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Beyond Natural Harmonics


Welcome to my latest article for iBreatheMusic. Man, slowly this thing is really taking off, and there are lots of interesting discussions at the forums. Why don´t you join us there ? Don´t forget that you can also post questions about our articles there...

Anyway, my topic for today is "harmonics".
I mean, for a while I was convinced that harmonics were just nice little things to use for fills in a song ( like playing the good old divebomb ). Later, I listened to a lot of music by Eric Johnson and Steve Morse. Those guys created some absolutely beautiful effects with harmonics, playing melodies etc. that way. So I focussed on finding different kinds of harmonics and how to use them. And I can tell you, there is a lot to discover.

Those things are definitely more than just cheap effects. They can be used to play melodies or even be used as a part of the rhythm guitar-parts ( as in Van Halen´s "Poundcake" or Joe Satriani´s "Summer Song".

And if you listen to Jeff Beck, you know already what kind of almost divine sounds you can get ( as heard in the beautiful "Where Were You" and "Two Rivers"... )

Anyway, let´s start off with the very basics.

The most popular kind of harmonics are the natural harmonics.
You get those by putting your finger on the strings ( don´t push them down, just lay your finger onto the string ), then picking that string with your left hand, and quickly taking away the left hand-finger. This works best at the 12th, 7th and 5th fret. ( I don´t wanna get too much into guitar science here, let´s just memorize those numbers for now, we´ll get back to them ).

In the first MP3, you´ll hear me playing the harmonics at the frets I mentioned above. First I hit the highest three strings at the same time, then I pick each one on it´s own.

Click HERE to hear this example.

As you´ll hear, the pitch gets higher the closer the harmonic is to the nut. Again, let´s not get into guitar-physique too much. You can also try to generate them at lower or higher frets, but those are more difficult to generate. You can get some extremely high pitches though. Turn up the gain on your amp a bit and try to get harmonics at the 4th or even third fret. Or how about that squealing high harmonic that Joe Satriani used in "Satch Boogie" ? That was played at the 14th fret ( !! )

One interesting thing that I´d like to point out about those natural harmonics:
You can create some very pretty sounds by combining them with regular, fretted notes, creating chords. An example? Play the natural harmonics at the 12th fret on the A-,D-,G-, B- and high E-string, and add a C on the low E-string ( 8th fret, regular note )... voilá, there goes your Cmaj13-chord.

Another one? Same strings, harmonics at the 7th fret. Add a fretted G at the 3rd fret of the low E-String, and you´ll ( hopefully ) hear G maj13. You can also experience with open strings to create even nicer sounds... Joe Satriani did so to create some of the layers on his ballad "Rubina" ( from "Not Of This Earth" )

Alrighty, let´s get to our next audio-example. Just turn the page...

Natural and tapped harmonics >>