Making Music with Marshall


Posted: 19 May 2020

Now you’ve mastered scales, chords and you’ve got some hammer-ons and pull-offs happening, let’s look into harmonics.

Read time - 3 mins

Harmonics are those little hidden notes. They are chimey, angelic and almost harp-like and when you first hear them you might wonder where on earth they came from. To play harmonics we first need to understand what they are and how they corelate to the fretboard of the guitar.

When you pluck a string, you will hear the natural overtones of that string’s vibration along with the note. We then take our finger and lightly dampen the string at certain places along the fretboard to isolate that notes harmonics. These harmonics are found all over the fretboard, but most noticeably at the 12th, 7th, 5th and 3rd frets.

To get started. Go to the 12th fret and gently put your finger on the B string. Now pick the note, and the moment you’ve picked the note, lift your finger off the B string, practice this a few times and soon you’ll start to hear a really pleasant, bell-like harmonic sound. Once you’ve got the hang of this try it with other strings and eventually at the 9th, 7th, 5th and 3rd frets. You’ll notice it gets a little bit trickier to execute the further up the neck you go.

A technique made popular by Eddie Van Halen is the tapped harmonic, this is where you tap the string when fretting a note, keep in mind that the distance between the fretted note and the harmonic should always stay the same. So, if you’re playing a note on the first fret, you now tap on the 13th fret and so on, whereas an open harmonic would have been found on the 12th originally.

To take your harmonics up a level, let’s look at artificial harmonics. This is where you will gently touch a note with your right-hand index finger (rather than your left hand) and pluck the string with your thumb behind it. This will take some practice and is made far easier with longer thumb nails! Once you’ve mastered this at the twelth fret, try playing a chord and moving the right hand to the relative harmonic positions. For example, if you were playing an open E minor chord with your left hand, you would play artificial harmonics with your right hand on the 12th, 14th, 14th, 12th, 12th and 12th frets, working down from the top string first.

Also known as ‘squealies’, these are a shredder’s favourite. Pinched harmonics will give you that signature metal ‘squeal’ sound. Bring the guitar pick closer into your hand, rolling your thumb so it makes contact with the string, this ‘chokes’ the string and creates a pinched harmonic sound. Try using these around the fretboard between the 3rd and 5th fret. Depending on where you pick the string near your pickups you will hear a varying harmonic.

Overall, harmonics are tricky to get the hang off and you’ll hit a lot of dead notes. If you stick with it and build up the muscle-memory, you’ll find yourself nailing them every single time and they will become a useful trick to add into your writing, recording and performing.

For more on Harmonics check out our video below.