Side Navigation

Left hand finger positions

Semitonic, Quartertonic and Artificial multiphonics

We can organize the second-class of multiphonics, where the bow is situated closer to the bridge than the left hand, in three general groups of left-hand finger positions. Each group is clearly defined through its own characteristics of sound and playability.

  1. Semitonic multiphonics. Played with fingers in a natural chromatic scale related position. Multiphonics is created by manipulating bow placement, bow pressure and bow speed. This is the most common way of producing a multiphonic sound.
  2. Quartertonic multiphonics. Played with quartertone finger position. Multiphonics is either created on the corresponding harmonic, as with semitonic multiphonics, or by the interference between neighbouring harmonics. Generally, light bow pressure and fast bow speed is needed to create this type of multiphonics. Manipulations of left-hand finger pressure can greatly enhance certain partials in the cord or make the fundamental tone more present.
  3. Artificial multiphonics. This type can be played both as a semitonic multiphonics and as a quartertonic multiphonics. Semitonic artificial multiphonics can be produced with the artificial harmonics of major seconds, minor and major thirds and augmented fourths. Artificial multiphonics of major seconds, minor and major thirds are best performed in the lower positions and they get gradually more difficult to control in the higher positions (above the first thumb position). Artificial multiphonics of augmented fourths is best performed from the 4th or 5th position and upwards (because of the stretching of the fingers). Quartertonic artificial multiphonics is produced with the finger lightly touching the string at a distance of a fourth diminished of a quartertone from the depressed thumb. The sound is then coloured by the interference of the neighbouring harmonics/partials. Glissando is possible with artificial multiphonics.

Notation of finger positions for 2.class multiphonics (Semitonic, quartertonic and artificial multiphonics)

Multiphonics is always notated with the harmonic diamond sign, in tablature notation indicating finger positions rather than musical pitches. I suggest using the symbol M. above or below the note to indicate that it is a multiphonic sound, together with the indication on which string to play the note (in Roman numerals).

Fig. 1. Examples of semitonic multiphonics

Fig. 2. Examples of quartertonic multiphonics

Fig. 3. Examples of artificial multiphonics

Finger pressure

The realisation of certain multiphonics demands a specific left hand finger pressure technique. Variation of finger pressure can in most cases create small changes in the colourisation of the sound due to a suppression or reinforcement of certain overtones. Light finger pressure gives a stronger presence of the fundamental sound, but at the same time it becomes more difficult to keep a totally stable sustained chord. I suggest using the abbreviation l.f.p. (light finger pressure) for specifically indicating a light finger pressure.

Fig.4. Notation of finger pressure

Bow-above-finger multiphonics

For the first-class of multiphonics, the finger is positioned close to the end of the fingerboard or beyond the fingerboard, between bow and bridge. Bow-above-finger multiphonics has generally greater dynamic potential than other multiphonics, but comes with more limited possibilities of being combined with other playing techniques.

Notation of finger positions for first-class multiphonics (Bow-above-finger multiphonics)

I recommend using a symbol created by Stefano Scodanibbio for notating bow-above-finger multiphonics (see fig. 5).

Fig.5. Symbol for notating bow-above-finger multiphonics

This symbol can either indicate a random finger position as shown in fig. 6, or a precise finger position as shown in fig. 7 and 8.

Fig. 6. Stefano Scodanibbio: e/statico

Fig. 7. Håkon Thelin: oibbinadocS

Fig.8. Eivind Buene: Blacklight