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Natural Harmonics

Natural Harmonics, are a chiming bell like sound that we can produce with the guitar. We can play them clean, or with distortion. We can also play them on an acoustic guitar. First let's take a look at how they're shown on tablature.

 

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The word 'Harm' above the notes is telling us to use natural harmonics. Also if you look at the standard notation above the tab, instead of the usual dots, we have small diamonds. This is also telling us to use harmonics, although the diamonds can refer to other types of harmonic also. So for now let's just remember what the 'harm' is telling us.

Playing natural harmonics is pretty simple. We need to place our fretting finger directly over the fret indicated. And we don't press down on to the fret. We just touch the string directly over the fret. Next we hit the string and the harmonic should sound out. It should have a chiming bell like quality. To make the natural harmonic ring clearer, it also helps to lift our finger off the string as soon as the harmonic sounds. Listen to the example to hear for yourself and then give it a go.

Certain positions on the neck produce better natural harmonics than others. The fifth fret, and seventh fret notes across all the strings produce very strong ones. The twelveth frets also produce strong ones.

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The natural harmonics on the twelveth frets have other practical uses also. These natural harmonics are called open harmonics and are often used to tune a guitar. Some guitarist prefer using these open harmonics instead of normal open strings when tuning. Comparing your open string with its open harmonic should produce the same note. If there is a difference, that means your guitars intonation is off, meaning that while your open string might be in tune, other notes further along the neck will be out of tune. Depending on the type of guitar you have the intonation can be adjusted by moving the bridge saddles forwards or backwards.

Experiment for yourself to find good places to play natural harmonics. You may find some in between frets. You can also find good spots off the fret board completely over your pickups and the guitars body.

Now let's have have a look at how we might use natural harmonics in music. Here is a rock riff with added natural harmonics.

Sound clip - Slow

Sound clip - Fast

In this example we play two natural harmonic notes on two different strings at the same time. Just lay one finger across the fret to play both. We mentioned before to get the best results lift your finger off the string as soon as the harmonic sounds. In this example we wont worry to much about that since we're going to play it pretty quick and with distortion. In this example we've sandwiched some natural harmonics in between regular power chords to add some variation and to create a nice contrast.

Natural harmonics are sometimes used when playing leads also.

Natural harmonics are more common in classical guitar than rock or metal. However almost all rock or metal bands have used them at one time or another. How much or how little you choose to use them is entirely up to you.

Experiment with different uses. Have fun!

Key points to remember!

  • Natural harmonics produce a chiming bell like sound.
  • They are played by touching a string directly over a fret, but without pressing down.
  • Natural harmonics are stronger in specific areas of the guitar
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