Chris Woods keeps his touch light this month with a look at the wonderful world of harmonics; where to find them and how to play them well.
Acoustic virtuoso Chris Woods freshens up your modern acoustic toolbox with a look at the wonderful world of harmonics.
Sonically, there’s a host of exciting tones to be created using harmonics and a whole range of ways to do it. There are two main approaches: first, natural harmonics and, second, artificial harmonics. In this column we will be looking at both – and even one or two beyond. I’ve created 20 examples to give you some inspiration. Some of the techniques may be new to you; some may not, but be sure to see them as creative offerings to kick-start some new ideas of your own.
I’m going to begin by focusing on natural harmonics. If you’ve never played a natural harmonic before, it will be worthwhile staying with these first five exercises for a bit, before moving on. The fundamental idea is that you rest your fretting hand finger on the string – commonly over the 12th, 7th or 5th fret, but not pushing down as you would for a standard note. Don’t press, just touch the string, then pluck it and lift the finger off, making sure you are right over the fretwire itself. Touch and location are vital points and the real key to success in the harmonics world. Perfect this and you’ll be playing harmonics in no time.
From Example 6 we delve into the world of artificial harmonics – and a little bit beyond. With this approach we can now play a harmonic for any fretted note. So, for example, if you play the note of A (2nd fret, third string) we can create a harmonic on the same string 12 frets above it. Not enough hands, surely? Ah, well, we simply create a unique picking hand position. We fret the harmonic note with the picking hand’s first finger and pluck the note with the same finger’s thumb. If you extend your first finger and thumb in opposite directions you should create a stiletto-style shape with your hand; this is the ultimate hand position for playing artificial harmonics. Now, if we wanted to play an artificial harmonic for that A note on the 2nd fret, third string we would fret that note with our fretting hand, then use our picking hand thumb to pluck the third string, while the same hand’s first finger plays the harmonic directly over the 14th fret. The ‘fret, pluck, place and lift finger to create the harmonic’ action should be a swift, single movement. It will take a few goes until you get it dead right, but by using this principle you can arpeggiate whole chords and execute entire runs, as typified by the amazing Tommy Emmanuel and the late, great innovator, Lenny Breau.
As we journey through the exercises we’ll be looking at slapped harmonics and more, so be prepared to try something new!
Using arti ficia l har monic s, you ca n ar peggiat e whole chord s and execut e entir e ru ns
Chris Woods: guide to nailing harmonics
Lenny Breau; an acoustic innovator and master of all types of harmonics