I've recently started learning to read sheet music for guitar. Something from a version of Capricho Arabe confused me.

The tuning is in drop D.

The first bar is a harmonic on the 7th fret with notes D A D. However, there is only one D on the 7th fret! Is there something I'm missing here?

Source: https://www.classical-guitar-school.com/music/1026.pdf


2 Answers 2


You fell victim to the horrible inconsistencies of harmonics notation. There are lots of ways of notating them, for example:

  1. Notating the actual sounding pitches (which is, in my humble opinion, the only good way to do it).
  2. Notating the open strings that need to be sounded, and placing a number that says at which fret the harmonic needs to be sounded somewhere around there.
  3. Notating the open string that needs to be sounded with a normal note head, and the actual pitch with an empty diamond note head (not good, this works well on the violin but it's a mess on the guitar where you can sound multiple harmonics at once).
  4. Notating the open strings that need to be sounded and just placing a circle above the note heads, saying nothing more. (Which is even not a sufficient information!)
  5. Any other confusing and useless notation you can possibly think of.

As Tim says, your example is the second case here (so the actual pitches are A-E-A). However the mess is so confusing that in some pieces, people actually just make something up, because they have no idea what they should really play. (This happens a lot with pieces by Villa-Lobos who apparently liked to use the option 4. Try to have a listen to the very end of his Etude no. 1 or to the cadenza of his guitar concerto, on different recordings by different people. Everybody plays something different.)


The harmonics on fret 7 give notes that are the 5th of the open string. So - on 6th string, tuned to D, the harmonic sounds like an A note. The 7th fret harmonic on the A string will sound like an E, and theat on the 4th string will be another A note. One finger across all three strings will do it, unless you favour 3 fingers.

I guess the piece is in D minor.

  • You might add that the D-A-D in the notation is indicating the open strings to play, not the pitches that are sounded.
    – user39614
    Sep 6, 2019 at 12:05

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.