Playing Tricky Harmonics

A piece I'm working on learning requires some of the more difficult harmonics (namely, fourth- and third-fret harmonics). Are there any tricks for playing these tricky harmonics?

For example, I know neither the fourth- nor third-fret harmonics are actually played directly over the fret. Is there a trick for knowing where to play them?

Also, since my saddle is angled, does that mean my finger should be angled as well to hit the node exactly for every string (at what angle?), or should it be parallel to the frets?

• If you're playing on an electric, having high gain and/or compression settings can help the harmonics come through without being swamped by the easier notes having a much higher volume.
– Anonymous
May 16, 2011 at 10:18
• I've heard the third-fret harmonic called "3.2" since it's just a little bit in front of the fret (closer to the bridge). The fourth-fret harmonic is just a smidge behind the fourth fret. Jul 5, 2013 at 5:32
• These diagram may help to locate them en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guitar_harmonics#mediaviewer/…
– user12790
Jul 28, 2014 at 10:15
• While this link may answer the question, it is better to include the essential parts of the answer here and provide the link for reference. Link-only answers can become invalid if the linked page changes. Jul 28, 2014 at 11:11

I'd suggest you first get handle on the sound and general position of the harmonics in this area, then use that knowledge in the context of the piece.

The fourth-fret harmonic (which is also called the fifth harmonic) is played pretty much over the fourth fret and should sound two octaves above the note on the fourth fret (two octaves and a major third above the open-string note). Play the open string and the fourth fret first and then play the fourth harmonic (over the fifth fret) and the fifth harmonic (over the fourth fret). In both cases you should be playing the same notes, except the harmonics will be two octaves higher.

When you're starting with this, I suggest you try it on the bass strings first (the vibration frequency is lower and you might find it easier to produce clear-ringing harmonics) and use a pick, which has a more definite attack than the fingers. Touch the string gently above the respective frets with your left hand fingertips and lift your fingers quickly after plucking the string in order to let the harmonics ring out. When you get it right on one string, practice it on all the others.

The sixth harmonic (third fret) is more troublesome, especially since it doesn't lie exactly above the fret, but rather approx. 1/4 of the distance between the third and fourth frets higher than the third fret. It should sound an octave higher than the harmonic over the seventh fret. Again, when learning to play this harmonic start with the bass strings and use a pick. It's not easy at first, but you should get it down eventually. Once you do, move it to the other strings.

A good way to test your ability to play these high harmonics is to play the fourth harmonic (fifth fret), fifth harmonic (fourth fret) and sixth harmonic (between the third and fourth frets, closer to the third fret). Together, they should sound like a major arpeggio.

For bonus points, you can try to get the eighth harmonic - which lies halfway between the fifth fret and the nut, about midway between the second and third frets. The note is three octaves higher than the open string and it completes the arpeggio played with the preceeding three harmonics.

It's a difficult harmonic to play cleanly, but once you are comfortable with it, you'll have pretty much the entire useable harmonic series under your belt.

All these answers are great already. Just one thing to add: the higher the harmonic you want to play, the closer to the bridge you should pick. You get maximum volume from a harmonic when you play exactly midway between nodes (because this is where the string "wants" to vibrate the most); you get little or no response if you pick at another node-point (because this is where the string "wants" to be completely still). As the distance between nodes becomes smaller with higher harmonics (because the string is being divided into more sections), the distance between the first node from the bridge and the bridge becomes smaller, and so also does the distance between the midpoint between the bridge and this node.

The (rather untidy!) diagram below shows this:

The diagram shows an approximation of the vibration of a string, when playing the 6th harmonic/5th overtone (approximately fret 3). The distance from the nut to fret 3 is the distance from node to node. Therefore, you should pick at half this distance from the bridge; this is only about 5cm (on my Telecaster!)

first, don't worry about your angled bridge, that's completely normal, in fact it helps that your intonation is correct and your harmonics are above the right frets. :)

Well the harmonics above 3 fret are more challenging, you already got that, but it's not too hard to remember their location, once you got them:

There are mainly 3 harmonics in this region which are easy playable. Try to image that in the space between the 2nd and 3rd fret there are 2 additional frets, and 2 of these harmonics are right above these imaginary frets. (+- some millimeters) Another harmonic, which is a bit harder to play, is located, right behind the second fret. Just divide the space between the 1st and 2nd fret in 4 regions, and the harmonic is located in the last region before the 2nd fret.

As you can see, it's kinda hard to describe the location with words for me, so I'll add a little graphic later for better understanding. Of course, there are more harmonic all over the fretboard, but I think you get the idea.

Markus.

It can be easiest to play the 3rd fret harmonic by picking with your left index finger while resting your ring finger above the 3rd fret. As you pluck, allow the hand to come away from the strings. This way you don't need to concentrate quite so much on synchronising your left and right hands.

I will pop up a link to Dimebag Darrell's technique for 3rd fret squeals, but you can search YouTube.

• In actual fact, the finger can touch the string on the node with no effect, so there's no real need to get it out of the way. The node is a stationary part of the string while a harmonic is playing. I use this to show students that fact. Easiest is obviously 12th fret. Play the harmonic, and touch the string again: no difference. Touch it a couple of mm away, and the string stops.
– Tim
Jul 13, 2017 at 6:20
• As I have quite big fingers, I can't keep it on the 3rd fret harmonic without it damping. The twelfth is easy, but close to the nut enough of my finger is outside the node that it damps almost immediately Jul 13, 2017 at 7:45

My suggestion for harmonics in general is to pick/pluck/strum closer to the bridge. I've always found harmonics are louder and easier the closer to the bridge you are.

And, as with many things, the key is practice.