In this lesson, I’ll tell you the 3 BIG mistakes made by almost everyone when it comes to playing natural harmonics on guitar and other instruments.
But before getting into those, lets just quickly understand what a Natural Harmonic is.
Whenever we pluck a string, the sound that we hear is not just one fundamental frequency (or the note that we want) but a mix of different frequencies which are called “overtones”.
These overtones actually have an order in which they appear when we play the string. There is of course the fundamental frequency (root) but just above that is the Octave, followed by the perfect fifth of the octave, followed by the perfect fourth of the perfect fifth and so on. This is an interesting principal in music theory called “the overtone series”.
So what do Natural Harmonics have to do with Overtones?
To play a Natural Harmonic, we need to gently touch the string while playing. This touch has to be a lot lesser than actually pressing the string but just enough to stop the string from vibrating fully. What this does is helps isolate an overtone which we then hear as a sharp, bright sound called a natural harmonic.
There are 4 types of harmonics
- Natural Harmonic
- Artificial Harmonic
- Pinch Harmonic
- Tap Harmonic
In this article we will be discussing the 3 big mistakes made by most guitarists when it comes to fully utilising the Natural Harmonic
Mistake 1 – Playing the Natural on just the 5th, 7th and 12th frets
The Natural Harmonic can be “easily” played on 3 frets and there is a mathematical reason behind the same. These 3 frets are
- 12th Fret – Divides the scale length (distance between nut and saddle) into 2
- 7th Fret – Divides the scale length (distance between nut and saddle) into 3
- 5th Fret – Divides the scale length (distance between nut and saddle) into 4
But did you know that you could play natural harmonics on so many other frets besides these 3
Before I tell you about the other frets, here’s some quick tips coz getting a bright sounding harmonic on some of these might take some practice
- Brightness of sound of the harmonics is directly proportional to how new the strings are 🙂
- Do a Light touch on the exact spot on the fret and pluck hard
- Quickly move away the finger to hear that sustained ring
- Picking with a plectrum will produce a clearer tone than doing it with fingers
Alrighty then! Now that the tips are done, here’s all the other frets wherein you can try and get some cool sounding natural harmonics
- 9th Fret
- 4th Fret
- 3.2 Fret – Just a little ahead of the 3rd Fret
- 2.7 Fret – Just a little behind the 3rd Fret
- 2.2 Fret – Just a little ahead of the 2nd Fret
- 1.8 Fret – Just a little behind the 2nd Fret
Were you able to get the sounds? If yes, do let me know in the comments below
Mistake 2 – Not knowing what notes you are getting by playing the harmonics
I can assure you that 99.9% of the Guitar players out there (who have been playing Natural Harmonics for a while) have no idea what note they are getting with the harmonics. Remember folks! You need to learn to play Harmonics like a note and not just a sound.
Here’s the notes that you get everytime you play a Harmonic
- 12th fret – The harmonic is the same note as the 12th fret pressed note
- 9th fret – The harmonic is 2 octaves above the 4th fret pressed note
- 7th fret – The harmonic is 1 octave above the 7th fret pressed note
- 5th fret – The harmonic is 2 octaves above the open note
- 4th fret – The harmonic is 2 octaves above the 4th fret pressed note (same as 9th fret Harmonic)
- 3.2nd fret – The harmonic is 2 octaves above the 7th fret pressed note
- 2.7th fret – The harmonic is 2 octaves above the 10th fret pressed note
- 2.2nd fret – The harmonic is 3 octaves above the open note
- 1.8th fret – The harmonic is 3 octaves above the 4th fret pressed note
So now that you know what note you get everytime you play a Harmonic, why not try incorporating some of these into your melody lines
Mistake 3 – Playing Natural Harmonics as just single notes versus experimenting and playing scales in it
Now that you have a sound knowledge of the notes behind different Natural Harmonic positions, why not try finding out hidden scales?
In the video shared above, I show you how you can play the entire D major / B natural minor scale on a standard tuned guitar with Natural Harmonics
The B natural minor scale notes are B, C#, D, E, F#, G, A and B.
Here’s where they lie on a Standard Tuned Guitar
B – 6th String, 3.2nd Fret
C# – 5th String, 4th Fret
D – 4th String, 5th Fret
E – 5th String, 3.2nd Fret
F# – 4th String, 4th Fret
G – 3rd String, 5th Fret
A – 4th String, 3.2nd Fret
B – 3rd String, 4th Fret
Were you able to get the full scale on the Harmonics? If no, then check out those tips again (written above). If yes, then High Five. Another cool tool added to your arsenal.