# Harmonics

author: ZeGuitarist date: 10/20/2008 category: guitar techniques
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## Introduction

A. Problem: Like in my last lesson (Economy picking), I will start by pointing out a problem that has occurred to me on UG.com, and then I will come up with a solution. The problem is again the lack of useful and clear explanations on a certain guitar technique: harmonics. The available lessons all handle one single aspect of harmonics, but nobody seems to get the bigger picture. How can you fully understand harmonics, if you only learn one aspect of it? For example, what's the use of knowing how to produce an artificial harmonic if you don't understand the whole concept of harmonics first? B. Solution: In this lesson, I will try and explain the concept of harmonics in all its varieties. To do this, I will make use of the information available in the lessons that are currently up on UG.com, and organise it in a logical order, so that everybody can understand easily what harmonics really are, and how you can use them in your playing. (I will not copy any information used in these previous lessons! I respect the work of the authors, so I will only use and adapt parts of information that I need, and explain them to you in my OWN way...)

## Natural Harmonics

What natural harmonics are, you already know. Natural harmonics are harmonics produced on an open string, just like the example I just gave. We produce natural harmonics by touching the string lightly in the correct place, cancelling out certain vibrations, leaving the harmonic note to stand out. Where can you find these nodes on the string? Below is a diagram of the most common natural harmonics (also just found on Google): Fig. 1 shows the fundamental, which we don't need now. Fig. 2 shows the second harmonic, with a node right above the 12th fret. This means, to produce the second harmonic, you just touch the string lightly right above the 12th fret. You will hear a note one octave higher than the fundamental. For the 3rd harmonic, you can either touch the string over the 7th or the 19th fret: the note you hear will be one octave higher, plus the fifth note. (It's not important if you don't know what this means, just remember that the note you hear will be higher for each number of harmonic.) For the 4th harmonic, there are 2 possible locations: the 5th fret and the 24th fret. The 4th harmonic also has a node on the 12th fret, but if you touch the string there, you will not cancel out the second harmonic, so the 4th harmonic will not stand out. There are more harmonics then the image shows, but they are less common because they are less strong. It's difficult to make them stand out because they produce so little sound. With an electric guitar however, you can amplify the sound of these harmonics using gain/distortion. This way, it's possible to produce harmonic notes over the 4th fret, right below the 3rd fret, in the middle of the 2nd and 3rd fret, And a lot more! Experiment a little, try to produce more harmonics using distortion to amplify them.

## Artificial harmonics

Artificial harmonics is actually a bad name, because they are just as real as natural harmonics. The only difference is: artificial harmonics aren't played on open strings, but on strings that are fretted (pressed down with your left hand). Pressing a string down behind a certain fret actually alters the length of the string (which is why it produces a different note than the open string!); this also means that the nodes of the harmonics will be in a different location now! This results in two problems: 1. We don't know the exact location of the nodes anymore, so we don't know where to touch the string to produce a harmonic note. 2. Even if we would know, how do we touch the string in that location? Because your left hand is busy, pressing down strings, you can't use your left hand for both actions For each of these problems is a solution. II will first explain the two techniques that are used to touch the string to produce the harmonic note, using your pick hand. This solves problem number 2. I will then give a very simple answer to problem number 1. A. Right Hand Technique: Pinch Say, you are fretting the 3d string on the 5th fret. I just choose randomly, because artificial harmonics can be produced on any position! Let's say you know exactly where the node for the second harmonic is (in fact, it should be right in the middle of the 5th fret and the bridge). What we do to produce this harmonic, in several steps:
• Place your pick right above the location of the desired node. Only a few millimetres of the tip of your pick should protrude from between your thumb and index finger.
• Pluck the string with your pick (with a downstroke).
• All in the same downstroke motion, touch the string lightly (in the correct location!) with the side of your thumb. This is the tricky part of the technique: you are supposed to pluck the string with your pick, and then your thumb, which follows up right after the pick, has to touch the string right on the node, so that the fundamental is cancelled out. (NOTE: again, be sure not to rest your thumb on the string, just touch it and pull back, otherwise you will mute the string completely!) This technique is called pinch, because the string is in some way pinched between the pick and the side of the thumb. It takes a while to master this technique, so keep practicing and don't give up! It's easier to pull off if only a small part of the pick protrudes from between the fingers; this way, your thumb is closer to the string if you pluck it with your pick. This will make it easier to pluck the string and touch it in one fluent motion. You should first practice this movement slowly: pluck the string so you hear the fundamental, then mute the fundamental by placing your thumb on the string in the appropriate place. If you can pull this off properly, try to do it faster, so that the thumb touches the string immediately after it is plucked. If you do this correctly, you will not even hear the fundamental anymore! Only the high-pitched, squealing sound of the harmonic remains. This is why artificial harmonics are also called pinch harmonics or squealies. B. Another Right Hand Technique: Tapped Harmonics Another less commonly (but equally cool!) right hand technique used to produce artificial harmonics is the tap technique. I will use the same example as above: we fretted the 3rd string at the 5th fret and we want to produce an artificial harmonic. We will now use the tap technique instead of the pinch technique, to produce the 2nd harmonic for this note:
• Pluck the string. (easy, isn't it?). You will now hear the fundamental note, which we will cancel out using the tap technique in a second.
• Move your right hand to a position 12 frets higher than where the note is fretted by your left hand. In this case, we fretted the note at the 5th fret, so we move our right hand to right above the 17th fret. This is the node for the 2nd harmonic.
• Very quickly tap the vibrating string at the node, not pressing it down to the fretboard but just quickly touching it so that the fundamental vibration is cancelled out. This will make the 2nd harmonic stand out. Voila, you just produced a nice tap harmonic! Some pointers for pulling of the tap in a correct way:
• The tapping motion should be very quick, only touching the string for a split second at the node. The touch can be a quite forceful slap, as long as it's a swift, short touch, not pressing down on the fretboard. Practice, practice, practice!
• If you play with a pick (which most of you probably do) your thumb and index are busy holding the pick. You can use your middle finger for the tapping. Do this as follows: stretch out your middle finger so that it points parallel to the direction of the frets, perpendicular to the axis of the neck. Like this, you can (for example) strum an open A chord and tap the 2nd harmonics of the second, third and fourth string at the 14th fret, all at the same time! (see below for video example)
• Tapping harmonics is a less common technique than pinch harmonics. The tapping technique is used almost exclusively to produce 2nd harmonics, as shown in my video example. If you want a video example of this, I have just recently recorded myself playing Steve Vai's Die To Live which includes tap harmonics, you can check it out here: Steve Vai - Die To Live (YouTube). Another great example is acoustic guitarist Andy McKee, he used some weird ass techniques as well as a couple of tapped harmonics in this amazing song Drifting: Andy McKee - Drifting (YouTube). B. How To Find The Exact Location Of The Nodes? This question has a VERY simple answer: Practice! Experiment! Try pressing a string down behind a certain fret, and then run up and down the string with your pick hand, using the pinch technique to try and find nodes to produce harmonics. (There is more than one node per string, so for every position of the left hand you can produce a number of different harmonics!) If you succeed in finding a node, try and remember the location of it. You will be able to remember a lot of different locations for A little hint for those who don't like to memorise a lot: try to remember certain node locations using orientation points on the body of your guitar. For example, if I fret a string behind the 5th fret on my guitar, the node for the 4th harmonic is located just above the lower edge of my neck pickup. This is of course not the case for every guitar out there, but as I said, experiment! Try to find orientation points of your own, and adjust a little if you are playing a couple of frets lower/higher! C. Artificial Harmonics In Playing: While soloing, you can use pinch harmonics to produce the high-pitched squeals that guitarists like Steve Vai often make. These harmonics can sound really cool if you bend them, use heavy vibrato, or your whammy bar to vary the pitch of the note. You can make your guitar scream with pinch harmonics!

## Conclusion

Harmonics are truly underestimated by most guitarists, and the reason for this is that most guitarists don't understand what they are. If you listen more closely to Steve Vai records, you will notice that he succeeds in making really cool sounds using only harmonics! Use the potential of your guitar to the maximum and start learning harmonics
•  Comments BIU:) Only "https" links are allowed for pictures, otherwise they won't appear