Harmonics from Symphonic Dances from Fiddler on the Roof by Jerry Bock arranged by Ira Hearshen

In the bridge to the last section of the Symphonic Dances from Fiddler on the Roof by Jerry Bock arranged by Ira Hearshen there are four bars of harmonics 217 - 220. The last two make sense to me: first finger on C on the A string (i.e. first finger in 2nd position) and then lightly touch the fourth finger where it would sound an F if pressed, and the resulting harmonic sounds as a high C. But the previous two duplicated bars are a bit of a mystery to me. Here's my guess: it's a chord (which we could split between us on the orchestral desk) with the bottom note a straightforward B natural (i.e. first position first finger on the A string) and the higher note a harmonic on the E string where the fourth finger would sound a B natural were it pressed right onto the finger board (which will sound a B natural an octave above as a harmonic). I've looked up the section on string harmonics in Behind Bars but I am still confused. If this is an artificial harmonic then (1) it is a heck of a stretch, and (2) why isn't the note that sounds written in in brackets as it is in the following bars?

2 Answers 2


Any harmonic indications that are not based off of an open string are "artificial" harmonics. So, all of the harmonics in the excerpt are in fact artificial.

The third harmonic is notated correctly, however, the first two are not notated correctly. When notating an octave harmonic on an open string, a harmonic symbol is used (looks like a degree symbol - " ° ") and not diamond-shaped notes, which should only be used for notating harmonics that not octave harmonics on open strings.

In addition to open string harmonics, the following combinations are possible and may be performed from any pitch:

  • Perfect fifth - sounds octave + P5 higher
  • Perfect fourth - sounds 2 octaves higher
  • Major third / Major sixth - sounds 2 octaves + M3 higher
  • Minor third - sounds 2 octaves + P5 higher

As you can see, the first two harmonics do not fit into any of the above combinations, are obviously not open strings, have no string indications, or have any indicated resultant pitches - no wonder you're confused!


  • Talk to the conductor - they should be more familiar with the score than anyone save the composer, and should be able to clear up any confusion concerning parts or otherwise.

  • Check your part with the score, see if you can discern the sounding pitch from the score's context.

  • If possible, check another version of the part / score to mitigate editing inconsistencies.

  • If nothing works, use the B natural as the resulting pitch and use a harmonic that works for you.

  • Thanks jjmusicnotes. +1 for the advice section; I've asked the front desk of our section (I'm a 2nd violinist) and I'll chat it through with our conductor at rehearsal tomorrow.
    – dumbledad
    Jun 25, 2013 at 6:44
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    Glad I can help - I'm curious to hear what the consensus is. Jun 25, 2013 at 7:51
  • Me too! It's interesting that respected texts differ.
    – dumbledad
    Jun 25, 2013 at 9:58

I've re-read the section on Harmonics in the Strings chapter of Elaine Gould's "Behind Bars: the Definitive Guide to Music Notation" (pp 413-424).

Gould describes natural harmonics as "the open string [...] touched lightly to produce a harmonic (also called an 'overtone' or 'partial') at various points ('nodes') along the string" and goes on to explain that "natural harmonics are written at sounding pitch with a small circle above the note", just as jjmusicnotes points out in her/his answer.

But Gould goes on to explain an "alternative notation for harmonics" thus:

The second harmonic (the octave) divides the string into equal halves. To write the third to sixth harmonic at pitch implies that they are produced on the upper half of the string, between the octave harmonic and the bridge [...]. The same harmonics can also be produced on the lower half of the string, between the octave harmonic and the tuning peg [...].
To indicate that harmonics are to be played on the lower part of the string, add a diamond-shaped note at the position where the finger touches the string.

(N.B. Gould's Behind Bars is published by Faber Music.)

So in the example that was troubling me in the original question the diamond-shaped note on the first position E string B (fourth finger) in the first two bars is the natural open-string harmonic sounding the third harmonic an octave above the E in a double-stop with a B (non-harmonic) on the A string.

  • My answers are from the Kurt Stone and Gardner Reed books on notation and the Alfred Blatter and Samuel Adler texts on orchestration. The Gould text you reference isn't incorrect - as you divide the string into equal parts, you can actually produce the same harmonic by touching several different parts of the string, however, some are more stable than others. The intervals I outlined in my answer are the most stable. It isn't good to assume the 1st harmonic is on the E string as the string is not specified with roman numerals, "sul", or a written pitch. Jun 25, 2013 at 7:57
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    I emailed Elaine Gould to check it was OK to plonk quotes from her book in my post and she kindly emailed back including some thoughts on better ways to notate the passage: "some string indications e.g. sul I + II, or with an additional open E in brackets. Tied minims would be even better as one could then label the strings at the end of the stems. The chord would, of course, be much clearer written on 2 staves if divisi, which would surely be the case in an orchestral context."
    – dumbledad
    Jun 26, 2013 at 12:46

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