Dansm's Guitar Techniques
Harmonics

Playing harmonics is a technique widely used in all styles of guitar music which gives some variety to ordinary picked notes. The sound created by harmonics is a high, piercing sound which, if used effectively, can add a lot to a song or riff. Simple harmonics are easy to execute with practice but artificial or pinch harmonics (which I may mention at a later date) are much more difficult. Harmonics are indicated in my tab notation by this symbol:
e:--!--!---!--|
B:-12--7--12--|
G:--------12--|
D:--------12--|
A:------------|
E:------------|
The first harmonic indicated is played on the second string 12th fret.
The second harmonic indicated is played on the second string 7th fret.
The third harmonic indicated is played on the second, third, and fourth strings at the 12th fret.
The harmonics indicated above are accomplished by placing your finger gently against the string directly above the fret indicated. Do not fret the string; only touch it very lightly. Then pick as you normally would, and quickly remove your fretting finger from the string. You should hear a high-pitched sound. Harmonics are most easily made at the 5th, 7th, and 12th frets. Harmonics at the 12th fret are the easiest, while harmonics at the 5th fret are the most difficult of the three. It will take a large amount of practice to be able to consistently execute harmonics, but they are well worth it once you have learned how. To produce multiple-string harmonics, simply place your finger across all desired strings at the same time, fret, and remove your finger. Don't try this until you can consistently play single-string harmonics.
The harmonics notated above sound like this:
146K wav file
Here is an example of a fingerstyle guitarist using harmonics in a song. He is using an open tuning so his harmonics will create a chord, but still it is a good example of their wide-ranging uses.

That'll Be the Phone
69K wav file

The wave file appearing above is from Don Ross' That'll Be the Phone, by Don Ross; as it appears on the album Bearing Straight. 1989 Top Side Charlie Music, SOCAN.
That's about it for harmonics. They are pretty to do, but expect them to take a bit of practice. The hardest part is placing your finger in the right place with the correct amount of pressure, then removing it at the right time. Good luck with this new technique!
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1997 Daniel E. Smith. Last updated 12-10-97