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This video seems to suggest to me you can. What is the technique called and how is it played?

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Yes. There's a lesson on how to do it on YouTube. For the right hand, place the back of finger 2 on the centre of the string. Pluck with the thumb (finger 1), and immediately remove the whole hand to allow the string to vibrate. For the left hand, the technique is a bit different - the palm of the hand blocks the string instead.

You end up with a note one octave up from normal, but with a distinctive sound.

If you're not sure where the centre of the string is, here's a trick I found. Keep plucking the string with a finger of one hand, while gently sliding finger 2 on the other hand up and down the string. Most of the time you get a dull thud, but at the exact centre, the string will start to ring.

  • There's no need to immediately remove anything. As the small section touched doesn't vibrate - a node, you can in fact touch at that point again, without stopping the string sounding. Move a millimetre either way and touch - sound's dead. – Tim Dec 24 '16 at 8:27
  • @Tim- that's true if the width of your finger touching the string is zero. But because it isn't, the string will ring longer, as a rule, if you remove your finger after plucking. Try it yourself. The difference is especially noticeable on the higher strings. – Scott Wallace Jul 19 '17 at 21:08
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Harmonics can be played on any stringed instrument. It involves touchng the string at a node. The simplest is the octave, which is exactly half way along the string. This gives a sound an octave above the open string, as it divides the string into two vibrating parts, which vibrate twice as fast as the original. Easy to do on guitar, as is the one third touch, making a sound one fifth above the original. Obviously, there are two nodes for this. If you want to do this on guitar, they're above the 7th and 19th fretwires.

  • It might be worth clarifying the difference between natural and artificial harmonics and then confirming whether or not it is possible to play artificial harmonics on a harp. I suspect it is not possible to play artificial harmonics, but I'm not at all experienced in playing a harp so there may be some technique that is not intuitive to me that would make it possible. – Todd Wilcox Dec 22 '16 at 20:37
  • @Tim I think you meant the 12th - i.e. a fifth higher than the first harmonic - when you touch at one third distance rather than the fifth. – JimM Dec 22 '16 at 20:51
  • @JimM - 12th fret= one octave higher. 7th fret = a fifth, like 19th fret. – Tim Dec 22 '16 at 21:09
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    @ToddWilcox - good point. I can only guess, that natural harmonics work, due to them being played using open strings, but artificial ones won't work. However, since all notes are available open natural ones will suffice. On guitar it's different, as there's only 6 strings, but each can be fretted, so artificial ones are simple to produce. On the violin family, natural ones are, I think , the only ones available.No doubt somebody will verify, or not. – Tim Dec 23 '16 at 9:02
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    To answer the practical question: yes, one can and does play harmonics on the harp. I do. – Scott Wallace Dec 23 '16 at 15:03
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Yes, harmonics are beautiful on the harp, and quite common.

The symbol in sheet music for a harmonic is a small circle placed above or below the note head, usually opposite the stem. There has been some variation in how the harmonics are noted, as the legendary Carlos Salzedo liked to write the harmonic in the octave where it will sounds rather than where it is played. However, most composers now put the harmonic note where it is played and it will sound one octave higher. If a composer wishes to use Salzedo's method it is customary to inscribe "Harmonics are written where they sound and played an octave lower" in the preface notes for the performer.

Learning to play harmonics well in both hands is a significant topic in harp lessons. The hand position for left hand harmonics is quite different from that of right, and there are stylistic differences for both hands among different teaching methods. Double and even triple harmonics can be played, depending on which notes are desired and which hand is playing them. Playing harmonics on different harps will require adjustment because there is so much variation in the physical dimensions of different brands and styles of harp.

  • If anyone's interested in the use of both octave and twelfth harmonics (on a six-stringed lyre, but the principle is the same as on the harp), check this out: soundcloud.com/scott-wallace-189088488/slippages – Scott Wallace Jul 19 '17 at 21:12
  • I should point out that the harmonics In this recording are produced differently than the classical method- I pluck with one hand and stop the node with the other- but the physical basis of the sound is the same. – Scott Wallace Jul 20 '17 at 10:01

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