Guitar Harmonics:
Natural and Artificial Harmonics


Are you interested in learning to play harmonics on your guitar? Are you also a bit confused by all of the talk about different kinds of harmonics? This lesson should help to clear up the confusion and get you started playing all the cool sounds you can get with harmonics.

There are TWO basic kinds of harmonics, Natural and Artificial. Let's get started!

Natural Harmonics Natural Harmonics are bell-like tones that are produced ONLY on the open strings of your guitar. In this lesson, we will ignore the technical explanations and concentrate on how to ;produce the tones. Start with the 12th fret and with your fretting hand, lightly touch the finger against the string directly above the 12th fret. Do not hold it down, just touch it. Then strike it with your picking hand, and immediately release the string with your fretting hand. This may require some practice, but eventually you will hear a bell-like ringing tone that will be one octave higher than the open string. You can also play natural harmonics on the 4th, 5th, 7th, 16th, 19th, and 24th (if you have one) frets. Just follow the same procedure. One use for these natural harmonics is tuning. Another is for producing beautiful tones in a song. This example is from the introduction of "Red Barchetta" by Rush.

Artificial Harmonics

Artificial Harmonics are tones similar to natural harmonic, but are produced on fretted strings. The most common type of artificial harmonic is called the "pinch" harmonic.

The best way to start, is to find a strong natural harmonic somewhere up around the area of your pickups. The 3rd string is the easiest to do a pinch harmonic on, so start there. Just touch the third string with a left hand finger at some different points close to the area of your pickups until you find a strong natural harmonic. There are actually a number of places that will work. The best one will depend upon what note you fret.

To play a pinch harmonic,fret a note and then pick and touch the edge of your thumb on the point of the harmonic (the one you found above) at the same time. Be sure to have only a very small part of the pick sticking out from your thumb and finger, and pick only with the very tip of the pick.

This technique takes a lot of practice and a lot of experimenting, but the results will be worth the effort. Below are two examples.

This first example is from "Carry on My Wayward Son" by Kansas. Here, the pinched harmonics are used to add to the sound of the melody in the solo.

This next one is the all-out metal squeal of "Revolution is My Name" by Pantera.

Have fun and keep practicing! Like I said, it takes a LOT of practicing and experimenting to get the guitar harmonics sound that you want.


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