Natural Harmonics

  • by

A Technical Breakdown

A guitar string has a number of frequencies at which it will naturally vibrate. These natural frequencies are known as the harmonics of the guitar string. The natural frequency at which an object vibrates at depends upon the tension of the string, the linear density of the string, and the length of the string. Each of these natural frequencies or harmonics is associated with a standing wave pattern. What you will see below is a combination of natural harmonics and artificial harmonics.

Harmonics In Notation

Harmonics are represented in this case with the parentheses around the note. You can also see, in the tablature below, the abbreviation “N.H.” which stands for natural harmonics. For artificial harmonics, you will see that there is a “A.H.” in the tablature above the notes to be played using artificial harmonics. Those are sometimes called “right-hand harmonics.” That means that you will use your picking hand to produce the harmonics.

The Technique

Natural harmonics are played with your fretting hand. What you do there is lightly touch the string(s) where the note(s) are to be played. This is rather tricky to get down at first, but with practice you will sound just like the audio and video examples in this lesson.

Exercise 1

Harmonics naturally occur on the 5th, 7th, and 12th frets. Let’s learn how to play them!

  • Gently touch the string directly above the 5th fret of your G string (3rd string) and then pick the string.
  • You should immediately lift your fretting finger away from the string.
  • You’ll hear the clear bell tone of the harmonic sounding if you’re doing it right.
  • Repeat these steps above the 7th fret and 12 fret
  • Keep practicing until you get it down!

Example:

The trick of the whole technique is in the lightness of your touch- it has to be as light as possible. In other words, if you were to touch it any lighter, you wouldn’t be touching the string at all.

Exercise 2

You can play natural harmonics across all six strings. Try the following exercise:

  • Gently touch the string directly above the 5th fret of all six strings and strum all six strings
  • You should immediately lift your fretting finger away from the strings
  • You’ll hear the clear bell tone of the harmonics sounding if you’re doing it right
  • Repeat these steps above the 7th frets and 12 frets
  • Keep practicing until you get it down!