Harmonics For Beginners

Harmonics are an easy technique that all beginners should make sure to learn. Here, in this lesson I try to make it as clear and simple as possible.

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Harmonics: The term harmonic refers to the bell-like tones you get by damping specific frets on the guitars fingerboard. It is worth learning harmonics since they can provide you with some very usefull playing effects. How Do Harmonics Work? Each time you strike a guitar string, the sound you hear is the result of a number of different components which, when taken together, form what is known as the harmonic series. The dominant sound you hear is known as the fundamental. This is the string vibrating along the full length of the fingerboard between the bridge and the nut, and consequently the element which defines the pitch of the note. However, their are further tones which can also be heard: these result from shorter frequencies vibrating along different parts of the string, are strict multiples of the fundamental, and are known as harmonics, or overtones. The balance between various hamonics and the fundamental is what creates the tonal characteristics of an acoustic note produced by any instrument. The Harmonic Series: You can hear a harmonic in isolation by playing a note muted by the left hand at specified points on the guitar fingerboard. The easiest to produce is an octave harmonic. Place the tip of your finger exactly above the twelfth fret on any string (be sure not to actually press down on the fret). Now pick that note. All you should hear is a bell-like tone. This is the harmonic, the fundamental having been muted by your finger. The pitch of the harmonic you hear depends on the mathematical divisions of the string that is resonating. By muting the fundamental at the twelfth fret, you divide the string in half. The twelfth fret being exactly in between the nut and bridge. This is known as the first harmonic. Other types of harmonics are possible too: the second harmonic divides the string into three equal sections, the third harmonic divides it into quarters, and the fourth harmonic divides the string into five equal segments. The frets for these types of harmonics are these: 12th Fret=First Harmonic, 7th/19th Frets=Second Harmonic, 5th Fret=Third Harmonic, In between the 4th and 5th Frets, and the 16th Fret=Fourth Harmonic, and the 3rd Fret=Fifth Harmonic. Here's a diagram They are applicable to any string:
Numbers in brackets= Harmonic Number
E]--12(1st)---7/19(2nd)--5(3rd)--4/16(4th)--3(5th)-
B]-------------------------------------------------
G]-------------------------------------------------
D]-------------------------------------------------
A]-------------------------------------------------
E]-------------------------------------------------
Artificial Harmonics: It is actually possible to play harmonics for any note on the fingerboard. What a person does is: they fret a certain note of any string (lets take 2nd fret of the first string as an example) and the left hand frets the notes in the conventional way, while the right hand simultaneously mutes and plucks said harmonic. For our example, fret with your left hand the 2nd fret of any string. Now, since every twelfth fret is an octave, rest your index finger lightly on the 14th fret of the string while still holding the 2nd fret. Now, with one of your other fingers, pluck the note while your index finger is still lightly pressing on the 14th fret. You should hear an octave harmonic. This can work with any fretted note providing you have sufficient fret range, and you follow the harmonic series with open strings. Pinch Harmonics: Essentially the same thing as Artificial harmonics, this is playing a harmonic with a plectrum (pick). First, fret the note normally with your left hand. Then, with your picking hand, go 12 frets above your fretting hand. Now comes the hard part. Grip your pick so that the tip and your thumb are sticking out roughly the same amount. Then pick the string at that specific point. Your thumb MUST touch the string briefly. Your pick should make the note play, and your thumb should mute the Fundamental sound, leaving you with the harmonic! These harmonics are popular in metal and shred. You can also produce pinch harmonics (and artificial harmonics) at other certain points on the string - just divide the string into 3rds or 4ths, etc. as described in the harmonic series section of this lesson. Using your bridge pickup will usually give you a better sound with pinch harmonics.

222 comments sorted by best / new / date

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    saxophone
    give the guy a break, it's not bad if you know music... maybe your the ones that suck.
    justine0393
    SOUTHofHEAVEN89 wrote: this helped alot... i just dont understand the Artificial Harmonics, can someone explain to to where a dumb ass would understand it???
    for example..u used the 2nd fret of the D string and u are going to do it to another octave, we will raise it another 12 frets more, because every 12 frets is an octave.....then u get 14...and if you pluck the D string with the 2nd fret in it..u should lightly touch the 14th fret of D w/ any of ur fingers on the right hand so it will sound as a harmonic
    Sanitarium91
    this is weird, I think I can do the pinch harmonic (u know it sounds like it), but I'm not using my thumb and I can do it best on the 3rd fret on the E A D G strings... is it even possible(without the thumb)?
    Sanitarium91
    I do it like this: I put my finger above the 3rd fret, then pick it and almost immidietly start pressing and bending/vibrating it, but Im guessing theres another therm for that or thats just something I came up myself.
    YoungGuitar
    i dont get this.... When i read up there it said u had to mute the strings with ur right hnd, but I cant tap the octave and mute it at the same time..... Also when i do tap the strings am I suppoesed to stop that string from vibrating, while that string is still rings??? Any email helped is welcome
    ericgentz
    Damn man. This saved my balls, now I will be able to get through my next gig...
    Dewey1040
    I know I'm being stupid but is a harmonic just a dead note except over those specific frets?
    dgme92
    well i think it was good, and even i, a guiar newbie, understood it! pretty good!
    FloydHammer666
    Damn that was the best explanation I have heard in a long time. You have helped me further my lead playing. My hat goes off to you, sir.
    Maggot66
    This is a great lesson, I completely understand this stuff now, this is been what I've been looking for! Great lesson!!
    zakk-rules
    Hey man good lesson, my mate tried to explain how they work to me and it made no sense. I haven't tried it yet because i don't have a guitar handy but the theory of it makes a lot of sense.
    CapnKickass
    its cool when you run your finger up and down the low E string starting at 2nd fret doing harmonics while picking fast, has kind of a flanger effect type sound.
    burntartic
    do you have any tips on getting the harmonics on the third fret (5th harmonic). I can do it, but it's just a pain in the ass.
    sprazz
    as for pinbch harmonics, use bridge pick up, and with practice, you can find the sweet spots of the notes. they are different parts unlike in the usual natural harmonics found on frets. but just play around the mid p[ick up, you can usually find your pinch there.
    SOUTHofHEAVEN89
    this helped alot... i just dont understand the Artificial Harmonics, can someone explain to to where a dumb ass would understand it???
    nomad911
    i knew a little bit about harmonics but could never quite figure it out... this realy cleared it up for me! thanx
    dr evil
    could someone pleeeeese explain to me how to play that first harmonic from the song 'To End The Rapture' by Avenged Sevenfold??? its driving me crazy. your probably thinking what a retard this guy is but im a kid, so its not that easy for me.thanks
    dr evil
    can somebody pleeeeese explain to me how to play the first harmonic from the song ' to end the rapture' by avenged sevenfold??its driving me crazy. your all probably thinking what a retard this guy is but im only a kid, so i might have missed something in that lesson that explains it but good lesson anyway
    s11pkn07
    i dont get it. im not really good at understanding stuff with out pictures. but from what i read it would be a great lesson if i understood it.
    Naenia
    Hey guys, i know how to do a pinched harmonic... but what i really want to know is how to do a Tapped harmonic. For example.. the one Synyster Gates from Avenged Sevenfold does in "To End the Rapture". Its very entertaining to watch a nice tapped harmonic. If anyone has any suggestions on how to do this please email me at Lonespartan@sbcglobal.net Thanks
    Midastouch
    Good lesson! my idiot's guide to harmonics - they can only be done at certain points on the guitar string because at these places - the 12th, 7th, 5th, 4th-and-a-bit frets - causes a smaller section of the string to vibrate (sound is vibrations, in case you don't know). this can only happen if you are touching at the end of one of these sections. so the first harmonic (12th fret) causes HALF the length of the string to vibrate (or more likely both halves separately if you are playing an acoustic), meaning resonance is ?doubled? and the tone produced is higher. the secret is to pluck STRONGLY and dampen the string VERY GENTLY, and for less than a second - your left hand should leave the fretboard STRAIGHT AFTER you pluck the string or the vibrations are killed before they can develop into a proper harmonic tone. Also, you should only damp with the very tip of your finger and not touch anywhere either side of the harmonic point (this means right above the metal of the fret nearest the pickups/body) . sorry people for the long post but i thought i could help a little with some of you having trouble with this. if you do it right you should get a very clear, bell-like tone, if it sounds dull then check everything i told you. hope this helps.
    M&M5192
    wow.. this is one of the first few lessons I actually understood. I like it, good job.
    Mr.Glue
    DOES ANY ONE KNOW TUNING??? I know that standard on a bass tuner iz no flats (E,A,D,G) and five flats are low B (B,E,A,D) and I know that two flats are (D,-,-,-,) or somthin but what are 1,3,and4 flats called PLEEZ SOMEONE TELL ME!!!If u can THNX!!!
    steve45
    huh?? Harmonics what?? i think i got it. but im not so sure. help me... lol. need pactice,
    surf_playguitar
    lol. this shit was so easy. lol. thx 4 the tip Zamboni, it helped. i dont get how some of u guys are confused. he's explainned it as clearly as u can. if u read it, do wat it says then u will get it. its not hard. it sound realy good in some of modest mouse songs. ps any one know where i can get tabs for drifting by andy mckee, iv got some of it but i got stuck. thx