close up of guitarist playing a natural harmonic on an acoustic guitar

Unleashing the Magic of Natural Harmonics on the Guitar

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Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

The guitar is often celebrated as one of the most versatile and expressive instruments in the world of music. Of course, its ability to create a wide range of sounds and textures is a testament to the creativity and ingenuity of musicians.

Among the plethora of techniques and tricks that guitarists employ to craft their sonic landscapes, one of the coolest and most enchanting is the use of natural harmonics. This isn’t exactly a beginner guitar technique, but it’s a fun trick to work into your toolbox.

The essence of natural harmonics

Natural harmonics are those ethereal, bell-like tones that you can coax out of your guitar strings with just a gentle touch. Typically, this involves lightly resting your finger on a specific spot on the string while plucking it, resulting in a note that seems to defy gravity as it sustains and reverberates.

The most common spot to produce natural harmonics is directly over the 12th fret. When you execute this technique, you’re essentially playing the octave of the open strings (EADGBE), but in a way that generates a unique and captivating sound. However, the enchantment doesn’t stop there; you can also perform natural harmonics over the 7th and 5th frets, though it can be a bit more challenging to achieve a strong and clear sound on the 5th fret.

Harmonizing with chords

Now that we’ve explored the basics of natural harmonics, let’s take it up a notch. How about applying this mesmerizing technique to actual chords? Yes, you read that right – you can infuse your chords with the magic of harmonics!

To illustrate this, let’s take the example of an open D chord, which is typically fingered as frets X-X-0-2-3-2 (notated from nose to toes). Now, imagine you want to elevate each note of this chord by a full octave (12 frets up). What do you do? You play a harmonic on the corresponding fret for each note, resulting in a chord that sounds like it’s been touched by musical stardust. So, for our open D chord, you would play harmonics on frets X-X-12-14-15-14.

The challenge, of course, lies in the execution. How do you manage to play these harmonics when your left hand is busy forming the chord and your right hand is responsible for plucking the strings? The key to this lies in the dexterity of your right hand.

Mastering the art of harmonic chords

To effectively incorporate harmonics into your chord progressions, you’ll need to use your right hand in a precise and coordinated manner. Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you master this technique.

  1. Prepare your left hand. Begin by fretting the chord as you normally would. In our example, this would be the open D chord (X-X-0-2-3-2).
  2. Identify the harmonic points. Determine which strings you want to add harmonics to and pinpoint the exact frets for these harmonics. In our case, we’re harmonizing the 4th, 3rd, 2nd, and 1st strings at the 12th, 14th, 15th, and 14th frets, respectively.
  3. Position your right hand. This is where the magic happens. Use your right hand’s index finger to lightly touch the string at the predetermined harmonic point. Apply just enough pressure to create the harmonic, but not too much to deaden the string.
  4. Pluck with precision. With your right hand’s ring finger (or any finger of your choice), pluck the string that you’ve touched to produce the harmonic. Remember to pluck gently and smoothly to coax out that crystalline tone.
  5. Practice, practice, practice. Like any guitar technique, achieving mastery over harmonic chords requires practice. Start slowly, focusing on accuracy and clarity. Gradually increase your speed as your muscle memory develops.
  6. Experiment with progressions. Once you’ve got the hang of it, experiment with different chord progressions and incorporate harmonics where they fit naturally. You’ll be amazed at the sonic landscapes you can create.
  7. Listen and refine. Pay close attention to the nuances of your harmonics. Listen to the tone, sustain, and resonance. Tweak your technique as needed to achieve the desired sound.

Natural harmonics elevate your playing

Natural harmonics on the guitar are like little bursts of magic that can elevate your playing. They add depth, shimmer, and an otherworldly quality to your music that captivates a listener. From the mesmerizing harmonics over the 12th fret to the creative application of harmonics within chord progressions, this technique opens up a world of sonic possibilities.

So, the next time you pick up your guitar, why not explore the enchanting realm of natural harmonics? With practice and patience, you’ll unlock the full potential of this mesmerizing technique and infuse your music with a touch of ethereal beauty that will leave your audience spellbound. Embrace the magic of harmonics, and let your guitar sing with a richness and resonance that sets your music apart.

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About Gary Heimbauer

Gary Heimbauer is a freelance writer for Guitar Tricks, the original online guitar lessons program since 1998. With over four million members, Guitar Tricks is the premier guitar lessons platform for beginner guitarists and advanced players alike.

2 thoughts on “Unleashing the Magic of Natural Harmonics on the Guitar

  1. What you have described are not “natural” harmonics, but what are known as “false” or “artificial” harmonics. And you have neglected to include the other natural harmonics to be found on frets other than 5, 7, and 12; plus, some of these repeat at more than one location.

  2. This article is a little misleading and it over-generalizes. Nowhere in the text does the author ever mention the correct term for what he spends most of the article describing. “Artificial harmonics,” which are so NOT natural harmonics. A student should know that there is a vast difference in the two; Yes, the properly executed sound is the same, but the technique to achieve them and range of available notes are completely different, as well as how to notate them on a musical staff.

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