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Understanding Guitar Harmonics: A Comprehensive Guide


Guitar harmonics are like hidden gems within the world of music. They add a touch of magic, a shimmering quality that can elevate your playing to new heights. Whether you’re a seasoned guitarist or just starting out, understanding harmonics is essential. In this blog post, we’ll delve into the fascinating world of guitar harmonics, exploring their different types, how to play them, and when to use them. So grab your pick, tune your strings, and let’s dive in!

1. Natural Harmonics

What Are Natural Harmonics? When you pluck a guitar string, you hear its fundamental note—the main pitch. But there’s more to it. Along the fretboard, shorter frequencies create additional overtones or harmonics. Natural harmonics occur at specific points on open strings. The most common ones are found at the 12th, 7th, and 5th frets. These harmonics result from dividing the string length into fractions—for example, half the length for the 12th fret harmonic. You can also find them at higher octaves and even off the fretboard (24th fret). There are more granular positions too, like the 3.2 fret or 14.7 fret. Check out a full table of natural harmonics for precise locations.

How to Play Natural Harmonics:

  1. Lightly touch the string above the fret (not pressing it down).

  2. Pluck the string with your other hand (near the bridge is clearer).

  3. Listen to the bell-like chime—the harmonic!

When Are Natural Harmonics Useful?

  • Chime-like Intros: Use natural harmonics to create ethereal intros or interludes.

  • Accentuating Melodies: Add sparkle to melodies by incorporating harmonics.

  • Creating Harmonic Patterns: Explore harmonic sequences for unique textures.

2. Artificial Harmonics

What Are Artificial Harmonics? Unlike natural harmonics, artificial harmonics occur on fretted strings. When you fret a note, the position of the harmonic changes along the string. Artificial harmonics allow you to play harmonics anywhere on the fretboard. They’re produced by:

  1. Fretting a note.

  2. Touching the string lightly 12 frets above the fretted note (without pushing down).

  3. Plucking the string.

You can also play notes other than octaves with artificial harmonics but they may be tricky to find. Experiment with different fret distances to create harmonics that aren’t just octaves. Combine them with fretted notes for intriguing effects. This is how the famous “Harp Guitar” sounds are created; by blending the artificial harmonics with normal fretted notes.

When Are Artificial Harmonics Useful?

  • Shredding Solos: Metal and rock guitarists love artificial harmonics for screeching solos. These sound great with distortion. However, they are less common than “pinch harmonics” which we will cover next.

  • Harmonic Swells: Use them to build tension or add drama to your playing. Play a combination of artificial harmonics with fretted strings and use the volume knob for ambient sounds.

  • Bell Like Chords & Melody: Play artificial harmonics with regular notes for a pleasant blend. Since these harmonics can be moved to any pitch, it is possible to create entire arrangements that feature them on the melody.

3. Pinch Harmonics

What Are Pinch Harmonics? Pinch harmonics, favored by rock and metal players, produce squealing tones. They are typically only used with heavy distortion. The overdriven guitar tone brings out these otherwise quiet sounds. Here’s how to play them:

  1. Use an electric guitar with heavy distortion.

  2. Fret a note in the left hand.

  3. Pick the string and simultaneously touch it with your thumb (on the picking hand).

  4. Use a strong vibrato to make the notes wail!

Depending on the location you pick the string with the right hand, a variety of different pitches can be produced. When Are Pinch Harmonics Useful?

  • Aggressive Riffs: Accentuate heavy riffs with pinch harmonics.

  • Lead Guitar Fireworks: Add flair to lead lines with well-placed pinches.

  • Expressive Bends: Combine bends and pinches for expressive solos.

4. Harmonics for Tuning

Harmonics are often used when tuning as well. Why Use Harmonics for Tuning? Harmonics provide a precise way to hear the pitches. The higher pitches produce a more obvious “beating” sound when they are out of tune. You can tune with natural harmonics using the following process:

  1. Play the natural harmonic on the 5th fret of the 6th string

  2. Play the natural harmonic on the 7th fret of the 5th string

  3. Let both notes ring together, you should be able to hear it clearly if they are out of tune.

  4. Tune the 5th string so that the note sounds pleasantly with the 6th string.

  5. Repeat the process on the 5th & 4th strings, 4th & 3rd strings, etc.

  6. Important! You cannot use this method to tune the 3rd & 2nd strings. You can tune the 2nd string by using the 7th fret harmonic on the 6th string and the open 2nd string.

5. The Overtone Series

What Is the Overtone Series? When you play a note, it generates overtones. These overtones follow a specific arrangement—the harmonic series. Understanding this series helps you grasp harmonics better. The order of harmonics along a string follows the overtone series. I recommend searching online for a more in-depth look at this fascinating theoretical subject.


Guitar harmonics are your secret weapon for captivating sounds. Whether you’re strumming an acoustic ballad or shredding a metal riff, harmonics add that extra sparkle. So, explore the fretboard, experiment with different techniques, and let harmonics take your playing to the next level.

And hey, if you’re hungry for more knowledge, consider signing up for guitar lessons at The American Guitar Academy. Our expert instructors will guide you through harmonics and beyond. Happy playing! 



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