Artificial Harmonics Overview | Hub Guitar

Artificial Harmonics Overview

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If we can make a natural harmonic by damping a string at certain points of division, such as half-length or third-length, then it makes sense that we can also make harmonics by fretting notes.

If I want to play a natural harmonic of the note "C" here on the first fret of the B string, I don't really have many options to get a nice clear one.

My best bet is to make an artificial harmonic. I'm going to do exactly what I'd do to play the B harmonic, but I'm going to fret the first fret of the second string and move the harmonic up one fret as well. The relationship of 2:1 is preserved and a harmonic is made.

So we can use this in a melodic way:

Or we can also do a whole chord with it.

You can also use this technique to play scales.

There are a few ways to do this technique. I would even go as far as to say that there's not really an established, standard way to do this.

One method is to use your thumb and then pluck the string with your index finger. This puts you in a good position to mix in fingerstyle with harmonics.

Another way is basically the opposite: use your one of your finger and pluck with your thumb. This gives you more flexibility to play a lot of harmonics, because while you're playing one you can line up the next with your middle finger. I can use multiple fingers there to set up the artificial harmonic. So try both of those techniques and decide for yourself which one is more pickable to the technique you want to add to your playing.

  1. Fret a note with the fretting hand, such as Fret I on string 2.
  2. Twelve frets above the note, lightly touch above the fret as you would a natural harmonic. This would be fret XIII.
  3. Lightly touching the string above the fret with one finger of the fretting hand, pluck the string with another.
  4. Release your fretting hand (stop touching the string).

Review of Natural Harmonics

In the lesson on Natural Harmonics we examined guitar harmonics that can be played without any notes fretted. This was done by resting a finger gently above fret XII, plucking the string, and removing the finger. We learned that this sound is created as a result of dampening the overtones while allowing the fundamental to ring. We learned that this effect occurs in simple ratios; the reason fret XII harmonic is so clear is because it is exactly one-half of the string length, producing the same note an octave higher.

Harmonics On Fretted Notes

What if we wanted to play a harmonic note that was not available as a natural harmonic such as the tone “C”?

We can play a “B” and increase its pitch by one half step. Fret the Ist fret of the B string, and now play the natural harmonic on fret XIII instead of fret XII. Previously, to damp the string above the harmonic fret, we would use our fret hand. Our fret hand is now occupied because it is fretting a note. Both dampening the string and plucking it must now be done with the picking hand.

For fingerstyle players, one finger will damp the string above the fret and another will pluck it. Pick-style players can use one finger to damp the note while plucking with the pick. If you use your thumb to damp the note, your index finger could pluck the string. This technique is just a little bit tricky at first. In order to master it, you will have to practice it repeatedly, over and over—even if you only want to use this technique as a special effect. After a few weeks or months of regular practice, you should achieve a satisfying result and you can decide for yourself how much more time to invest in the skill. Some players base their sound around this effect.

Let’s try it out, first using a natural harmonic on the open E string, plucked twelve frets higher—and then using an artificial harmonic on the fretted B string.

Artificial Harmonic Example


Artificial harmonics notation.

The next step will be to apply this principle to chords and scales. Chords will be a good choice because we can exploit the “ringing”, sustaining sound of the harmonic note by playing chords using harmonics. Playing scales with artificial harmonics also produces an interesting effect.

For chords, a good place to start would be relatively “flat” chords, or chords that span just one or two frets. This means the picking hand will have less jumping around to do in order to pluck the harmonics. Later we can move to more angular chords.

Artificial Harmonic Chords — Amin7, D9

Try playing the chords below, and then turning them into artificial harmonics.

Artificial harmonics exercise.

Key Exercises

Exercise 1. Play a G Major scale in the third position, but as harmonic notes plucked at the fifteenth fret. Play the scale ascending and descending, then in thirds.

Exercise 2. Play the Am7, D9 chords from above using harmonics. Move the chords up a half step and repeat; when you reach Fret IX, reverse direction and continue until you reach Fret II. Repeat this over and over, very slowly, in time.

Exercise 3. Play a chord progression using artificial harmonics. To start, try I , vi-, ii-, V.

As the creator of Hub Guitar, Grey has compiled hundreds of guitar lessons, written several books, and filmed hundreds of video lessons. He teaches private lessons in his Boston studio, as well as via video chat through TakeLessons.

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