Using harmonics add a whole new dimension to your playing, making you sound so much more interesting!
There are FOUR ways you can activate harmonics on your guitar. This includes the pinched harmonics, natural harmonics, artificial harmonics and tapped harmonics.
Whats the difference between the types of harmonics for guitar? To distinguish the types of harmonics is how it is activated. There are FOUR ways to activate harmonics all providing a slightly different sound and use. These include:
- Pinched Harmonics – To activate pinched harmonics your thumb slightly catches the string (in pinching motion) after it is picked.
- Natural Harmonics – Whilst, you activate tapped harmonics by slightly tapping the string after it is picked.
- Artificial Harmonics – This is done with one hand (your picking hand) and is quite fiddly. You hit the harmonics with your index find whilst using your thumb to strike the note.
- Tapped Harmonics – fret the note and tap the harmonics further down the fretboard with the picking hand.
Even though these are similar they have completely different uses. In this article, we will cover these in great detail…
1. What are Harmonics?
When we hear harmonics we are basically hearing the overtones of a note being played. So, understanding overtones will give us a better idea of harmonics.
Generally, the fundamental frequency is heard most clearly by the ear, although the entire sound is affected by the presence of numerous overtones (frequencies greater than the fundamental frequency). The listener perceives the fundamental frequency and its overtones as a single note; yet, different combinations of overtones produce clearly distinct overall tones.
When we play a note and activate harmonics on our fretboard, we are isolating the higher pitched frequencies. So these can be heard more clearly than the mid and low range frequencies.
2. Why Incorporate Harmonics into your Playing?
When we generate harmonics our aim is to activate the overtones that sound higher than the fundamental pitch. Using harmonics add a whole new dimension to your playing, making you sound so much more interesting!
3. What do Harmonics Sound Like?
Harmonics will always sound a higher pitch than the fundamental note on the fretobard.
Not only that but the texture of the sound is different too. once activated it will deliver anything from a bell-like chime too a wild scream depending on your guitar, technique and the types of effect you decide to use.
Natural, Artificial and Tapped harmonics are most commonly used on acoustic guitar as these are more easily activated and these resonate more subtle.
Whereby, all types of harmonics can be used on electric guitar, and if you combine it with some more volume and distortion effects you can produce a really aggressive scream sound. activated on acoustic guitar
5. Pinched Harmonics
“Pinch” harmonics are a special type of harmonic played with the pick. This technique can be performed on acoustic or electric guitar, but it is most well known as the distorted electric guitar technique that creates scream like screech and wails.
Whilst difficult to learn, once mastered, this technique will become second nature.
The main idea is to try and find the sweep spot that gives you the best sound.
Gripping the pick
The thumb is the most important part of playing a pinch harmonic. Start by holding your pick normally, then alter your grip so that your thumb hangs above the pointed end of the pick, thereby making your thumb an extension of the pick.
The Thumb Activates the Harmonic
Once you’ve mastered the grip, you’ll want your thumb to be one with your pick attack, which means your thumb will brush the string milliseconds after your pick. you essentially pick the strings two times. This is what activates the harmonic.
The sweet spot is referring to the strings that hover over the pickups (between the bridge and the start of the fretboard).
Your picking hand, which holds the plectrum, must be positioned near the location where the neck and the body of the instrument intersect. However, the “sweet spot” varies from one instrument to the next. And the location of the sweet spot change slightly depending on what note is fretted.
Picking within an inch of the neck pickup will usually produce the desired scream, but it’s best to try with various regions of the string to find the greatest sound with the instrument.
So just have a play around and discover which works for you.
Which Areas on the Fretboard?
The final aspect of playing a pinch harmonic correctly is selecting the suitable notes on the fretboard.
To get the best sound with the least amount of effort, try experimenting with different sections of the string.
As you learn the technique on one note and go on to other parts of the neck, you’ll notice that particular strings and frets are more difficult to produce pinch harmonics on.
Active Picks ups
If you really want to go wild with your pinched harmonics then guitarists such as zakk wylde use active pickups.
6. Natural Harmonics
Natural harmonics are sounded from the act of lightly touching the open string with your fret-hand finger. Doing this will dampen those clusters of vibrations around the fundamental note, leaving the individual overtones to result in a harmonic.
Natural harmonics will deliver the sense of a bell-like chime that rings clearly and sustains.
The easiest places to produce natural harmonics are at the twelfth, seventh, and fifth frets respectively. Every string has a harmonic at these three frets. However, while you can play natural harmonics on every string, you cannot play them on every fret.
How to Play the Natural Harmonics?
The general ideas of how to play the natural harmonics starting with plucking a guitar string using your picking hand. At the same time, gently touch the string with your fretting hand, then lift off the string.
The parts where you have to learn and get used to the movements of your fretting hand (usually your left hand) trying to touch the string can be a little difficult and need lots of practice.
You first place your fretting hand slightly above a guitar string. For plucking the guitar string, striking the string-like usual with the other hand (usually your right hand) and the left hand lightly touching the string over the fret bar, remember that you will not press the string down.
Then the next part is the most important, you need to immediately lift your fretting hand right after you pluck the string (your left hand) and let the string vibrate. Your finger should not be left on the string at this moment as you want the harmonic sound to be louder and clearer. Lifting up the string too soon is also not good as it could reveal the sound of the open string.
Which Frets Work Best?
As we have mentioned briefly in the previous parts, there can be multiple positions on your guitar where you can create natural harmonics.
- 12th fret
- 7th fret
- 5th fret
These positions are the best areas to activates natural harmonics, on almost every guitar but you may discover other areas that work well for you.
7. Artificial Harmonics
When playing Artificial harmonic you will both pluck the string and activate the harmonic with the picking hand. So it is usually done when playing finger picking style guitar where you will not be holding a pick.
Your picking hand will play a crucial role in fretting any strings and using your thumb to produce the harmonic.
This is the most fiddly of all techniques as it can feel very strange to pick the string with your thumb whilst activating the harmonic with the index finger using the same hand.
8. Tapped Harmonics
A tap harmonic is a combination of playing a note and tapping it with your picking hand to activate the harmonic.
Tapped harmonic works by first playing the fretted note as normal. then you will tap the harmonic with your picking hand. You’ll tap on the fret that creates the harmonic with your right hand. If you touch on the fret itself rather than the space between the frets, the harmonic will not be heard.
9. Harmonics can be Used to Intonate your Guitar
When tuning your guitar, you can use the 12th fret harmonics as a reference point for how well your guitar is intonated.
It works by comparing the open string against the 12th fret.
If the open string does not read the same note frequency and the 12th harmonic then you know your guitars intonation needs to be slightly adjusted.
10. Where to Find Harmonics on the Fretboard?
There are plenty of places to find harmonics on the fretboard. However, certain areas work better than others.
Natural harmonics come to their best effect on the 12th frets
The high E string which is located on the 12th fret is considered to be the easiest place to generate natural harmonics.
Harmonics exist all over the guitar’s fretboard
When applying the natural harmonics on open strings, the string will be divided into halves, thirds, fourths, fifths, and so on. For example, at the 12th fret, the string is divided into half. At the 7th or 9th fret, the string is now divided into third. And one thing is that the harmonics exist at the 7th and 9th fret, 5th and 24th fret are the same notes.
11. Activating Pinched Harmonics on Electric and Acoustic Guitar
You can activate pinched on both electric and acoustic guitar. However, pinched harmonics are generally more difficult to activate and sound good on an acoustic.
Whenever you decide to play any random note on your guitar, there will be a variety of different pitches created, not just only the one your note is named after. Let’s say, there will be the most audible pitch (the fundamentals one) and the less audible overtones.
Harmonics are created when a note is played and you delicately hit a second note to activate the harmonic which will isolate the overtones from the fundamental pitch.
The easiest to produce and widely used among all and frequently found above the 12th, 7th, and 5th frets and every string on your guitar will have a harmonic at these three frets. But remember that you can not play all of them every fret at the same time.