Aaron Shearer

Guitar Harmonics

There are two types of harmonics, those produced on an open string called natural harmonics, played with two hands or one hand alone, and those produced on a fretted string, called artificial harmonics.

 

Natural Harmonics

A harmonic is produced by touching a vibrating string lightly at a point of exact division (1/2, 1/3, 1/4, etc.) forming nodes, or points along the string which are stationary or free of vibration.  A harmonic played at the 12th fret forms a node which divides the vibrations of the string into halves. This produces an overtone, a pitch exactly one octave above the open string—the same as the string fingered at the 12th fret.  Touching and playing at other frets, produce different overtones.

Fret (node)
String length
Overtone
XII
1/2 of string
octave
VII and XIX
1/3 of string
octave + 5th
V and XVII
1/4 of string
2 octaves
IV, IX, and XVI
1/5 of string
2 octaves + majord 3rd

Harmonics are most easily begun on at XII:

    • With a L.H. finger, lightly touch the string directly above the XII fret, without the string touching the fret.
    • Sound the string firmly with p midway between the edge of the soundhole and the bridge
    • Remove the L.H. finger as soon as the harmonic begins to sound.
    • With a L.H. finger, lightly touch the string directly above the XII fret, without the string touching the fret.
    • Sound the string firmly with p midway between the edge of the soundhole and the bridge
    • Remove the L.H. finger as soon as the harmonic begins to sound.

    Watch Video 37 “Harmonics” in the Instructional Videos of the Online Media

      There is a tendency to muffle the harmonic by touching the string too long, or to sound an open string by removing the finger too soon. Experimenting with how long to leave the finger on the string will yield the most effective timing for producing harmonics.

      As the number of string divisions increases the pitch will rise. A harmonic produced at XII produces a pitch exactly one octave higher than the open string. The next higher harmonic, formed at either VII or XIX produces a pitch a perfect fifth higher than the previous octave.

      The next harmonic is found at the V fret (or where the XXIV fret would be if the fingerboard were extended) and produces a pitch two octaves higher than the open string. The highest harmonic commonly used on the open strings is found on the IV, IX, or XVI frets. It produces a pitch two octaves plus a major third above the open string. Occasionally higher harmonics are used, but they generally produce such weak tones that they are considered impractical.

      The notation of harmonics in guitar music is not fully standardized ; the most common approach is to write the abbreviation ‘Harm’ or ‘arm’ (for the Spanish Armonicos) and the fret number above or below an open string.  Often the notehead is a diamond, and it is written as sounds.

      Typical Notation

      Harmonics on the lower strings are usually sounded with p; those on the higher string with the fingers. But this is entirely a matter of convenience and it should be understood that any finger may be used to play any string whenever advantageous.

      Very high harmonics are more distinct and are more readily produced when sounded near the bridge, and struck with considerable force.

      Right-Hand Harmonics

      Another technique for sounding natural harmonics involves use of the right hand alone: i is extended to lightly touch the string above the desired fret, and a (or p) sounds the string with a F.S.

      Artificial Harmonics

      Artificial harmonics are those which are not formed using an open string, and are always executed with the R.H. harmonic technique. A note is formed as usual with the L.H. and a R.H. harmonic is produced at a transposed node determined by the location of the L.H. finger. For example, since 12 frets constitute an octave, if Fa on ① is fretted, the R.H. harmonic would be produced at the XII+I or XIII fret. This works for all of the natural harmonic nodes (12, 7, 19, 5, etc).

       

      ……..Aaron Shearer

      For more on One-Handed and Artificial Harmonics, see the article, One-Handed Harmonics