How to Play Harmonics on Guitar

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If you want to become a guitar playing master, then one thing that you will need to learn all about are harmonics. There are two main types of harmonics out there, which include natural and artificial harmonics.

Natural harmonics happen when an open string vibrates. Artificial harmonics happen when you use your picking hand to manipulate the string while fretting it.

Now, both do produce some really nice tones that don’t sound the same on anything other than a guitar, but there are some intricacies that you need to be familiar with. Today, we are going to learn how to play harmonics on guitar, and we’ll take a look at a few different types of them too.

What Exactly Are Harmonics?

In simplest terms, harmonics are overtones that have been amplified. For instance, when you play a note on a stringed instrument, such as a guitar, there are actually multiple pitches, with the most audible pitch being referred to as the fundamental.

However, there are also other pitches that are not quite as audible, ones that sound over the fundamental, and these are called overtones. The thing with harmonics is that when you play them, you can hear the overtones more audibly over the named note or fundamental pitch.

An example of a natural harmonic would be if you fret the second string at the twelfth fret, the note being played is B5. However, there are of course many pitches being sounded here, with some of the overtones being produces being B6 and F♯7.

If you play the same string, but you don’t full fret it, or in other words, quickly lift your finger up off it, you will create harmonics. Now, the most audible sound is going to be the first harmonic, which is B6, not the fundamental, which would have been B5.

Natural vs Artificial Harmonics

Before we can teach you how to play harmonics on a guitar, knowing the difference between natural and artificial harmonics is important. So, natural harmonics are sometimes also known as open string harmonics. This happens when you let a string vibrate while it is open and not being full fretted.

Here, you would play your finger on the fret very lightly, so that the string touches your finger, but you don’t press it down onto the fretboard. This will produce what are known as natural harmonics.

An artificial harmonic happens when you do that same soft touch with your index finger, but then also pluck the string with a pick or your pinky finger. You then also have what is known as a pinched harmonic, which is a very difficult technique, so we aren’t really going to focus on that today.

However, the fundamental aspect of a pinched harmonic is that it involves plucking the guitar string with a pick, and then having your thumb immediately hit that string, which will produce a harmonic. However, finding the sweet spot to hit with your thumb is very difficult, so this is something best left for advanced guitar players.

How to Play Harmonics on Guitar

How to Play Harmonics on Guitar

Playing harmonics is honestly one of the harder aspects of playing guitar, but with some practice and the right technique, it is possible to learn. We are first going to start by teaching you how to play natural harmonics on guitar.

How to Play Natural Harmonics on Guitar

For playing natural harmonics, you are going to pluck a guitar string with your picking hand while you simultaneously touch it with the fretting hand, before you let go of the string all together. Follow the tips below to play natural harmonics.

  1. Take you fretting hand and place it on top of a guitar string, with the G or third string, at the twelfth fret, being the easiest place to start, along with the fifth and seventh frets.
  2. While you are touching the string lightly above the twelfth fret, use your picking hand to strike the string as you normally would.
  3. You will then very swiftly lift the finger from your fretting hand and let the string ring out. If you do this properly, it will slightly alter the length of the string, and therefore produce and amplify those natural harmonics.

Playing Artificial Harmonics on Guitar

Once you have become a master of playing natural harmonics, you can then move onto the more difficult harmonics, artificial harmonics. Now, there are actually three ways to produce artificial harmonics, so let’s take a quick look at all three.

  • The first type of artificial harmonic is known as the pinch harmonic. A pinch harmonic is created by fretting a note and then picking it using a flicking motion. It’s all about having your guitar pick hit the note, but then also muting it with your thumb, which ends up changing the string length and producing audible harmonics. Pro tip, when doing pinch harmonics, choke up on the guitar pick. This is a good technique as it allows you play harmonics anywhere along the fretboard.
  • The second type of artificial harmonic is the tap harmonic. This is done by quickly fretting a note using your picking hand, generally the index or middle finger. You can then create even more harmonics by using the vibrato arm, also known as the whammy bar.
  • The third and final type of artificial harmonic is the touch harmonic, and this is actually a type of tap harmonic. Here, you are going to fret a note with your fretting hand, and then use your picking hand to quickly touch the string an octave above on that same string. To do this, you would fret a string on the third fret, and then quickly touch the fifteenth fret.

Conclusion

You should now know the basics of playing harmonics on guitar. As you can probably tell, it’s not the easiest thing to do, but with some practice, you should be able to master it no problem. Just start with some simple natural harmonics and then move onto the artificial harmonics.

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