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Basics of Harmonics (Guitar Lesson)

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David Anthony

Basics of Harmonics

David explains the basics of natural harmonics. You will learn the acoustical properties pertaining to harmonics. You will also learn how to tune your guitar using natural harmonics.

Taught by David Anthony in Tips and Tricks seriesLength: 25:00Difficulty: 2.5 of 5
Chapter 1: (15:23) Basics of Harmonics

David Anthony plays some introductory music that introduces the topic of Lesson 2. In this lesson, David defines what a harmonic is and how one is produced. There are several types of harmonics. Each type of harmonic is performed in its own unique way. In this lesson, David explores “natural” harmonics, the most prevalent type of harmonics. The remaining types of harmonics are discussed in later lessons.

What is a Harmonic?

“Harmonic” is a term that is often used in the scientific field of acoustics. Harmonics are component frequencies that comprise a larger, fundamental frequency. The individual pitches or notes that occur in music are referred to as “fundamentals.” For example, the pitch we hear when the fifth string is struck is a fundamental. This fundamental is called “A”. The pitch that our ears perceive as “A” is actually a sum of several overtone frequencies called harmonics. When we hear a fundamental, our ears cannot distinguish the individual overtones. We only hear their resulting sum or fundamental.

A frequency is assigned to every pitch or note that we hear. Frequency is measured in a unit called hertz (abbreviated Hz). For example, the frequency of the open A string is 220Hz. Harmonics are integer multiples of this fundamental frequency. For example, if the length of the A string is divided in half, the resulting pitch is an octave higher. The 12th fret marks the exact center of a string. If a harmonic is plucked at the 12th fret, the frequency of the pitch doubles. The frequency of this harmonic is 440Hz. The pitch that results is still A, just one octave higher. If the length of string is divided into an even smaller section, a higher harmonic occurs.

Natural Harmonics

Listen to the introduction music once again. The high chime-y sounds David creates are examples of “natural harmonics.” The natural harmonics he plays occur at the 12th fret. Harmonics are a frequently used compositional technique. Compare the sound of a fretted note at the 12th fret to a harmonic played at the 12th fret. The pitch is the same, but the overall tone is quite different. Harmonics are added to a piece of music to add a contrasting tonal color.

Performing a natural harmonic is relatively easy. Begin by practicing harmonics at the 12th fret. Harmonics at this location are much easier to produce. Lightly rest the fleshy tip of the finger on the string directly over the 12th fret. If your finger is not directly over the fret, the harmonic will not sound. Do not press the string down at all. As soon as you pluck the string with the right hand, quickly release your left hand finger from the string. Watch David carefully as he demonstrates some harmonics at the 12th fret.

Also, practice playing two harmonics simultaneously. Simply barre a left hand finger across the desired strings.

Where do Natural Harmonics Occur?

The easiest harmonics to produce occur at the 5th, 7th, and 12th frets of each string. Harmonics actually occur down the length of the entire string. However, many of these harmonics are very difficult to produce. As a result, these harmonics are used rather infrequently.

Note: It is much easier to produce natural harmonics on an electric guitar. Harmonics really jump out when played with a distorted tone. Also, scooping the midrange frequency of a distorted guitar tone increases the projection of harmonics.

Chapter 2: (09:44) Tuning With Harmonics A.The 5th Fret Method

You may already be familiar with a tuning method called the“5th fret method.”

However, many guitarists use harmonics as their favorite tuning method. This is because some people hear better in higher registers. Since harmonics produce a high, chime-y sound, they are an ideal basis for tuning the guitar.

Note: The following review information regarding the “5th fret method” is taken from Lesson 2 of Brian Thomas’ Phase 1 series.

One common way to tune the guitar by ear is by using a method commonly referred to as the “5th Fret Method.” There are other ways to tune the guitar that are more effective. However, these methods are much too difficult for beginners to perform. Consequently, they will be discussed in later lessons. Here is a quick list of steps that will take you through the 5th Fret Tuning Method.

1. Using your electronic tuner, tune your lowest (fattest) string to E.

2. Now, play the note on the 5th fret of the E string. This note is A.

3. While this fretted note is still ringing, play the next string open. This note is also A.

4. Match the pitch of the open A string to the pitch of the fretted note on the sixth string. As Brian mentions, when two notes are slightly out of tune with one another, an oscillating waveform is heard. The wavering sound is referred to as a “beat.” The greater the length of time between beats, the farther the string is from being in tune. When the beat disappears, the strings are in tune with one another. Watch this scene carefully and listen closely to the beats as Brian is tuning his guitar.

5. Play the note at the 5th fret of the A string. This note is a D. Match the pitch of the open D string to this pitch.

6. Play the note at the 5th fret of the D string. This note is a G. Match the pitch of the open G string with this note.

7. Play the note at the 4th fret of the G string. This note is a B. Match the pitch of the open B string to this note.

8. Play the note at the 5th fret of the B string. This note is an E. Match the pitch of the open E string to this note.

9. Check your accuracy with your electronic tuner. Make any necessary adjustments.

10. Rock out!

Tuning with Harmonics

1. Using your electronic tuner, tune your lowest (fattest) string to E.

2. Now, play the harmonic on the 5th fret of the E string.

3. While the harmonic is still ringing, play the harmonic on the 7th fret of the A string.

4. Match the pitch of the harmonic on the A string to the harmonic on the sixth string.

5. Play the harmonic at the 5th fret of the A string. Match this harmonic with the harmonic on the 7th fret of the D string.

6. Play the harmonic at the 5th fret of the D string. Match this with the 7th fret harmonic on the G string.

7. Play the harmonic at the 4th fret of the G string. Match the 5th fret harmonic on the B string with this pitch.

8. Play the harmonic at the 5th fret of the B string. Match it with the 7th fret harmonic on the E string.

9. Check your accuracy with your electronic tuner. Make any necessary adjustments.

Video Subtitles / Captions


Supplemental Learning Material



Member Comments about this Lesson

Discussions with our instructors are just one of the many benefits of becoming a member of JamPlay.

stevenvlstevenvl replied

I can hear up to 11500 Hertz. http://onlinetonegenerator.com

stevenvlstevenvl replied

And the lower end from 35 Hertz.

grburgessgrburgess replied

It's the sign of the times that the young think in megahertz instead of hertz, but that's because almost everything in electronics is a million times faster. Hertz just means cycles per second, so if you're talking sound, you need to SLOW it down to hertz instead of megahertz which is a million times faster.

jondavisjondavis replied

David ... definitely need to re-record the file. It's kilohertz not megahertz. As an expert your credibility is everything. Love the technique.

digitaladamdigitaladam replied

Hi Dave, There is no megahertz in audible frequencies range. 1 Megeherzt = 1,000,000Hz. You should say 220 hertz no 220 megahertz. Just a little correction. Adam

ric2playric2play replied

Youre the man David. Love your playing, love your style. Hope u teach me enough to be half as good as you. Im looking to buy a good low cost acoustic. Whats the best one?

kasrakasra replied

i made a fine investment when i wanted to start about 2 yrs ago, maybe a martin really similar to what david is playing with ( mine is CX auditorium) was a bit too much for the beginning but trust me, when u want to do harmonics, u need to be able to hear that vibration and only good guitars can produce sounds like that. im suggesting u to invest $500-$700 and ull be amazed by the quality. get one of the low end martin models. they are amazing. they well worth for the investment.

rarsenrarsen replied

Hi Dave, Thanks for the harmonics lessons. Can you please teach/explain the cool funky jazzy lick, ? chords, on the 5th fret area you played "with feeling"on your 2nd lesson for harmonics? Please help! Thanks, Ron

frozenfewfrozenfew replied

Having trouble grasping how you are making the tone like that, It would really help if you could get a close up of your left hand to show exactly what you are doing. I have played around on the 12th fret for about an hour and can't seem to emulate the sound?

silvanasilvana replied

u r soo cool and cute i love ur work

ric2playric2play replied

by the way could u breakdown that groove in the "feel" section in lesson two. I would appreciate.

Tips and Tricks

Found in our Beginner Lesson Sets

Every guitarist gets to a point where he/she wishes to add his/her own touch to songs. Basic techniques such as hammer-ons, pull-offs, rakes, and harmonics are a great way to put an original spin on the music you play.

Intro to Lesson SeriesLesson 1

Intro to Lesson Series

David Anthony introduces the Tips and Tricks lesson series.

Length: 4:12 Difficulty: 0.5 Members Only
Basics of HarmonicsLesson 2

Basics of Harmonics

David explains the basics of natural harmonics.

Length: 25:00 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Cool Harmonic ExercisesLesson 3

Cool Harmonic Exercises

David Anthony teaches a basic harmonic exercise. The exercise is modeled after "Nothing Else Matters" by Metallica.

Length: 10:48 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Rakes and HarmonicsLesson 4

Rakes and Harmonics

David Anthony explains a technique known as string rakes. He explains how rakes may be used with harmonics.

Length: 15:30 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Harmonic ExerciseLesson 5

Harmonic Exercise

David Anthony teaches a beautiful harmonic exercise. This exercise is a short piece that is great for building harmonic skills.

Length: 15:00 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Tap HarmonicsLesson 6

Tap Harmonics

David Anthony covers the basics of tap harmonics. He demonstrates an exercise that will help you with this technique.

Length: 24:00 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Slap Harmonics and Open TuningLesson 7

Slap Harmonics and Open Tuning

In this action packed lesson, David Anthony teaches slap harmonics and CGDGAD tuning.

Length: 15:00 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
More Slap HarmonicsLesson 8

More Slap Harmonics

David demonstrates a new exercise involving slap harmonics.

Length: 9:00 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Harp HarmonicsLesson 9

Harp Harmonics

David introduces harp harmonics.

Length: 16:00 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Harp-Slap Harmonic JamLesson 10

Harp-Slap Harmonic Jam

David Anthony brings harp and slap harmonics together in a practical, musical exercise.

Length: 10:03 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
More Harp HarmonicsLesson 11

More Harp Harmonics

David returns to the world of harp harmonics. Once again, this lesson uses an alternate tuning.

Length: 14:30 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
David Anthony

About David Anthony View Full Biography David Anthony was born on November 9th, 1982, in the small town of Mount Hope, NY. As a child he absorbed the church flavored musical environment that his parents provided. With this influence he realized at a young age that music would not simply be a passive experience for him. It was not until the age of 15 that he decided to string up his first guitar. Relying solely on his father for his foundational chord knowledge, he quickly became enamored with the possibility of endless melodic structures, and the goal of becoming a fantastic player himself.

His early shredder influences came from Kirk Hammet of Metallica. During his first few years of guitar playing, he developed a very workable knowledge of pentatonic, major and minor scales. Over the years his musical interests swayed from rock to standards, from jazz to classical, and a strong love of the art of flamenco guitar; Spanish finger style. It was not until the age of 18 that he decided to surround himself entirely with the music of Steve Vai and Joe Satriani. This influential exclusivity enabled him to learn more about thinking outside of the musical box. In one year he had learned than in the prior 3 years. Picking up multiple ways to structure melodies, create chords and use different modes, his writing and improvisational abilities grew exponentially. In his senior year of high school, he was responsible for the development of the first Musical Appreciation class in the schools history, and had aided the instructor in the teaching of those classes.

After high school, his focus started to rest mainly in writing. With this he realized that he would need additional, abstract influences to develop a unique style of writing. After a couple more years of playing in a small band, and writing some decent material, he greeted 2004 with a move to Nashville, TN. There he found the exact influence that would change his opinion of the guitar forever. Attempting to weed out a strong foundation in shredding and solo techniques, he began learning finger style guitar, and quickly realized the options that his door would open for him.

As he picked up more complex chord structures and jazz scales, his style became a passion for him that continues to drive him and push him to learn more. He feels strongly about the connection between musical input and the music you write. He notes that his subconscious pool of influence, developed from the music he listens to, is almost directly responsible for the type of music that he writes. He adamantly believes that in order to create a unique, soulful style, the pool must remain unpolluted by substandard music. What's that mean? As David puts it, "If you don't want to play crap, don't listen to crap."

David currently teaches Jazz guitar in Fort Collins, Colorado, with plans to move back to Nashville in the spring to pursue a career in writing.

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