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The harm in using harmonics

Discussion in 'Jazz Technique [DB]' started by Basschair, Apr 12, 2005.


  1. Basschair

    Basschair .............. Staff Member Supporting Member

    Feb 5, 2004
    Stockton, Ca
    :rolleyes:

    Do you use the harmonics of notated pitches rather than stopping the string when it's convenient?

    I remember when I had first begun playing, and my teacher was of the opinion that those harmonics, such as the first G above open, were convenient stepping-stones as well as markers for position. I agree, but never took the time to play otherwise.

    Now I'm working on Dvorak "Romantic Pieces" (Ludwin), entirely in thumb positions, and I'm reteaching myself how to play in this position without using harmonics.
     
  2. anonymous0726

    anonymous0726 Guest

    Nov 4, 2001
    For musical reason, I would say use harmonics when this is the sound that you need.
     
  3. Damon Rondeau

    Damon Rondeau Journeyman Clam Artist Supporting Member

    Nov 19, 2002
    Winnipeg, baby
    My teacher and I were talking about this very thing at last night's lesson. He's of the same opinion as your teacher -- don't stop 'em when you're learning, use the harmonic. He still uses the harmonic that way quite often, 'cause it's how he learned.

    He's a good thumb position player, IMO, although he doesn't spend a whole lot of time up there when soloing. But he was showing me how he was having to work hard to get ready for a new classical piece he has to perform in a couple of weeks. In the section of the piece he showed me, you can't get away without stopping the note; the G comes out of nowhere double forte or something like that. So he's having to 'shed it pretty hard to get the piece to sound good.
     
  4. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    Learn to do it both ways, then you can choose either way based on what sounds more appropriate.
     
  5. Basschair

    Basschair .............. Staff Member Supporting Member

    Feb 5, 2004
    Stockton, Ca
    Thanks for the responses, guys.

    I guess my follow-up question would be do you think it's a disservice to students to teach them to rely on harmonics without eventually working in stopping the strings at those points as well.
     
  6. EFischer1

    EFischer1 Guest

    Mar 17, 2002
    New York, New York
    I suppose that depends on your goal. If your goal is to get the student playing in thumb position as soon as possible so that they can begin to become comfortable and familiar with playing there, then it is a great way to teach.

    Sometimes, though, this is not practical for younger students who may need use of these notes to compete with their peers.

    I think that, although teaching students to stop the notes would certainly be the best way to learn, as it promotes the solid development of good intonation, teachers sometimes feel pressured by their students to begin working in these positions.
     
  7. Damon Rondeau

    Damon Rondeau Journeyman Clam Artist Supporting Member

    Nov 19, 2002
    Winnipeg, baby
    Yes, it gets students going in TP earlier. As a totally separate function, though, it gets you playing in tune up there by giving you an absolute tonal reference.

    I was practicing some Gomez terrritory stuff the other day and my daughter came into the practice room. "Daddy, is your bass broken? It doesn't sound good today."
     
  8. Using harmonics as a tonal reference is a great point! I'm playing the Bach G major cello prelude and not only do the harmonics ring better (adding to the open sounding,cello-like, feel of playing the prelude at pitch) it helps me stay in G major instead of traveling sharp or flat.

    I would think it would be most benefical to introduce a student to TP using harmonics but not relying on them. Possibly practicing 1x hramonics for every 5x without. Unless the studnt actually knows where the note is they will begin to use harmonics to cheat which is very unproductive in the long run.
     
  9. Basschair

    Basschair .............. Staff Member Supporting Member

    Feb 5, 2004
    Stockton, Ca

    I agree with this, as well as with harmonics as a tonal reference. What I'm wondering is this: if you start a student out using harmonics in thumb position as the tonal reference, aren't you doing them a disservice if you don't eventually teach them to also be able to stop these notes, so that they can do either?
     
  10. Damon Rondeau

    Damon Rondeau Journeyman Clam Artist Supporting Member

    Nov 19, 2002
    Winnipeg, baby
    The other thing I like about learners leaning heavily on harmonics is that it gets you to internalize the nature of the string in its own terms. Strings don't come with 12-step scales painted on 'em. People put position markers on their bass and catch crap from other people at TalkBass.

    But those harmonics did come with the string. They are in and of the string, they are the string, in the string's own terms. String players -- as opposed to fret pressers -- should relate to the string's nodal points as naturally as breathing air.
     
  11. Uncletoad

    Uncletoad

    May 6, 2003
    Columbus Ohio
    Proprietor Fifth Avenue Fret Shop. Technical Editor Bass Gear Magazine
    Oh yea. Nice.
     
  12. Basschair

    Basschair .............. Staff Member Supporting Member

    Feb 5, 2004
    Stockton, Ca
    As an BG/DB player, I've oftern wondered why so many bass guitarists don't take advantage of the harmonics, either for effect or for convience, aside from the fact that the frets are there.
     
  13. anonymous0726

    anonymous0726 Guest

    Nov 4, 2001
    Harmonics have a different sound and the pitch isn't tempered. Keep in this in mind. You should take care that you are 'saying' what you want to say and not be distracted by the comfort of that 'free' note. And also watch out for habits. What you do in the practice room always will come out on the gig, or in other words, you play what you practice.
     
  14. Basschair

    Basschair .............. Staff Member Supporting Member

    Feb 5, 2004
    Stockton, Ca
    Good point: I have been put in my place.
     
  15. Damon Rondeau

    Damon Rondeau Journeyman Clam Artist Supporting Member

    Nov 19, 2002
    Winnipeg, baby
    Me too. I like someone else saying it though.
     
  16. Often my problem with stopping a note at the octave is that the string rings between the stop and the nut as well as the stop and the bridge. If the stop isn't perfect, the two resulting notes produce a hideous beating sound. I'm inclined to practice stopping but use the harmonic on the job.
    There's no substitute for practice...
     
  17. Harmonics can be a good intonation reference and are easy to grab if the harmonic is the first note after certain shifts. But the difficulty I have, and imo the time when they should not be employed, is when the note is already under your hand or the type of shift necessary doesn't require the energy from your hand to come out of the string, eg. shifting 1 to 4.
     
  18. Basschair

    Basschair .............. Staff Member Supporting Member

    Feb 5, 2004
    Stockton, Ca
    I'd still endorse having both options open...for me, the slow, melodic passages really call out for stopping the note so that an amount of vibrato can be put on it, where as in faster passages vibrato is not as necessary as intonation of the scale patterns which express the overall tonality of the passage. Of course, that's how my style has developed (and is still developing), and that's one of the reasons why I brought it up initially: to get all of your thoughts in case I'm just way off, which has been known to happen. :rolleyes:
     
  19. EFischer1

    EFischer1 Guest

    Mar 17, 2002
    New York, New York

    I understand your point. But with methods like that of George Vance that have students playing in thumb position extremely young, would you actually expect a child of 10 or 12 to only use the harmonic once out of six times when the harmonic is clearly easier when they are starting?

    My only contention is that, for me, it would have been easier to learn to use the harmonics at a later age than it was to learn to play stopped notes in thumb position IN TUNE at a later age.
     

  20. I understand your point but it seems I spend an quite a bit of time "unlearning" bad habits and it would be better to have a student attempt to tackle it right away instead of creating a problme to fix later in life.

    It seems that what is taught to young students should relefect actual practice as much as possible. We don't want to leave young players disillusioned; thinking one thing is common practice when they are told to do it our of ease.