3 Tips for Better Harmonics on Guitar
To play regular guitar harmonics, you touch (but don’t fully press) the string in specific places with the left hand and then sound the string with the right hand.
The result is a higher note that has a distinct sound and quality. It’s one of the guitar tricks that separate us from many other instruments.
When we encounter harmonics in our guitar pieces, we often find that they present issues and problems.
We may have trouble balancing the sound of a harmonic note with the rest of the notes. We may have trouble placing the left hand finger precisely. Or we may do everything right, but still the note doesn’t ring out quite right.
First, How Harmonics Work on Classical Guitar
Tip #1 for Guitar Harmonics:
Play Directly Over the Fret
This may be a bit obvious if you already know how to play harmonics, but it bears repeating: place your left hand finger directly over the fret.
For the most common harmonics (on the 12th, 7th and 5th frets), you’ll get the strongest sound by touching the string directly over the fret. This is opposed to just behind the fret, where we would normally place left hand fingers.
The more precise you are with your placement, the cleaner your harmonic will be.
Tip #2 for Guitar Harmonics:
Play it Loud
Harmonics are by nature a bit quieter than non-harmonic notes on the guitar. If you want to balance the harmonic note to the volume of the other notes, play it loud.
This can feel strange. If you were to play a regular note with such force, it would sound terrible. It would be brash and overdriven. But with harmonics, it works for the best.
Be brave, and lean into it!
For practice, play the harmonic notes as loud as you can with your right hand. You may need some repetition before you feel comfortable leaning in with such force.
Tip #3 for Guitar Harmonics:
Move Your Right Hand Towards the Bridge
You’ll often get the best sound on harmonics if you move your right hand toward the bridge, away from the fretboard.
This creates a brighter tone quality which helps the harmonics to “cut through” so they are easier to hear.
Moving the right hand back also helps you avoid accidentally muting out some frequencies as you play the note. You can usually get the best sound quality from any note by playing (with your right hand) at about 3/4 of the string length.
Create a brighter tone to help harmonics “cut through”.
(So for open strings and the lower positions, this is over the soundhole. As you move to higher frets, shortening the string length, you can move toward the bridge. You can play with this and hear how right hand placement affects the sound quality, or timbre.)
Note: Of course this is not always possible. “Artificial harmonics” may not allow it. But if you can manage it, you’ll likely notice the difference.
You’ll Meet More Guitar Harmonics Along the Road
As you progress to harder and harder music, you’ll likely encounter more and more harmonics, as well as different methods of playing them. Harmonics are a special technique that adds interest and variety to guitar music, so you’ll want to become comfortable with them.
Regardless of the specific circumstance, these tips will help a great majority of the time. To review:
- Place your left hand finger directly over the fret, not behind it.
- Play harmonics with more right hand force and velocity (meaning louder) than normal notes.
- Move your right hand back toward the bridge just a bit.
Hi, I’m Allen Mathews.
I started as a folk guitarist, then fell in love with classical guitar in my 20’s. Despite a lot of practice and schooling, I still couldn’t get my music to flow well. I struggled with excess tension. My music sounded forced. And my hands and body were often sore. I got frustrated, and couldn’t see the way forward. Then, over the next decade, I studied with two other stellar teachers – one focused on the technical movements, and one on the musical (he was a concert pianist). In time, I came to discover a new set of formulas and movements. These brought new life and vitality to my practice. Now I help guitarists find more comfort and flow in their music, so they play more beautifully.
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