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more... IntermediateLessonsTechniqueAugust 2009

Harmonics: Melodic Applications

from David M. Brewster's Harmonics for Guitar
You should have a well-rounded knowledge of harmonics and their various uses on the guitar. While it might take a while to develop your technique, you will be enhancing your creative “ear” while becoming more intimate with the strings of the guitar. A combination of delicacy and precision is required to pull these licks off.

This lesson contains several ways to use harmonics in a realistic and musical way. Most of the ideas covered here are commonly found in other guitarists’ styles, but don’t stop with what has already been done; try to find your own way of using these techniques.

This first example is a simple melody ending with a carefully placed natural harmonic.

Melodic Harmonic


Using the occasional harmonic during a melody can create interest and variety in what you’re playing. Harmonics seem to jump out of the guitar, but they can also be effective when you throw them in the middle of a melody, or even a riff.

Try this riff idea, which uses a natural harmonic as a melodic “noise effect” in between the tritone chords in this rock/metal-style rhythm.

Rock Rhythm


The next example uses natural harmonics to create a melody and give an interesting “rub” to the flow of notes. Similar lines are used in Van Halen’s “Poundcake” and Joe Satriani’s “Summer Song.”

Natural Harmonic Melody


The “rub” to which I refer above is the “tense” sound that certain intervals or notes have when they are played together. Harmonics can create interesting overtones, especially when played with distortion. The higher the harmonic tone, the greater the “friction” created.

A popular natural harmonic technique that has been used in many rock songs is the smooth gliding of a fret finger along an open string, producing harmonics from the fifth fret to the second fret and back. The harmonics create a dissonant, dominant-seventh arpeggio sound. It can be heard in songs such as “Type” by Living Colour and “Mudshovel” by Stain’d. Pick the string firmly while moving your fret finger along the string between the second and fifth frets.

Gliding Arpeggio


The next example uses a dissonant pattern of harmonics across the fourth fret of the guitar to create a “dive bomb” sound. Strike a natural harmonic “cluster” across the strings at the fourth fret, then press the tremolo bar down. If you don’t have a bar, you can GENTLY bend the neck of your guitar. But avoid this, as it weakens the neck and tends to ruin your intonation.

“Cluster Bomb”


This idea can be played at any harmonic point along the guitar neck.

Once you have it here, try it at other locations. A classic Van Halen technique involves applying harmonics to an open string pull-off pattern. Eddie has used this in many classic Van Halen songs, such as “You’re No Good” and “Somebody Get Me a Doctor.” Glide up and down the string being used with the side of your pick-hand palm, while hammering on and pulling off with the frethand, sounding random harmonics and muted notes.

EVH Random Harmonics


You can use your pick-hand palm, as shown, or your pick-hand fingers, gliding lightly over the string between the pickups, to generate the harmonics. The result is a wild pattern that makes it seem like harmonics are randomly flying from your guitar! Here’s another example that uses this technique:

More Random Harmonics:


Another harmonic technique involves bending a string and then tapping specific nodes above the bent note(s). This is another trademark of Eddie Van Halen, but it has been used by countless other guitarists. Play and bend a note (preferably on the G string), and tap harmonics at strategic frets above the bent note.

Bent and Tapped