Guitar Harmonics | Learn all about natural harmonics in this free guitar lesson and how to play them on the guitar.
Guitar Harmonics, also called overtones are what gives our instruments depth and quality. It not only is an expression that defines the number of harmonic octaves that a note possesses, but can mean a way to play multiple octaves above the fundamental tone.
The typical open "E" the 1st string on our guitar has a harmonic pitch of 329.6 Hz. Multiple octaves above this are an "E" at the 12th fret, which would be twice the pitch or 329.6 x 2 = 659.2. Similarly when we say we play harmonics on the guitar, it is sounding notes that are multiples of the original tone.
Let's take that same open "E". A guitar harmonic of that note would be played on the same 12th fret, but it would not be fingered, it is just touched. We will get into that in a moment. A typical picked note sounds the note from the nut in open position to the bridge. If you finger a note on any fret, when picked the note sounds from the fingered note to the bridge.
This in-depth look at guitar harmonics teaches the techniques of masters such as Lenny Breau, Eddie Van Halen, Billy Gibbons, Andres Segovia and others! This book/CD pack covers:
Natural harmonics; tapped, plucked and pinch-style artificial harmonics; chordal and melodic applications for harmonics; and more. Includes a natural harmonic fretboard map and tuning tips. The CD contains demos of every example in the book.
What a true guitar harmonic does is sounds the note from the note that is touched above a fret backwards to the nut, as well as to the bridge, combining the sounds.
Now the open "E" and the 1st harmonic of "E" are played approximately above the 12th fret, which is approximately 1/2 the distance between the nut and the bridge.
Guitar Harmonics are also found at the 7th and 5th frets, and if you are really good and you have a guitar with perfect intonation, you can squeak one additional weak one at the 3rd fret.
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These harmonics are played entirely by touching the string above the frets, but not pressing the string down to contact the fret. With a little practice you can get the harmonic to sound loud and clear.
Artificial Guitar Harmonics are played quite a bit differently by touching and picking the string 12 frets above the note that is fingered.
This pack covers: harp harmonics and natural harmonics; combining harmonics with hammers and pulls; using harmonics over chord progressions; and more. The CD includes 30 full-demo examples.
Pick or pluck the string in your normal fashion. The left hand plays the harmonic by just touching the string directly above the 12th, 7th, 5th or 3rd fret.
Do this - pick the note and touch the string with the left hand at the same time. Just a split second after picking the note immediately lift your left hand finger off the touching position.
The key here is the timing in the release and the force in picking. You will find that the harder you pick and the better your timing becomes, the louder and clearer your harmonics will become.
Here is some data on natural harmonics:
- The 12th Fret is One Octave above the open string
- The 7th Fret is One Octave + a Perfect 5th above the open
- The 5th Fret is Two Octaves above the open string
- The 3rd Fret is Two Octaves + a Perfect 5th above the open
Guitar Harmonics Table
|String||12th Fret||7th Fret||5th Fret||3rd Fret|
The graphic above illustrates how the harmonics are divided graphically on the guitar fingerboard: The guitar scale length shown here is 645.2mm.
- The 1st guitar harmonic at the 12th fret is exactly 1/2 of
- The 2nd guitar harmonic, which is located above the 7th fret
total scale length or 215mm.
- The 4th guitar harmonic is located above the 5th fret and is
total scale length or 161.3 mm.
- The 5th guitar harmonic, which is located above the 3rd fret
1/6th of the
total scale or 107.5 mm.
There are many more guitar harmonics, but they cannot be played clear or loud enough to hear. The harmonics presented here are the ones accessible to us as guitar players and are very beautiful when executed properly.
The graphic at the bottom of this page, indicates a tab from a song called Lovely Weather. The song kicks-off with about seven measures of true harmonics.
Look at the tab - in both tabulation and notation scores, guitar harmonics are differentiated from normal notes by the placement of a small diamond beside the note.
The first measure is played by alternating the 2nd to 1st strings with the 7th and 12th fret harmonics. Since this is quite a spread for your fingers you have to use the 1st finger on the 7th fret and the 4th finger on the 12th fret.
You should arch your fingers on the left hand as well to allow the harmonics to sound clearly.
Repeat the process on the 2nd & 3rd strings, and again on the 3rd and 4th strings. Then play one 7th fret harmonic in the 4th measure for 2 beats (this is 2/4 time).
Continue with the same fingering pattern on the 4th and 5th strings and finally the 5th and 6th strings in the 6th measure.
We end up with a 3 note guitar harmonic chord in the 7th measure, playing the 2nd, 3rd & 4th string harmonic on the 12th fret. Play this with the third finger, just lighting laying it down on the strings, pick the strings and immediately lift it off.
If you would like a more in-depth look at harmonics, I would recommend the 2 selections that I use, listed in the text above.