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Aug 23, 2021 - 3:32:02 PM
347 posts since 2/23/2019

I've been working through a Bach booklet and harmonics pop up every now and then in the arrangements of certain pieces. Just curious how prevalent harmonics were in original works back then and which instruments 'could do them' - all stringed instruments or other types as well?

Aug 23, 2021 - 5:18:08 PM

2706 posts since 3/30/2008

Part of the voice of a snare drum entails harmonics. The snare (steel, brass, gut, chord) on the bottom head is often thought of as just a rattle sound, but they are adjusted to kiss the head in such a way to create an octave note the way that lightly touching a string at the 12th fret creates a harmonic.

Edited by - tdennis on 08/23/2021 17:21:13

Aug 23, 2021 - 5:52:06 PM

1203 posts since 1/9/2012

The tabla is the classical drum from India with a black patch in the middle. The pitch of the fundamental mode (i.e., the whole head going up and down) can be easily tuned for each performance by tightening the tension chords. (You whack an intervening toggle with a hammer.) The black patch is carefully constructed so that the harmonics (resonances) of the head are moved from their bare head frequencies to integer multiples of the fundamental (approximately and only the first four or so). Placing fingers or the side of the hand at node lines can elicit a recognizable note, much like harmonics on a string. The physics was first discussed by C.V. Raman.

Aug 23, 2021 - 6:30:52 PM

1203 posts since 1/9/2012

I thought of another one: the overtone flute, a folk instrument found in Scandanavia, Hungary, and probably elsewhere. It's a pipe without sound holes, long and thin. It might have a recorder-like fipple or mouthpiece or just an open blowing end. In that case, you need serious embouchure skill. There are two interleaved series of harmonics, one with both ends open and the other produced by closing the far end with finger or hand. The open-open series is the same as the harmonics of the string. Using both open-open and open-closed, along the way (the analog of string harmonics played at the 5th, 4th, etc. frets) there is something approximating a major scale -- but it has one more note before you reach the octave.

Some are about 2' long with a 1/2" bore. Others are several feet long with a 1 1/2" bore. Those lengths require that the pipe bend back around so that you can blow in one end and reach the other. (I've made the whole range out of PVC and can play them -- sort of.)

I find the sound surprisingly mysterious.

Aug 23, 2021 - 9:32:24 PM

347 posts since 2/23/2019

Hmm, I don't think I asked my question correctly. I'm not really asking what instruments are capable of performing harmonics (or chimes as they're sometimes called in banjo tablature) in general but if certain instruments that were used in the days of Bach and other Baroque composers were able to do them (such as violin, bass, etc.) and if harmonics/chimes appeared in Baroque pieces as they were originally written...?

Aug 24, 2021 - 5:25:06 AM
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11010 posts since 4/23/2004

There are two main sources for violin technique in the period: Leopold Mozart and an Italian named Gemnini (or something like that). I would check them out.

The typical baroque violin doesn't use the chin, but rests lower on the chest...which limits movement up the neck and requires the left hand to support as well as note...which means shifting is more difficult.

Notationally, I don't know if there was a way to write them then...

Aug 24, 2021 - 6:14:06 AM
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8983 posts since 8/28/2013

Any of those baroque instruments would have been capable of producing harmonics; it's a simple physical property of vibrating strings..Whether or not their use by composers or performers was common is another question.

Edited by - G Edward Porgie on 08/24/2021 06:14:58

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