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Notate Harmonics

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  • 2 weeks later...
Can't speak for logic, but for artificial harmonics i write the fingered note regularly, touch (harmonic) finger with that little diamond, and for the first harmonic in the score with brackes "( )" the sounding pitch of the resulting harmonic.
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  • 1 year later...
Yeah, this is a muddy area of notation practice. You might want to get a copy of Behind Bars by Elaine Gould, the most authoritative book on modern practices I know of. Some composers just use the little "O" over notes at sounding pitch and leave the sorting out to the players. Others are more precise and so write the stopped pitch, the touch pitch above that, and the pitch produced. This has both pros and cons. The benefit is that in rehearsal, etc., players don't have to take time to sort out how to produce the harmonic at the pitch you want. The downside is that for many harmonics, there are all sorts of different positions and fingerings that will produce the same harmonic and players may choose, whether you write out your own solution or not, different ways to get the right pitch. Keeping track of a player's fingers and what will work best can get extremely complicated and a passage is often executed on the player's personal preference -- for good reason. Elaine's book discusses the ins and outs of these and all variations in between. Personally, I think it really comes down to you choosing the style you prefer and using that consistently in your score.
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Eric, for me it depends on the piece. For viols, if all harmonics are natural, I write them at sounding pitch with a small circle above each note (or below if multiple parts on the same staff require) and, of course, I explain that in the score, e.g "harmonics at sounding pitch" to avoid confusion. If it's a double stop, I place two circles above the staff to make that clear. I like this method because it leaves the player to find their preferred method of sounding -- rather than my non-string player suggestions! It is reasonable enough to use this method for all harmonics, natural or not, but when artificial harmonics are involved or I have a very specific notion, I use the more specific method showing the stopped pitch and the pitch to touch (4th, 5th, major or minor 3rd above, as needed). As is common, I write the stopped pitch with an ordinary notehead, the touched pitch with a hollow diamond notehead. No circle is added since that'd be redundant. In this method, double stops take two different stems up and down, etc. This is very helpful to players and rehearsal time, even though players may still choose a different method to get the same harmonic. In rare instances when I use a minor or major 3rd, I also indicate the sounding pitch as an unstemmed small note in parentheses. Pro players read harmonics at the 4th and 5th with ease, but these other intervals are less familiar so the sounding pitch helps clarify. This method can often get messy looking if there are lots of these in an orchestral score. Elaine Gould in her fantastically helpful book on notation (the best I know), recommends that all harmonics be notated showing where the fingers are placed, but does allow that it's sometimes acceptable or appropriate to use the circle and notate at sounding pitch. So, I'm not a complete heretic, just partial.


For other instruments I follow Gould's recommendations.


Guitars can use notehead and circle or diamond noteheads -- closed or open depending in duration. Diamond heads are recommended. Less common harmonics, again 3rd, etc., may use the viol method with ordinary and diamond head for clarity.


I write Harp harmonics one octave below sounding pitch since they produce their sound an octave above and this identifies the string to be played -- ordinary notehead and the circle. There are also harmonics available at the 12th and 17th on the harp. Don't recall ever writing them, but if you're wondering, the recommendation is to indicate the string to be played with an ordinary notehead, add a circle below, and show the sounding pitch as a small ordinary notehead in parentheses.


Harmonics can of course be produced on piano as well. Notate the pitch to be played on the keyboard in normal fashion. Show the sounding pitch with a small notehead in brackets and a circle above. It's important to specify in text the node to touched: 1/2, 1/3, 3/4 of the string length. Usually written as "Touch the node at the nth partial."


As always, if you have reason to deviate from these practices, it's best to clarify in boxed text or a footnote.

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