Jun 242012

You’ve probably heard of harmonics if you’ve heard a lot of music, especially guitar music. Harmonics are a bell like sound that can be played on a guitar. Whenever you play any note on a guitar, you are actually playing harmonics without knowing it! However, you cannot hear those harmonics because they are ‘covered up’ by the sound of the main note (the fundamental frequency).

Artificial harmonics

There are different types of artificial harmonics that you can play:

  • Open string harmonics.
  • Fretted harmonics.
  • Pinch harmonics (I talk about this in a separate lesson.)

Open string harmonics

To play an open string harmonic on the 12th fret, place your left hand index finger exactly over the 12th fret ( not between the 11th and 12th frets as is typically done). Your finger must touch the string, but the string or your finger must not touch the fretboard. Then, pluck the string with your right hand thumb, or a pick, and simultaneously release your left hand index finger. The resulting sound is a harmonic. It takes some practice to get a clean harmonic easily.

Open String Harmonic photo

How to play an open string harmonic

There are many positions on the fretboard that can be used to play harmonics. You can also play harmonics on the 4th, 16th, 19th frets and so on. The diagram below shows the most commonly used harmonics.

Guitar open string harmonics chart

Open string harmonics chart

Fretted harmonics – Classical style

The problem with open string harmonics is that there are only a limited set of notes that you can play. What if you wanted to play any note as a harmonic?  Well, you can play harmonics for any note on the fretboard. These are called fretted harmonics. To play a fretted harmonic:

Step 1: Fret the desired note as you would when you normally play a note. For example, to play a harmonic on the 5th fret, press your left hand finger between the 4th and the 5th frets.

Step 2: Place your right hand index finger 12 frets higher than the note fretted in step 1. This finger must be placed on the string exactly over the fret, without touching the fretboard.  To continue the example, you’d need to place your finger exactly over the 17th fret.

Step 3: With your right hand thumb, or a pick (held between your thumb and middle finger), pluck the string, and simultaneously release the right hand index finger. Your left hand finger remains in position.

Fretted Harmonics Classical Style

Fretted Harmonics Classical Style

You can also play fretted harmonics in these other ways. I find them easier to play than classical style fretted harmonics.

Alternate fretted harmonic technique 1 :

Fretted Harmonics Harold Method 1

Alternate fretted harmonic technique 1

The basic technique is the same as the classical style fretted harmonics. However, you use the right hand index finger to pluck the string and the right hand thumb in the “12 frets higher” position.

Alternate fretted harmonic technique 2:


Fretted Harmonics Harold Method 2

Alternate fretted harmonic technique 2

Again, the basic technique is the same as the classical style fretted harmonics. However, you use the right hand index finger in the “12 frets higher” position and the right hand ring finger to pluck the string .

Both my harmonic techniques if mastered can produce cleaner tones than classical style harmonics. However, it can slow you down if you want to play multiple harmonics rapidly.

So, let the bells ring! :-)