The Art of Harmonics on Guitar
Learn how to play ‘squealies’ harmonics on guitar 🤘
Let’s dive into learning one of the coolest techniques to play & impress your friends on guitar! Harmonics!
Harmonics when played on guitar produce a higher pitched tone that’s different to a normal played note. Some of these when played with distortion sound incredibly cool & we describe them as ‘squealies’.
Some notable guitarists who are known for their mastery of harmonics are: Eddie Van Halen, Dimebag Darrell of Pantera, Jaco Pastorius, Yngwie Malmsteen & Steve Vai to name a few.
What is a harmonic?
A guitar string vibrates in quite a complicated way. In addition to vibrating along the entire length of the string, a string also vibrates in subdivisions of its length i.e. halves, thirds, quarters etc.
Where these points meet along the string we call them nodes. When a string is plucked & vibrating along its entire length it produces a fundamental note which we name the pitch note.
In addition, the different subdivision lengths produce quieter notes called harmonics or the overtone series. (See the bottom of the page for the order of intervals in the overtone series.)
If we lightly touch one of these nodes on the strings we stop the fundamental note from ringing & we hear the harmonic.
How to play the Natural Harmonic:
For example, if we pluck the low E string, and lightly touch the string directly above the 12th fret with our fretting hand a harmonic will pop.
There are 2 main types of harmonics we can produce: Natural harmonics which are harmonics produced from an open string & Artificial harmonics produced whilst fretting a note.
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Master the ‘Squealie’ Pinch Harmonic 💪
One of the most difficult, yet coolest harmonics to create on guitar is the pinch harmonic.
This is created by touching a ‘node’ harmonic with the side of the thumb on the fretting hand, whilst simultaneously plucking the string behind it with the pick.
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To practice this try a ‘Natural’ pinch harmonic at the 12th fret on any open string. Place the side of the thumb touching the string directly above the fret & at the same time use the pick just behind to pluck that same string.
Next move to 14th fret & repeat the process however this time fret the 2nd fret to create an artificial pinch harmonic.
a.) remember when we move fretted note the harmonics will proportionally move in relation to the string length.
b.) selecting the bridge pickup & dialing in a lot of gain/distortion will immensely help with pinch harmonics.
Slide + Tapped Harmonics to sound awesome!
Slide harmonics are created by continuously using a trill (hammer-on/pull-off) technique on a fretted note to an open string i.e. 2nd fret D string to open.
Then using the side of a fretting hand finger glide the finger lightly across the same string near the pickups.
This creates a super cool slide effect whereby we’re picking up harmonics as we run our finger along the string.
Tapped harmonics are produced by first plucking a note, then finding a harmonic (easiest are a 5th, 7th & 12th frets above the note) and quickly touch that node with a fingertip on the fretting hand in a light tapping motion.
Adding vibrato with the harmonic in the fretting hand adds a cool effect.
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The Overtone series of harmonics:
From the fundamental note here are the order of the first 7 intervals produced in the overtone series: Octave, Perfect 5th, Perfect 4th, Major 3rd, minor 3rd, minor 3rd, Major 2nd.
Need further help understanding how to play these harmonics?
We hope this article on the art of harmonics has helped you begin to master these cool techniques.
If you’re still struggling to play these harmonics effectively, consider taking guitar lessons either at our teaching studio located in Eccles or online via video call lessons to receive expert advise by our dedicated tutors.
Contact us here to send us a message on booking your own guitar lessons today.
You can master these epic ‘squealies’ 🤘🎸