I was describing harmonics to a friend and it occurred to me that I don't know the convention for naming harmonics on bowed strings. I can read it in standard notation and I recognise the symbols, I just don't the convention for naming them when speaking.

On guitar one would say "play the nth-fret harmonic". So 5th fret or 12th fret harmonic is easy to say, find and reason about.

What would be the equivalent for bowed strings like cello or violin?


2 Answers 2


Thinking back to my string-playing days i recall describing natural harmonics by the resultant pitch of the node you're touching. So you have the 8ve (1st), 8ve & a 5th (2nd), 2 8ve (3rd), 2 8ve & a 3rd (4th), etc, etc. This would certainly be clear most string players — your bass players should be able to play beyond the 5th harmonic.

I have also used descriptions based on the node relative to the nut for higher harmonics — e.g. 8ve (1st), perfect 5th (2nd), perfect 4th (3rd), major 3rd (4th), minor 3rd (5th). This breaks down at a minor 2nd, but these higher harmonics are really only viable on cello & bass. As an aside, artificial harmonics take advantage of these relations, so your string player should understand "the harmonic at the perfect 4th."


If you name the string (for example - E string on the violin) and then the note (E, third ledger line) which has the harmonic sign (o) above it, then that gives all the info you need.

  • The phrasing is a little unclear in your answer but I suspect that isn't enough info. There are atleast two in tune E harmonics at different octaves that could be played if one say play E harmonic on the E string. Feb 20, 2018 at 23:07
  • 1
    I mentioned third ledger line. There can be no confusion as to which E note I was using as an example.
    – Jomiddnz
    Feb 20, 2018 at 23:12

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