Harmonics, in all forms, are one of guitar’s great “magic tricks”.
Their otherworldly sound adds mystique and marvel to any piece.
We play the “natural” guitar harmonics at the 12th, 7th, and 5th frets. But using the techniques below, any pitch can become a harmonic. Using these techniques, we can unleash a whole new range of musical colors.
How to Play Right-Hand Harmonics
For most natural harmonics, first we touch a string with the left hand at the appropriate place. Then we pluck the string with the right hand.
But we can also move both these responsibilities to the right hand alone.
To play right-hand harmonics:
- Touch the string with the index (I) finger.
- Next, pluck that same string with either the ring (A) finger, or the thumb.
Create Distance Between the Touch and Pluck
To get the most sound from the harmonic, keep as much distance as possible between the tip of the index finger and the pluck.
If we pluck the string too close to “touch-point”, the string will vibrate less. This causes a quieter or more muted sound.
Artificial Harmonics on the Classical Guitar
Using the right-hand harmonic technique, our left hand is free to do other things (such as hold down frets).
As said above, we can play a natural harmonic on the 12 fret.
Likewise, we can play a harmonic 12 frets above any fret, provided we hold down the string at that fret. We call this an “artificial harmonic”.
For example, the left hand can hold down the first fret. Then, the right hand can play a harmonic 12 frets up from there, at the 13th fret.
Using this technique, we can play any pitch as an artificial harmonic. We can play melodies or counter-melodies. We can create new musical effects and bring our music to life.
Practice the Choreography
Using the right hand in this new way, we may need to practice the choreography.
To practice, play the note just before the harmonic note. As the right hand plays the previous note, immediately jump to the artificial harmonic, and freeze there.
Don’t actually play the artificial harmonic, just snap into position and stop.
This practice trains our muscle-memory to move our arm into position. And it lets us create space for an intentional and precise harmonic.