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Lesson 39: Harmonics

The Overtone Series

In order to fully understand harmonics, you have to be familiar with the overtone series. When the fundamental c is sounded, its overtones will also sound and they are the following: c1, g1, c2, e2, etc.:

A Short Physics Lesson

Now for a short lesson in the physics of strings of musical instruments.

If a string has a fundamental frequency of f, then when the whole string is vibrating from end to end, that frequency will be perceived as the tone. This is the fundamental - the overtones will also sound but weaker than the fundamental and mainly contribute to the timbre of the tone.

Now create a so-called node exactly in the middle of the same string, thus dividing the string into two parts of equal lengths. On the guitar, this is done by lightly touching the string from above at the 12th fret. Now the perceived frequency will be 2f. This tone is the first overtone of the string and an octave above the fundamental.

The next possible division of the string into equal parts is to divide it into three parts. On the guitar, this is done by lightly touching the string from above at the 7th fret. The perceived frequency will now be 3f. This tone is the second overtone of the string and an octave plus a perfect fifth above the fundamental.

The next possible division of the string into equal parts is to divide it into four parts. On the guitar, this is done by lightly touching the string from above at the 5th fret. The perceived frequency will now be 4f. This tone is the third overtone of the string and two octaves above the fundamental.

The next possible division of the string into equal parts is to divide it into five parts. On the guitar, this is done by lightly touching the string from above at the 4th fret. The perceived frequency will now be 5f. This tone is the fourth overtone of the string and two octaves plus a major third above the fundamental.

Harmonics on the Guitar

On the guitar, the natural harmonics are:

0th fret4th fret5th fret7th fret12th fret
1st stringe1g#3e3b2e2
2nd stringbd#2b2f#2b1
3rd stringgb2g2d2g1
4th stringdf#2d2a1d1
5th stringAc#2a1e1a
6th stringEg#1e1be

This means that the natural harmonics that are playable on the guitar are:

or notated down an octave for easier reading:

Recommended Listening

  • Follow Me by Pat Metheny ( from Imaginary Day)
  • Portrait of Tracy by Jaco Pastorius ( from Jaco Pastorius)

2005 Tomas Karlsson. All rights reserved.