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I am currently learning the second and third bagatelles from William Walton's 'Five Bagatelles'. In the second bagatelle, there are chords played as artificial harmonics. Is there any specific technique for doing this? Here is what the sheet music says:

Artificial harmonic chords

I am having difficulty re-creating the sound which i have heard in other performances of the piece. Is there a specific method for playing these chords?

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The "o" above the chord indicates a harmonic as you've said. But I'm sure it means only the top note of the chord should ring out as a harmonic, not the whole chord.

I would finger the three (or so) notes of each chord with the left hand in the usual way, i.e. as the notes are written. Then when sounding the chords with the right hand, hold the index or middle finger lightly against the first string at its midpoint. Sound the notes together and lift the whole hand away as one action - you'll have a chord with one high octave chiming "above" it.

So your left hand will be playing chords as normal, the right hand will be plucking chords but with one finger reaching to around the 12-15th fret gently stopping the top string each time. (It is important to perform this without looking in any way flustered or distressed...)

This will be a demanding bit of technique. I've only used this in simpler ways by playing one bass or accompaniment line plus a melody line above it, picked out in harmonics. On the right hand the thumb plays the bass or accompaniment, the index finger stops melody note harmonics around the upper frets and the little/pinky finger plucks those harmonics nearer the bridge. (Think "Albatross".)

  • Looking at the direction of the note stems i think you are right. The highest note is a different voice to the other two, indicating the harmonic only applies to the top note. – Aric Aug 9 '16 at 11:15
  • @AricFowler good point about the note stems - I hadn't noticed those. Just watched a performance of this by Bream on youtube and his fingers are partly hidden, but it looks like his picking hand is a little further up the strings, with his index finger lightly stopping the harmonics around frets 12-15, and the rest of picking hand is at his (relatively) normal picking angle. I guess his little fingernail is picking the top string quite firmly to get that sound. – Andy Aug 9 '16 at 11:26
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    Perhaps playing the harmonics with your index finger, and plucking with the nail of the middle or ring finger? – Aric Aug 9 '16 at 11:52
  • Yes I suppose you would use any finger that's nearest the string you want to sound. With chords like this you'll probably need to experiment to find which finger works best... Looking at the ease with which Bream played it, I've just lowered my opinion of my own technique :) – Andy Aug 9 '16 at 12:12
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    While you may discover many examples, you can certainly find youtube videos of Steve Morse utilizing the technique that @Aric describes, including this instruction video on artificial harmonics. See youtube.com/watch?v=qadApQ6_K48 for details. I should add that while he illustrates a pick plus finger, he also uses exclusively fingers in some fingerstyle pieces. – Kirk A Aug 9 '16 at 16:34
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With the right hand I would position the index over the harmonic note and use the middle, ring, and pinky to pluck the chord.

Ps. Be sure to grow the pinky nail. :)

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