Guitar Rhythm and Techniques For Dummies
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Guitarists are not limited to only those harmonics that naturally occur at nodes along the open strings. Harmonics can be produced while strings are fretted, too. Doing so allows you to chime harmonics not otherwise accessible. When harmonics are produced in this manner, they’re called artificial harmonics. There are a few different ways to play artificial harmonics.

A technique that is necessary to play the upcoming artificial harmonic examples, requires you to both pluck and graze a string with your picking hand. This technique is called a plucked harmonic or harp harmonic. Follow the steps below to properly execute this technique.

  1. Put your pick down and keep your fretting hand out of the way.

  2. Use your picking hand’s index finger to graze the 12th fret of the sixth string.

  3. While you hold your index finger in place at the 12th fret, use either the thumb or a finger on the same hand to pluck the string.

  4. Repeat the process on the remaining strings.

With this technique you do the grazing and plucking all with the same hand. The grazing and plucking come together to form one movement. First try using your thumb to pluck because you’ll need to do so in some situations, which you discover in a moment.

Also, try using your third and fourth fingers to pluck — they work better sometimes. Remember to quickly remove your grazing finger so as not to prevent the harmonic from sustaining properly. Check here to see artificial harmonics on the guitar.

The farther away from your grazing finger you pluck, the clearer and louder the harmonic will sound. Reach back with your thumb, third finger, and fourth finger as far as you can.

With your picking hand now holding down both the duties of grazing and plucking, your fretting hand is free to do something else — namely, fret strings on the fretboard. When you barre across the first fret of all six strings using your fretting hand, you raise the pitch of all the strings by one fret, or a semitone. This means that the harmonic node previously found at the 12th fret is now moved a half-step higher to the 13th fret. All the pitches are raised a semitone too.

In figure A, you fret and hold the first fret of each string with your fretting hand and then pluck the harmonics an octave higher with your picking hand.

You can barre at any fret and pluck harmonics 12 frets higher. In figure B, you barre at the 2nd fret and pluck at the 14th. In figure C, your hands are at frets 3 and 15. Continue to work with this exercise on your own by raising the barre and pluck positions until you run out of fretboard.

Barring and plucking artificial harmonics.
Barring and plucking artificial harmonics.

Now that both hands are involved with the harmonic-producing process, you have far more possibilities to explore. With your fretting hand holding a chord, use your picking hand to pluck harmonics 12 frets higher on each string. For example, to play the first chord, G, in harmonics, follow the steps below.

  1. Put your hand in the position of a standard E-form barre chord at the third fret, making a G chord.

  2. Using your picking hand, pluck an artificial harmonic at the 15th fret of the sixth string, which is exactly 12 frets higher than the note you’re fretting on the same string with your other hand (3 + 12 = 15).

    Most guitars have fretboard inlays at the 3rd fret and an octave higher at the 15th fret that can help you keep track of your position.

  3. Working 12 frets above the next note in the chord shape, which is located at the 5th fret of the fifth string, pluck 12 frets higher at the 17th fret (5 + 12 = 17).

    You should have inlays to guide you here, too.

  4. Pluck the 17th fret of the fourth string, which is 12 frets higher than the 5th fret of the fourth string, where your fretting-hand fourth finger is placed.

  5. Pluck the 16th fret of the fifth string, which is 12 frets higher than the 4th fret of the third string, where your fretting-hand second finger is placed.

  6. Finish off the chord shape harmonics by plucking at the 15th fret on both the second and first strings.

Now that you know how to trace a chord shape with harmonics 12 frets higher, play through the A-minor chord in measure two below, being sure to keep your hands 12 frets apart the whole time. When done correctly, you trace the chord shape between frets 17 and 19.

You can use plucked harmonics on any and all chord shapes you fret and play on guitar, so long as you have room along the length of the string to trace the shapes 12 frets higher. Try playing barre chords along the fifth string, or open-position chords, or chords with additional chord tones and extensions like Gmaj7, Am7, D9, and so on.

Tracing chord shapes with plucked harmonics.
Tracing chord shapes with plucked harmonics.

In addition to tracing chord shapes with plucked harmonics, you can trace scales as well. Below, you play up and down A-minor pentatonic pattern one in the 5th position and trace it 12 frets higher with plucked harmonics in the 17th position. Notes fretted at the 5th fret are plucked at the 17th, notes fretted at the 7th fret are plucked at the 19th, and notes fretted at the 8th fret are plucked at the 20th.

You can use this technique on any type of scale, in any key, and in any position or pattern.

Tracing scale patterns with plucked harmonics.
Tracing scale patterns with plucked harmonics.

An alternative to using plucked harmonics is using tapped harmonics. Instead of grazing and plucking a string, simply tap it at the position of the node with a finger on your picking hand. Tapped harmonics don’t sound as clean and loud as plucked harmonics, but they have a neat sound nonetheless.

About This Article

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Desi Serna has built a substantial online platform as an engaging and approachable guitar guru-a guitar player and teacher with more than 10,000 hours of experience providing private guitar lessons and classes. Serna is hailed as a "music-theory expert" by Rolling Stone magazine.

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