I'm trying to learn the song 'Portrait of Tracy' by Jaco Pastorius on electric bass, based on the notation of the book The Essential Jaco Pastorius, but there is this part that I don't understand.

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As you can see, the first note of the bar is a D# harmonic, with a 'H.H.' written on top.

I cannot understand exactly what the note below is trying to say. Playing the B on the 2nd fret of the A string and the harmonic of the 6th fret is nearly impossible. Not only for me, but also for a bassist friend that has huge fingers.

Is this the only way to play this part?

  • Is that a typo where it says "2nd fret of the H string"? – NReilingh May 15 '15 at 8:38
  • @NReilingh I have no idea – Shevliaskovic May 15 '15 at 8:44
  • H.H. - I believe from my violin pedagogy class there's a "Half Harmonic", notated similarly. It is important not to produce any harmonics here; the result should be a veiled, almost immaterial and hardly perceptible coloring of the dominating string sound produced by the stopped note [...] only lightly touched, in conjunction with the “flautato” bowing. - from here – Josiah May 15 '15 at 18:46
  • H.H. presumably means 'half harmonic' here. The main note and the harmonic sound simultaneously. – PiedPiper 8 hours ago

My expectation is that indeed Jaco was able to stretch to the 6th fret. Two options you may consider are:

  • Fret overhand instead of under. You can probably even use your thumb to hit the harmonic in this position.
  • Change it to a pinch harmonic by fretting the 2nd fret B, and pinching with your plucking hand such that the pinch point is equidistant from the bridge as the 6th fret was from the 2nd. (Harmonics are symmetrical around the center point of the vibrating length of string.)
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  • Your first idea will work, but messes up the next bar. The 'opposite' harm. is better, and could even apply to the next pair of notes, also harmonics. – Tim May 15 '15 at 9:24

If you check out Jaco's video "Modern Electric Bass"

, around 35:00 you can see that he does actually finger 2nd fret with his left hand on the A string while stretching his pinky finger up to 6th fret. Really interesting part in the video as he talks about harmonic technique in general. This guy also shows you how to do it

If it's too far to stretch, you can just finger the B at 7th fret on the E string and stretch your pink up to 11th fret to get the harmonic. Same note, shorter stretch. This is what I do, but I do find it a little harder to get a clean sounding note probably because the string is shorter.

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I don't know how Pastorius played it but two standard techniques would be:

  1. Use your right-hand index finger to touch the A string above the sixth fret (well, actually the sweet spot is a bit lower), and pluck the string with your right-hand pinky.

  2. Same as above, but use your right-hand thumb to pluck the string.

These techniques are very useful anyway, because they are often the only option if you want a harmonic different from the major third of the fretted note.

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  • Seems a long way to move the right hand, when the same (equivalent) nodes are about where it would normally be plucking. – Tim May 15 '15 at 9:26
  • @Tim: It's of course the player's choice, but there are two advantages to what I've described: 1. it's usually easier to find the sweet spot because you can use the frets as orientation. 2. It works for all harmonics, not only for those that can also be found close to the bridge. – Matt L. May 15 '15 at 9:31
  • Maybe I'm not understanding, but all harmonics have places up and down the string - apart from 12th fret! 7th is at 19, 5th is at 24, etc. I use pups etc to locate them at the bridge end. – Tim May 15 '15 at 10:12
  • @Tim: Yeah, you're right. I didn't mean that you can't find them between 12th fret and bridge, but sometimes they're not that close to the bridge as in this case. Of course you can use PU location etc. but that's different for every guitar and it only works if you've checked that out for a particular case, but the location by frets always works, also when improvising, i.e. without having checked out the exact location of the harmonic beforehand. – Matt L. May 15 '15 at 10:18
  • That's fine, I suppose it's what you get used to. Heard the harmonics solo by JP in Birdland ?I suppose you just move both hands in a sort of parallel motion. – Tim May 15 '15 at 16:20

Stretching to the 6th fret isn't impossible, it becomes so if your bass is not on the optimal setting to really get that D# to ring out. Assuming you can shift pickups on your bass, shift to the bridge pickup, turn your bass low and treble about mid-range. Now you don't have to stretch to the absolute end of the 6th fret, it buys you about 4cm of space. Test your bass amp settings with the intro run of harmonics Jaco plays before the main riff, he seemed to do the same from the live videos. If you can hear the F# harmonic (played on the D string, again, during the intro) as clearly as the other notes, iit will ring when you eventually have to stretch to play the D#

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