Volume 16, October 2022
A Technical Guidance for the Dragonetti Concerto In A Major By Édouard Nanny and Beyond

by Irmak Sabuncu

4. Harmonics

One of the reasons for choosing the Dragonetti Concerto for this article is that it can be used to teach the fundamentals of basic double bass techniques, including playing harmonics. As a practice method, addressing the challenge as a horizontal and vertical approach is helpful for the beginner level. Vertical playing means arpeggios on the same string executed by position change, while horizontal playing is a lyrical passage in the same position in the high register managed by string crossing. A selection from the first movement of the concerto that exemplifies vertical playing is shown below in Example 4.

Example 4

Example 4. Dragonetti, Concerto in A Major, I, mm. 108–115

Vertical Playing in Harmonics

Picture 7 depicts the recommended hand shape for the first position. Generally, the first three notes of the arpeggio are played using the thumb, first, and third fingers, respectively. The inward first finger will help the third finger to reach the third note of the arpeggio.

Picture 7

Picture 7

It is more effective to have an approach that considers each octave as one hand position (Pictures 8a and 8c) after the awareness of these two positions by studying the transition motion between them (Picture 8b). Pictures 8a, 8b, and 8c are the recommended left hand transition motions on the same string.

Picture 8a
Picture 8a
Picture 8b
Picture 8b
Picture 8c
Picture 8c

It is helpful to pay attention to the bow angle while playing vertical harmonics. If the bow's tip is facing downward, it veers toward the bridge, but it swerves toward the fingerboard if its tip is facing upward. Picture 9a is the suggested bow angle for ascending harmonic arpeggios movement and 9b is for the descending harmonic arpeggios.

Picture 9a
Picture 9a
Picture 9b
Picture 9b

Finally, the following exercises (Exercises 11, 12, 13, and 14) will contribute to the memory of the left hand, the internalization of the position transition motion, and the execution of the whole arpeggio by muscle memory.

Exercise 11

Exercise 11. Irmak Sabuncu, Exercise for Harmonic Arpeggios

Exercise 12

Exercise 12. Irmak Sabuncu, Exercise for Harmonic Arpeggios

Exercise 13

Exercise 13. Irmak Sabuncu, Exercise for Harmonic Arpeggios

Exercise 14

Exercise 14. Irmak Sabuncu, Exercise for Harmonic Arpeggios

Horizontal Playing in Harmonics

Example 5 shows the section from the concerto's second movement as a sample of playing the song-like horizontal harmonics.

Example 5

Example 5. Dragonetti, Concerto in A Major, 2, mm. 53–60

The general problems in lyric harmonic playing that evoke the whistle are as follows:

  • The bow might not be parallel to the bridge (bow angle)
  • The bow position might not be close enough to the bridge (bow placement)
  • The left-hand position might not be stable, causing frequent problems during string crossing

Considering these potential problems, Exercises 15 and 16 will promote awareness of the right hand and describe the left hand's position for each note.

Exercise 15

Exercise 15. Irmak Sabuncu, Exercise for Harmonic Arpeggios

Exercise 16

Exercise 16. Irmak Sabuncu, Exercise for Harmonic Arpeggios

Exercises 17 and 18 additionally include string crossings in harmonic playing. If the third finger is not long enough, playing the D on the G string (second finger) and C on the D string (third finger) can be tricky. In this case, tilting the left hand as far left as possible and holding it horizontal to the bridge will expand the range of the third finger.

Picture 4

Exercise 17. Irmak Sabuncu, Exercise for Harmonic Arpeggios

Exercise 18

Exercise 18. Irmak Sabuncu, Exercise for Harmonic Arpeggios