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Artificial Harmonics Guitar Players Should Learn

artificial harmonics

Any guitarist who has moved past their noob days is bound to have heard of artificial harmonics. If you’re an aspiring virtuoso or even a casual intermediate player, artificial and pinch harmonics are a must-learn technique.

You can make your guitar sing with these. Keep reading to find out the A to Z of artificial harmonics – what they are, how they are used, and how to learn them.

Before that, check out the best classical guitars on a budget.

How to play Artificial Harmonics?

Artificial harmonics in guitar is a unique and expressive technique that allows a guitarist to produce harmonically rich and distinctive sounds. Pinch, tapped and harp harmonics fall within the category of artificial harmonics.

Characteristics Of Artificial Harmonics

To play artificial harmonics, press down a string with your left hand to fret a note and the string 12 frets higher with your right-hand index finger, then pluck the string with your right-hand thumb or a pick.

Production Technique

Artificial harmonics are produced by a combination of standard picking or plucking and lightly touching the vibrating string with various parts of the picking hand. The point of contact with the thumb divides the string into segments, creating harmonic nodes.

Squealing Sound

Artificial harmonics are known for their distinctive, high-pitched, and often “squealing” sound. Though some artificial harmonics like harp harmonics provide soothing sounds.

Pitch Variation

The exact pitch of the artificial harmonic depends on the point along the string where the thumb touches. By adjusting the position of the thumb, guitarists can produce a wide range of harmonic pitches, unlike the limited natural harmonics.

Intense and Expressive

Artificial harmonics can introduce intensity and expression into guitar solos or musical compositions. They are often used in rock and metal genres to create a high-energy and dramatic effect.

Advanced Technique

Mastering artificial harmonics requires precision and control. It can be challenging for guitarists to consistently produce clean harmonics due to the specific finger placement and hand coordination. So artificial harmonics are often considered an advanced guitar technique.

Hit in Heavy Music

Artificial harmonics are used in various musical styles, but they are most prominent in rock and metal music. Guitarists like Zakk Wylde, Dimebag Darrell, and Eddie Van Halen are known for their skillful use of artificial harmonics to add excitement to their solos.

Effect Pedals

Some guitarists use effect pedals to enhance the sound of artificial harmonics further. These pedals can add distortion, reverb, delay, or other effects that make the harmonics even more pronounced.

The Physics Behind Artificial Harmonics

sound waves Artificial Harmonics
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Artificial harmonics are produced by manipulating the string to emphasize one of these harmonic nodes, just as natural harmonics do. 

However, instead of lightly touching the string at the nodal point, you use your picking hand’s index finger to touch the string. This essentially changes the length of the vibrating portion of the string. 

This creates a situation where you have effectively divided the string into two parts, one shorter and one longer, which accentuates the harmonic frequency related to the new length.

When you strike the string with the pick while touching it at the nodal point, you momentarily activate the harmonic overtone corresponding to that node. The pick’s edge, applied at the right position, encourages this harmonic to sound prominent. 

The string being muted by the edge of the thumb after picking prevents the fundamental frequency from interfering.

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Techniques for Playing Artificial Harmonics

Pinch Harmonics

Performing pinch harmonics on the guitar, also known as artificial harmonics, can add a unique and expressive element to your playing. Here’s how to do pinch harmonics:

Set the Tone

Pinch harmonics work best with overdriven and distorted tones. Delay and reverb help a lot in fattening the sound. Keeping the pickup at the bridge position gives the harmonics an edge to cut through the soundscape.

Hold the Pick

Start by holding your guitar pick with your index finger parallel to it and thumb perpendicular. You should have a firm but not too tight grip on the pick. A small portion of the pick’s edge should be exposed.

Select the Position

Identify the spot on the string where you want to create the pinch harmonic. Common harmonic positions are over the pickups of the guitar, where the string has a maximum amount of harmonics. You can also experiment with other locations for different harmonic tones.

Pick and Touch Simultaneously

As you pick the string, use the flesh of your thumb (the part closer to the side of your nail) on your picking hand to lightly graze or brush against the string immediately after picking it. This touch should be made at the precise spot you selected in step 2.

Identify the Right Touch

The key to successful pinch harmonics is the touch and the angle of your picking hand. Experiment with different angles of attack to find the “sweet spot” on the string that produces the clearest and most pronounced harmonic. This might require a bit of trial and error to get it just right.

Muting and Release

As soon as you’ve touched the string and produced the harmonic, release the string. Simultaneously, mute the string you just played with your fretting hand. This prevents the fundamental note from sustaining and allows the harmonic to ring out clearly. You can use the side of your palm to mute the strings after you’ve picked them.

Practice and Refinement

Start slowly and gradually increase your speed as you become more comfortable. Try different harmonic positions and experiment with the intensity of your touch for varying harmonics.

Add Expression

You can add vibratos of varying widths to embellish your pinch harmonics.

Tapped Harmonics

Tapped harmonics are also known as touch harmonics. It is a guitar technique that allows you to create harmonically rich sounds by tapping the strings in a specific way. Here’s how to perform tapped harmonics:

Prepare Your Tone

Make sure that you’re using a clean tone on your amplifier or effects settings. Tapped harmonics work best with a clean sound, as it allows the harmonics to ring out clearly.

Select the Note and Harmonic

Decide on the note you want to play and the corresponding harmonic that you want to emphasize. Keep in mind that the harmonic will be an octave (12 frets) above the note you tap.

Fret the Note

Use your fretting hand to press down on the string at the desired fret and position to play the note. For example, if you want to play the 5th fret of the high E string, fret that note.

Position Your Tapping Hand

Bring your tapping hand above the guitar’s neck. Your thumb should be parallel to the fretboard and your fingers should form a slight curve. If you’re using a pick to tap the fret, make sure it is diagonal to the string.

Tapping the Harmonic

Place the pick or your preferred tapping hand finger, whichever you’re using, directly above the fret where you’re fretting the note. Do not touch the string. 

Don’t forget to check out the list of best guitar strings for your guitar.

Strike the String

Using your tapping finger, strike the string gently but firmly. The key is to tap the string with enough force to produce the harmonic but not so hard that it mutes the string completely. Your tapping hand’s finger should lift off the string quickly after the tap.

Muting and Control

As soon as you tap and release the string, use your fretting hand to mute the string you just played. This will prevent unwanted vibrations and allow the tapped harmonic to ring out clearly.

Practice and Experiment

Experiment with different fret positions, string combinations, and tapping techniques to discover the various harmonics you can create.

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Harp Harmonics

Harp harmonics is one of the lesser-known and used artificial harmonics. It allows you to produce harmonics by plucking the strings while keeping them muted in a specific way. Here’s how to perform tapped harmonics:

Tone control

Harp harmonics work best with a clean tone. You can also add reverb and delay to it to sustain its length and make it sound glittery. Keeping the pickup at the middle position works best for Harp harmonics

Select and Fret the Note

Use your fretting hand to press down on the string at the desired fret and position to play the note. For example, if you want to play the 7th fret of the B string, fret that note. Keep the other strings muted with your other fretting hand fingers.

Position Your Plucking Hand

Keep your plucking hand’s index finger touching the harmonic node (12 frets above the one you’re fretting). For the previous example, the node with be the 19th fret of the B string. If you’re using a pick to pluck, the middle finger can be used instead.

Plucking the Harmonic

Strongly pluck the string while keeping your index/middle finger positioned on the node. You can do with with any other free finger of your plucking hand. Most players prefer the thumb. A pick can also be used. Pull your fingers away from the string right after plucking.

Move on to the next note

Move your fretting finger to the next note and reposition your plucking hand appropriately (12 frets above the fretted note). This simultaneous action requires coordination between the hands.

Practice and Experiment

Experiment with different fret positions, string combinations, and speed to improve your hand coordination and expand your phrasing library.

Check out some of these other guitar techniques!

Pinch vs. Pinched Harmonics

Pinch Harmonics and Pinched Harmonics are terms used interchangeably. There is no difference between the two techniques.

Tablature Notation

A note played with artificial harmonics can be notated in many ways. Some composers add letters below the fundamental notes, while others add “< >”. Tablature software programs like Guitar Pro or Tab Pro usually mark artificial harmonics with “A.H.” or “8va”. Pinch harmonics are marked with “P.H.”.

a) The note with “< >” is played with artificial harmonics

e|——————————————|

B|—————–<8>———————-|

G|————7–9————————–|

D|–7–9–10——————————–|

A|——————————————|

E|——————————————|

b) The “A.H.” note indicates that it creates artificial harmonics.

  A.H.

e|——————————————|

B|——————————————|

G|———————-8——————-|

D|————7–9–10———————-|

A|–7–9–10——————————–|

E|——————————————|

Practical Applications

Cemetary Gates – Pantera

Pantera’s “Cemetery Gates”, released in 1990, starts with pinch harmonics. It includes a famous exchange of notes between Phil Anselmo and Dimebag Darrell. It won’t be exaggerating if you say the artificial harmonics give the song its unique identity.

Laid To Rest – Lamb Of God

Taken from their third studio album “Ashes of the Wake”,” Laid to Rest” remains one of Lamb of God’s biggest fan-favorites. The main riff of the iconic groove metal song sees repetitive use of squealing pinch harmonics.

Panama – Eddie Van Halen

Van Halen’s “Panama” is about a car. David Lee Roth decided to write it after realizing he hadn’t sung about fast cars before. He saw the “Panama Express” racing in Las Vegas. The artificial harmonics in it signify the racing car.

Keep Your Eye On The Money – Mötley Crüe

Mötley Crüe’s “Keep Your Eye On The Money” from their 1986 album “Theatre of Pain” features prominent pinch harmonics. Mick Mars’s solo at the end is a glaring example.

Money for Nothing – Dire Straits

“Money For Nothing” by Dire Straits was released in 1985. It features backing vocals from Sting. The track showcases Mark Knopfler’s fingerpicking skills and love for artificial harmonics.

Fatal Tragedy – Dream Theater

Dream Theater’s “Fatal Tragedy” is from their 2020 live album “Distant Memories” and is known for its cool pinch harmonics in the progressive metal genre. John Petrucci knows exactly where the sweet spots on the strings are, and he doesn’t hide it.

Natural Harmonics vs. Artificial Harmonics

Natural harmonics and artificial harmonics are two distinct techniques used in music, primarily on stringed instruments like the guitar. They differ in how they are produced and the resulting sound. Here’s a comparison between natural and artificial harmonics:

Production

Natural harmonics are produced by lightly touching the string at specific nodal points while not pressing the string against the frets. These points are typically located over the 12th, 7th, and 5th frets and produce harmonics one, two, and three octaves higher than the open string, respectively.

Artificial harmonics, also known as pinch harmonics, are produced by picking the string normally with a plectrum or finger while simultaneously touching the string with the side of your thumb or another finger at a specific point after the picking. This creates harmonic overtones.

Sound

Natural harmonics produce clear, bell-like, and ethereal tones. They have a pure and rich quality with a fundamental pitch and overtones that create a unique, chime-like sound.

Artificial harmonics produce a squealing, high-pitched, and more aggressive sound compared to natural harmonics. They often have a more distorted and intense character.

Technique

Producing natural harmonics requires a gentle touch on the string, allowing the string to vibrate at specific divisions. The string is plucked or strummed while the touching finger is lifted to let the harmonic ring out.

The technique for artificial harmonics involves a combination of picking and touching the string. The picking hand’s thumb or finger is used to touch the string after it has been picked.

Placement

The nodal points of Natural Harmonics are located at a defined number of the guitar’s frets like the 5th, 7th, 12th, 15th, etc.

Artificial harmonics can be created for any note on the fretboard, but they require the string to be touched a certain distance away from the fretted note like 12 frets.

Not to confuse Harmony and Harmonics

Harmony and harmonics are two related musical terms but refer to different aspects of music. Here are the key differences between them:

What is Harmony?

Harmony is the combination of different musical notes played simultaneously to create a pleasing or meaningful sound. It involves the vertical arrangement of notes, producing chords and chord progressions.

Harmonics, in the context of music, refers to overtones or partials that occur when a musical instrument produces a sound. These are higher-pitched frequencies that are multiples of the fundamental frequency of a vibrating string or air column.

What is The Function of Harmony?

Harmony is an essential component of music that supports the melody, adding depth, texture, and emotional richness to a composition. It provides a backdrop against which the melody unfolds.

 Harmonics are overtones of fundamental notes that musicians utilize to add texture and identity to compositions. They are embellishments of sorts.

How was Harmony Created?

Harmony is created through chords and chord progressions. Musicians use a set of predetermined rules and principles to create harmonious chord sequences.

Harmonics are produced when a vibrating medium like a guitar string vibrates in multiple segments simultaneously. Guitarists often produce harmonics technically and mute fundamental notes. 

Impact

Harmony can significantly affect the mood and character of a piece of music. Different harmonic progressions can convey feelings ranging from happiness to melancholy, tension, and resolution.

Harmonics influence the timbre and the overall sound quality of an instrument. Different instruments and playing techniques produce different sets of harmonics, contributing to the diversity of musical sounds.

In a nodeshell

Artificial Harmonics, especially pinch harmonics are a beloved part the the rock and metal music legacy. They are much more abundant and flexible than natural harmonics. Artificial Harmonics is a technique any guitarist can benefit from knowing about, and knowing how to play.

Artificial Harmonics FAQ

Sabih Safwat

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