Watch the Using Harmonics online guitar lesson by Vicki Genfan from Acoustic Rhythm Survival Guide
Tune to Open DE
- down a whole step to DA
- stays the sameD
- stays the sameG
- down a half step to F#B
- down a whole step to AE
- down a whole step to D
** Special note about Open D in relation to Open G tuning: The chords you'll learn here can be played in Open G if you bring each note down one string. Of course the chord names will be different, but you'll get the same "voicings" which are very open, ringing voicings. TRY IT!
If you're new to harmonics: You'll find them on the guitar in three main places; 12th, 7th and 3rd frets. When we play the harmonics, we're holding our finger very lightly (not pushing down towards the fingerboard at all) exactly ON the fret. This differs from when we play an actual "note" in which we press the string in between the frets. You can play harmonics one string at a time... or all together. When playing them all together, or in groups of strings, your finger will have to be straight – just like if you were barring a chord.
Harmonics are a great resource for the rhythm guitarist. I found them early on, and was always interested in them – they made me feel good! At first I used them as infrequent embellishments, but then began to integrate them into the rhythmic and chordal patterns of songs. Now, they are part of the fabric of most of my playing. They bring color, brightness, lightness, texture and emotion to the music – assuming you're using them "musically" and not just arbitrarily!
You can certainly use them in standard tuning, but the joy of using them in an open tuning is that you can play many or all strings at once to get "full chords" of harmonics. Much harder to do this in standard tuning (unless you're using Bob Kilgore's Harmonic Capo!).
Another name for them is "overtones" and that's just what they are – the higher frequencies that resonate from the "fundemental" tone, or lowest part of a note. When notes are played on different instruments, or sung, there are different overtones created, and some are louder or softer, depending upon the shape of the cavity (instrument, mouth, etc.) and materials (brass, wood, etc.). This creates a unique "timbre" for every instrument and every voice.
When following me on the video, make sure you're getting a really clear, bright sound. If you're not, things to check: Are you placing your finger right ON the fret? How's the pressure? Too much won't let the harmonics ring, too little will give you a buzzy sound or no sound. Practice releasing your finger from the strings right after you strike them. I find this helps them to ring out. It's always easiest to get them to sound on the 12th fret. So take the time to make sure you can get a good ring from the 7th and 5th frets.
Make sure you're playing the chords with the fingering that I'm using! This way you'll have the easiest access to the harmonics. When playing the harmonics with the V and IV chords, be patient! It can be !challening to keep your 2nd and 3rd fingers bent on the strings while asking your pinky to be straight and lightly hit the harmonics! You can do it. I know it.
Notice that when I speed the progression up I start to play the bass note of each chord for two beats. Last but not least... if you like these sounds as much as I do, you'll find lots of additional techniques for working with the harmonics in "3D Acoustic Guitar