Harp Harmonics

In my last column we started looking at Chet Atkins style “Harp Harmonics” combining fretted notes with Harmonic notes (also known as “Artificial Harmonics”). Every note can be played as a harmonic on the guitar. There are natural harmonics on the 12th, 7th and 5th frets that you should be familiar with, along with the concept on how to produce harmonics. In this lesson we are going to expand across the whole fret board combining harmonics and natural notes.

Example 1

First try just the right hand fingering pattern using open strings in Example #1. Start with your thumb (P) followed by your ring finger (I) the string sequence is 6+3+5+2+4+1+3+1 then back, 4-1-5-2-6-3-6.  Now add the harmonic in Example #2, use your index finger to produce the harmonic. The key is to pluck the string with your thumb while laying your index finger lightly on the string. You should have about 3 inches between your thumb and index finger. If you have your fingers too close you will choke out the harmonic and it won’t ring out as desired. The volume between the natural note and the harmonic should be the same.

You may have noticed that the sequence of notes has a familiar pattern to them. They are the same notes as in the E Pentatonic scale, E-G-A-B-D-E. Next try barring across the neck as if you were making a bar chord with one finger at the 5th fret and play the harmonics 12 frets up at the 17th fret the same way as in example #2.  Play this on other frets on the neck and play the harmonic 12 frets up from your root notes.

Example 2

It will take some practice to master this. Your fretting hand will get a workout! You will be applying pressure across the neck like playing a bar chord with the one finger, so be sure not to overdo if you start to feel pain in your hand. Work on keeping the volume between the non-harmonic notes with the harmonic notes at the same volume level. The right balance is important. As always, work the examples slowly and then work on your speed. Try to play them as fast as you can while keeping it under control.

Check out Doyle Dykes and Tommy Emmanuel; they are masters of this technique on the acoustic guitar as is Eric Johnson on the electric guitar. Each of these players have a slightly different right hand technique. Doyle and Tommy use thumb picks along with their index finger to make the harmonies and alternate between their middle and ring fingers to play none harmonic notes. Eric Johnson plucks the string with his thumb while using his middle finger to play the harmonic and his pinky to play none harmonic notes.

Coda: I have found that artificial or harp harmonics are a nice effect when used at the right time in a piece of music. Next time we will add full chords and scales to create heavenly sounds.

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