I have heard a lot about natural harmonics, what are they, what's the difference to artificial ones?

2 Answers 2


Natural harmonics, on guitar in particular, are those found using open strings. The most used ones are those on 12th fret, 7th fret and 5th fret - or the same places nearer the pups - as in 1/2 the open string, 1/3 and 1/4 of it.

Artificial harmonics are those found using fretted notes. A straightforward example would be when one frets the 1st fret on, say, the top string. That's an F. The first artificial harmonic of that will be touching over the 13th fret, to give an octave F. Then touching over 8th fret will give the second harmonic of C, and touching over the 6th fret will give another F, an octave higher. That's artificial harmonics.

With some practice, the touching can be done with a digit from the picking hand - the other is busy lower down - and is getting very close to pinched harmonics - probably the next stage.

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    Natural and artificial harmonics are also played on orchestral string instruments in the same way, except the word "fingered" is used instead of "fretted" (since they don't have frets), and unlike on guitar, artificial harmonics involve only using the left hand (fingering hand) to both finger the note and touch the harmonic node, while on guitar it's picking hand that usually touches the node. Jan 9, 2019 at 19:02
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    Way too early to choose this as the preferred answer. Others will follow. Having said that, I've often said I could do a term's lessons purely on harmonics - they're fascinating and numerous.
    – Tim
    Jan 9, 2019 at 19:04
  • @ToddWilcox - interesting points. On violin and niola it's not too bad holding string and touching node with same hand. Cello not quite so. Although it can't be easy bowing and touching a node with the same hand..! I tend to play all harmonics, natural and artificial, one-handed. (On guitar or bass).
    – Tim
    Jan 9, 2019 at 19:08
  • My understanding on cello is that only the higher-order artificial harmonics are played, and perhaps none are played on bass. I've seen artificial harmonics played on cello before.Here's an entire blog post about them: moderncellotechniques.com/left-hand-techniques/harmonics/… This column seems to be about bass artificial harmonics, but the examples are notated with a treble clef so I'm confused: notreble.com/buzz/2013/04/08/artificial-harmonics-the-basics Jan 9, 2019 at 19:13
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    @Tim we usually play the fourth harmonic on cello, i.e. two octaves up. This can be done quite easily in thumb position, i.e. the thumb fingers the note and the ring finger lays the flageolett five “frets” higher (which is its normal extend in thumb position, so well-practiced). Jan 9, 2019 at 19:22

The only difference between the two is:

  • Natural harmonics are played on an open string. They do not require the left hand to stop the string at any fret; if they did, they'd be...
  • Artificial harmonics are the same, but they can be on any fret (you'll need to use your right hand to touch the string AND to pluck while the left hand frets the note).

The two names describe the same sound; the label only actually differs to signify the change in technique.


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