Harmonics overview

The Piano Map is intended as a reference for composers and pianists, showing in an intuitive way all easily available harmonic nodes (up to the 22nd harmonic) on the bass strings of a grand piano (Steinway D). For each node there is also a recording of the corresponding harmonic. A full-scale scan of the map can be downloaded here.

Some comments:
– On the chosen piano model the dampers occupy the region between 1/9 and 1/6 of the string length, meaning that there is a 9th harmonic right in front of the dampers, and a 6th harmonic right behind. On smaller instruments these harmonics are not available.
– Most Steinway models have a metal stress bar placed diagonally over the bass strings, limiting the number of harmonics available.
– Some pianos (including most Yamaha models) have a much more open layout of the bass strings than Steinways, making more strings available for harmonic playing. Generally speaking, what is possible on a Steinway is also possible on a Yamaha, or most other piano models.
– The region represented in the Piano Map is based on what I (Jonas Olsson) can comfortably reach while sitting down.
– The recordings represent a ”best effort” – if a harmonic doesn’t speak clearly on the recording (as is the case with many of the higher harmonics), it is even less likely to do so under live performance conditions.
A full-scale printout of the map can be an invaluable tool for both composers and pianists.


The region in front of the dampers doesn’t require a separate map – here the harmonics are lined up neatly and closely spaced, beginning with the 9th harmonic and continuing upwards. This is a useful place for the 10th and 12th harmonics, both of which can otherwise be inconvenient to reach on large instruments.


Outside the lowest register the number of useful harmonics decreases rapidly, as can be heard on the recordings from this region. Please note that the strings crossing under the bass strings cannot be reached in any practical way at all. Since the layout of the strings differs greatly between models, composers should take great care in this region, either specifying which piano model to use, or avoiding harmonics in this region altogether.