play it. Writing "nonexistent" harmonics with no explanation is an orchestrational gaffe of the same magnitude as writing pitches which lie outside the range of the instrument. Any first year orchestration student knows better than that.
  11. Don Higdon

    Don Higdon In Memoriam

    Dec 11, 1999
    Princeton Junction, NJ
    You are not only unfamiliar with the works of Ravel, you also are apparently ignorant of the fact that Ravel was one of the finest orchestrators of all time. Any notion that Ravel did not know what note could be produced by ANY instrument is assinine.
  12. Don Higdon

    Don Higdon In Memoriam

    Dec 11, 1999
    Princeton Junction, NJ
    Yeah, on some basses - excuse me, sir, bass viols - you just never know which of these harmonics won't sound. I've been experimenting with secondary sound posts, tuned to the particular missing harmonic. I keep a Korg tuning machine right next to my lathe. The ends must be slightly rounded and sanded, because when they're fitted in place sometimes the harmonic is overly loud, in which case I have to slip a condom over the post to act as a filter. The degree of muting can be precisely adjusted by how far you unroll it. This can be done either by a luthier or a musical urologist
  13. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    Careful now! You can't just mention the old "condom over the secondary soundpost" trick without specifying that the condom be of the unlubricated variety. Using the lubricated kind for the purpose of muting overly loud unnatural harmonics can cause the secondary soundpost to fall in the middle of a performance, often with disastrous results. I hate it when that happens.

    Perhaps a better system using magnets, duct tape, super glue, and industrial strength "L" brackets could be implemented to rectify this problem. You just can't be too careful with those missing harmonics...
  14. rablack


    Mar 9, 2000
    Houston, Texas
    Sounds like some enterprising tuning machine manufacturer might find a market for a double bass (oops... bass viol) version of the Scruggs tuners used by banjo players. Just crank that string down to the preset note with confidence. When yer done wind 'er back up to pitch. He he he, Mister Ravel yew gotta get up pretty early in the morning to slip one past us bull fiddle players.
  15. ME? :eek: :oops: Aw, Shucks, Thanks DURRL, But if you recall, he was dealt with accordingly on that thread as well. As a rule, I try to help people who legitimately ask for help that I am somewhat qualified to give. But I do not suffer fools with inflated egos and childish insults gladly. As Don said in his dubious complement, "In the Battle of Wits, you shot an unarmed Man". So be it, and I don't think there's a Jury that would convict me!
  16. Galen McAllister

    Galen McAllister

    Feb 28, 2000
    OK, so how 'bout a serious answer (tho' I hate to discourage the creative soundpost stuff... I'm ROTFL!)...

    The bible for harmonics in Ravel's music is "The Notation of Harmonics for Double Bass: A Guide to the Orchestral Bass Parts of Maurice Ravel in Simplified Chart Form" by Lucas Drew, University of Miami Music Publications, available through Lemur for 3 or 4 bucks. If you're gonna play Ravel, get it.

    According to Lucas Drew (who should know - I rate him one of the top 5 bass educators of the last century, along w/ Murray Grodner, who founded Lemur, Stewart Sankey, Barry Green, and Ray Brown), Ravel used these general rules in notating harmonics:

    A diamond-shaped note head indicates "tablature" - it's the spot on the string where you should place your finger to get the desired note.

    If there's a regular note below it, it indicates the string on which to play the note.

    If there's a regular note above it, it indicates the 'actual' sound you should hear when you touch the node indicated by the diamond-headed note. I put 'actual' in quotes because, like all bass parts, it's written an octave above the real sound (betcha didn't know you're playing a transposing instrument, didja?)

    But sometimes, Ravel wrote "sons reels", meaning "actual pitch" - that is, not transposed by an octave.

    Which brings us to what I suspect you're looking at: in either L'enfant et les Sortileges or L'Heure Espagnole, you see an F natural, the second one above middle C, with the little circle above it, and the mark "sons reels".

    Because it's "actual pitch", this should sound yet another octave higher - as though it were the F that sits atop the third line above the treble staff.

    This note is the 7th of the harmonic series on the G string, which you can find in (remember high-school physics?) six different places on that string.

    Have fun!...

    An additional note - outside of Ravel, notation of harmonics is not very uniform, even if you don't get into "false harmonics" or "sliding" a harmonic... If you send me an e-mail to request it, once I get back in country (probably late April), I'll be happy to send you the handout from a workshop on the subject that I wrote for the Bozeman Bass Bash several years back... that is, if I can still find it!
  17. Galen McAllister

    Galen McAllister

    Feb 28, 2000
    Oops... reviewing the previous posts, I thought I should add a little something about "false harmonics" after all. There is a fairly broadly accepted version of what a "false harmonic" is... and guess what:

    False harmonics are really true harmonics!... allow me to explain:

    on any open string, you can obtain a "harmonic series" by touching the string at the appropriate nodal point - 1/3 or 2/3 of the string length, for example, gives you D natural (an octave plus a 5th) on the G string, 1/4 gives you G above the treble staff, etc.... of course, due to a little inconvenience often referred to as the principles of physics, there are only certain notes available to you in that harmonic series, all of which are determined by the fundamental note - that is, the note of the open string. Worse yet, some of 'em sound out of tune

    But now, suppose you create a string of a different pitch? Put your finger on the G string at the D, and in effect you've created a string that's tuned to D... which means that it's got the same harmonic series as your D string, only an octave higher (and in a shorter string).

    So if you can simultaneously stop the string on D, say, with your first finger, and reach out with your fourth to lightly touch a node in its harmonic series, you'll get that very real harmonic - we just call 'em false because they're not on the open string. Try it, it's a hoot!...

    Not enough fun w/ harmonics yet? Try sliding one - for example, play the harmonic on the G string at the D location, which should sound as D an octave higher. As it's sounding, press your finger to the fingerboard and slide up to the octave G, and see what happens...

    And then there's the seagull imitation... there's no end to the possible fun here!

    Want great use of harmonics? Check out the version of the pink panther theme on the album from Un Ottavo Sotto Sopra (an italian bass quartet), which uses harmonics (I'm not sure if they're sliding them or de-tuning while playing) to give a very credible imitation of a police siren...

    But hey, I'm getting carried away. Try it out and have fun!

  18. dhosek


    May 25, 2000
    Los Angeles, CA
    The poster indicating that this is accessible as a seventh partial was right on. The easiest place to find it is over the low Bb on the G string (the 6th partial which is the D a minor third below is at a sharp Bb which makes this a somewhat difficult partial to reach).

    At home I've got a photocopy of an excellent article on the harmonic series on the bass which covers most of what you would need to know about finding the partials, although it doesn't cover most of the "false" harmonics which can be very useful for extending the upper range of the bass (particularly using a fifth partial from thumb position).

  19. Jon Stefaniak

    Jon Stefaniak Supporting Member

    Sep 2, 2000
    Tokyo, Japan
    Thats tricky... false harmonics require a very accurate fourth finger. Mine always sound as horrid squeeks and groans.

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