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.
    Oswald
    I cant blame you guys for being stupid because you have heard to much Good Charlotte..... And I defend myself because I beleive I am right, and Zambonis lesson was pretty good actually, I didnt understand it first but its okay.....
    DraVenD18
    you know what man, i havent been playing long , only for a year. and you are the first person ive seen on the net that mentions harmonics, for the iliterate primates,if you guys reallly know music or guitar at all, your retarded a** brains would know that harmonics are very inportant to guitar or any instrument, you guys just prooved how smart you really are, ps thanks for the tips dude. PE@CE
    0000409D
    the secret to pinch or artificial harmonies or watever you call it is "Downstroke"..if you do pinch harmonies it set up an octave higher from the original note..if you want to learn more, just mail me: joshnerez@yahoo.com
    hellisforzeroes
    Oswald go and die, this is a good explanation, it doesn't suck, and he is trying to help you by initiating you into the wonderful world of harmonics. You should be grateful.
    XL9
    Been playing a week and understood it. Thanks bro!!!
    chemicalsolutio
    Great lesson Zamboni, I am a new guitar player, though I already knew how to play harmonics, I thought that you explained it well.
    Betty---Boop
    isnt this crap what kurt cobain does in his solo of smells like teen spirit.. sure it is he was usung both hands just at the top of the fretboard.. wotever
    Melchior
    thanks for explaining this so well, i could already do harmonics but i didn't know exactly what was happening, now i can refine my technique, and to all you *******s, if your to dumb to understand the ideas put foward in a lesson that was given freely don't be a cock and annoy people who want to learn and improve rather then sit around wallowing in ignorance...
    toateridax2010
    Do you know how much higher a harmonic is than the original note in terms of steps? (i.e. how many steps up from open low E is the low E harmonic). I can play them but have never been able to figure this out myself. Only been playing for about six months.
    kAsSi03
    If someome wouldn't mind...could you please explain to me what you mean by holding the 2nd fret on 14th at the same time. That is with same hand or what cuz there is no way mine will ever stretch that far?!
    Zamboni
    you fret the second fret and lightly press with your right hand on the 14 fret and pluck at the same time
    fieldyofthekorn
    my mates been trying to tell me how to play a natural harmonic for ages and i just didnt get what the *** he was saying.... thats koz hes an ass. he never sed u could only do them on 5th 7th 12th and 19th frets... the lesson helped loads and its great that u guys put these lessons up for free, iv been going round Google for 15 minutes looking for an explanation on how to play harmonics and theyre all in f*cking books that cost $19.99 and will be with u in 6 weeks... not helpful. a good exsample of a natural harmonic is System of a downs "Science" at the beginning theyre palm muting fret 5 on the second string lots n then using a harmonic on the 4t string, tis well good go listen.
    FaultySanity
    Thanks alot Zamboni, i have been playing guitar for about 6months and never got a clear explanation on what they really are - now i do
    PimpJuse
    ive been playing for a week now and i only thought you can do the harmonics on the 12th fret thanx a bunch for the very clear tutorial.
    PimpJuse
    just a questions to vetrans? when you lightly press your finger at the top of the string (before the first fret) is that a harmonic too?
    jetsdoit_jetsgo
    I'm trying to do this on my acoustic and I'm not really hearing anything. The only one I could get to work was the 12th fret one.
    BKWRDS_FRCTRE
    to play a pinched harmonic your supposed to hit the string with youre plec then follow through with your thumb then bend the string
    nextzakkwylde
    nothin wrong with a little language depravation-loss-and no one can really be a dumbass online.
    george1345
    practice holding your pick and plucking mid-air until you can bend your thumb well straight after picking, almost at the same time as picking seeing as it is so close, if you can do that fret the fingerboard, im not sure what frets you can do them on but this should tell you anyway, and pluck and immediately after the pluck you bend your thumb, practice this until the back of your thumb just about scrapes the vibration of the string causing a harmonic, this are hell fun but hard, keep practicing and learning them and you can show off like Herman Li! if you incooperate pinch harmonics with two handed tapping somehow, or fast shredding you can make awesome riffs or solo's! I would call this an essential technique especially if your playing metal/thrash or doing a shred riff etc., i hope my info helped!! ;p
    illa_killa
    even though i did not under stand it properly i will ask my inscructor for further knowlge but i thank you kindly for your lesson
    gokuace2000
    this was pretty helpful. i learned how to do pinch harmonics on my own but ill use the advice given in this to help me. thank you much ^_^
    lmccombe8
    if ur bending a string and playing an artificial harmonic at the same time do u tap 12 frets above the fret or 12 frets above the bended pitch?
    alex:icon
    ok, think i get how to play them now. great lesson by the way, took a little thinking out, but i got there. Just one thing... how do they relate to scale degrees? probably a dumb question.
    Bailean
    Good lesson and to the people who find it necessary to insult people who don't know theory that makes you the ignorant ones you can be good at guitar with out knowing theory although i will admit it helps. and a parting note i believe a Mr. Jimi Hendrix did not know theory
    Medicjef
    yeah it's not that bad explained, but my english isn't top so i didn't understand a few things... like err 'damping'. And am i wrong when i say the harmonics in Spiritual groove from Antoine Dufour are badass difficult? Thanks
    herby190
    Good lesson. I'm a bass player, and my guitarist wants me to learn these so I can play them along with the guitar. This cleared it up alot for me. Thanks!
    Guitar Hero X
    Cool explanation,but i think we would understand easier if there is an example of how a harmonic sounds like =)
    Shadowhunter123
    exaxctly I dont know if you can edit your explanation up there but a simple example of an harmonic would help a lot and its easier to compare that sound to learn from it but nevermind, good explanation, I'll have a try tomorrow and thanks a lot man!!
    xXDeathXx
    Wow great lesson. I remeber learning about harmonics on the second of learning guitar from my teacher. Just forgot about it all this time
    Flamingrhythm
    Despite the fact that I'm a rhythmist, pinch harmonics are relatively simple. I wished i had seen this lesson earlier, like a few years ago. I had to discover harmonics by myself. this lesson is incredibly thorough however, excellent work.
    jimivancobain
    dude im sorry but he overdid it way too much. this makes no goddamn sense since i have no clue how to make harmonics. he could've explained it a lil bit more easily.
    frettlessIBANEZ
    i thought it was a great explanation. i found harmonics on my own(on accident), but you got it down to a science! 10/10 for me! i think a video would probably help these people who say its hard. its really not hard folks, just keep tryin.