UD#108 Magical Skipping Ropes: Harmonics
from Ukulele in the Dark with Guido Heistek
I have written another piece for this week’s lesson. Every part in it is played with natural and artificial harmonics, except for the main melody. Can you hear how the notes in the backing part sound a little unusual, maybe a little more bell like? That’s the sound of harmonics. Have a listen:
The easiest way to play a natural harmonic is to place your fretting finger lightly on the midpoint of the string: the exact middle point between the nut and the bridge. If you look at this picture, can you identify where the middle point is?
It should fall directly on the 12th fret of the instrument. Right here:
To play the harmonic, you place the finger of your fretting hand lightly on the string, exactly over the 12th fret, without bringing the string to the fret.
If you then pluck the string, you should hear it ring. The note will be the same as the open string, but an octave higher. If you don’t have your finger in the right position, the string won’t ring. You may have to move it around to get the exact location.
Once you get it ringing, try removing your fretting finger right after you pluck the string. Notice that the string will continue to ring even after your finger is taken away. That’s the cool thing about harmonics. They have a lot of sustain!
Many instructions about how to play harmonics tell you to take your finger away as soon as possible. This is good advice because the sooner you take your finger away the more sustain you will get. However, I have found that students get so concerned with getting their finger away quickly that they struggle to get the harmonic ringing in the first place. So, try and get the harmonic to ring with your finger in place first, and then, practice taking the finger away quickly to get more sustain. More about that in the video.
There are also natural harmonics on the seventh and fifth fret, but the 12th fret harmonics are by far the easiest to play. When I first learned about harmonics, I went hunting all over the guitar to find out where they were.
In tablature, natural harmonics are written with little brackets around the fret number. Like this:
— <12> —
This is telling you to play a natural harmonic at the 12th fret of the C string (3rd string).
Here, I am holding down the second fret of the G string. Can you locate the midpoint between the second fret and the bridge? See if you can figure out where that is on your ukulele.
The midpoint would now be here:
When the string is open, the midpoint is the 12th fret. Now that I’ve fretted the second fret on that string, the midpoint of the string is the 14th fret. Two frets higher. If we had a third arm, we could place a finger on the 14th fret and pluck the string and we would get a harmonic. Or we could use a capo! Neither of these are really practical solutions, though. So, we have to figure out a way of both fingering AND plucking the harmonic with only one hand. Hmmmmmmmmmm…..
This is how we do it. While continuing to fret the string at the 2nd fret, lightly place your right index finger on the string exactly above the 14th fret. Then, use the thumb of the same hand to pick the string. That gets the harmonic to ring. Then, you can take the 14th fret finger away and, hopefully the harmonic will keep ringing. More in the video on this.
The advantage of playing harmonics this way is that it allows you to play harmonics for any note on or above the twelfth fret. It requires a lot of coordination between the right and left hands! I am not particularly good at it, but I am a lot better at it after doing this lesson!
In tablature, artificial harmonics are written like this:
——- 2 <14> ———–
This is telling us to fret the 2nd fret with our left hand and place our right hand index finger at the 14th fret to make the harmonic.
This, below, would be the tablature for playing a C major scale in natural harmonics.
Looks pretty wild, I know.
Here is a video where I go through today’s lesson. Have a look!
All for now!
All the best in your playing,