Harmonics question

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Posts: 61
Joined: Fri Mar 12, 2004 4:37 am

Having read the easier songs thread, I decided to give 'Die To Live' a go, thinking after listening to a few possible options for a first crack at learning a Vai song (I can play 'Damn Good' from David Lee Roth's Skyscraper album, but no solo Vai material) that this was probably the one to attempt. However, I have difficulty with the harmonics riff where the song goes:

¦--<5>-------------------------------------¦ E.
¦---------<5>--<5>---------<5>---------¦ B.
¦-------------------------------------<5>--¦ G.
¦-----------------------<3>----------------¦ D.
¦--------------------------------------------¦ A.
¦--------------------------------------------¦ E.

It's that third fret harmonic - I just can't seem to hit it right. Either the note doesn't sound at all, a higher note than the one that should sound results, or the note comes out really faintly and is barely audible.

This isn't a problem I've had with any other harmonic note, I would expect it to be a fault of my technique rather than what I'm using. I try to play the note as a kind of natural harmonic and that doesn't really work, but it's how I've tried it basically because I don't know very much about other harmonic types other than descriptions I've not understood that have maybe been too technical for my miniscule level of intelligence! So, how should I play the note to get it right, with a decent sound? Does Steve use any effects for this note to make it more audible or to create it in the first place?

Also, apart from natural harmonics, what other types of harmonics are there, and how do you perform them? I have heard descriptions of artificial harmonics and pinched harmonics but although I've had a go at what I've thought they've said I haven't really got it right or understood the descriptions properly. Can anyone help?

I'm not a particularly great guitarist, nor do I kid myself otherwise, so don't worry about sounding patronising or over simplistic if you're trying to explain something - feel free to school me! Thanks immensely to anyone who can help.
Posts: 221
Joined: Sat Sep 27, 2003 2:39 pm

Make sure you're touching the string a little toward the 4th fret, instead of right above the 3rd fret. Sometimes you'll see that harmonic notated as 3.2 rather than 3, meaning about 2/10 of the way toward the 4th fret. Other than that, making good solid contact then removing your finger quickly to let the string ring out are the only things you should always try to do invariably.

The only difference between natural and artificial harmonics is that a natural is using an open string, and an artificial is with a fretted note. If you hold the 2nd fret and touch/tap at the 14th fret it's like the '12th fret harmonic' of that 2nd fret note- it's an octave higher than the fretted note. I think it's helpful to think about them as not being different at all once you get that they're just names for fretted or non fretted harmonics. The guitar doesn't know whether the string is starting at the nut or a fret because you're pressing it down. All you have to worry about is how many frets above the note you're holding (or letting ring open) you want to hit for a certain harmonic interval.

The rest of the names for harmonics are really just techniques and can be used to create artificial or natural harmonics. A pinch harmonic is when you catch part of the string with the edge of your thumb after you pick it (some people use their index finger and I'm still not exactly sure how- Zakk Wylde does). The key is to follow through with the pickstroke to let your thumb/finger make good contact, then remove it so you don't kill the sustain. Pinched artificial harmonics are used in tons of riffs and solos by Vai, Satch, Wylde, Petrucci, Van Halen... almost any rock/metal player. Satch's screaming reach for the bar w/ LH trick would be an example of pinched natural harmonics- he hits 1 or 2 on open strings.

Tapped harmonics are when you tap the string a certain # of frets above the nut or where you're fretting it. You want to make good contact as always, and it's ok to make the string/your finger hit the fret briefly, but you want to keep your finger on the string just a bit longer to make it become a harmonic. EVH uses tapped harmonics often (check out his solo on the RHRN dvd), and the ending of 316 features tapped natural and artificial harmonics to sound an octave above an Asus2 chord x02200 (tap at x-12-14-14-12-12 while holding the chord).

Harp harmonics (often just referred to as simply artificial harmonics) are played by touching the harmonic node with a RH finger and plucking with another, or the pick. Now, if I fret the 12th fret with my LH index, and touch the 19th fret with my LH pinky, and pluck to sound that harmonic, is it a harp harmonic even though I'm not using my RH to touch the harmonic node? I suppose! And if you touch the 12th or 7th or whatever fret above an open string w/ a RH finger and pluck it, it's a natural harmonic but also a harp harmonic.

In conclusion, just remember that a harmonic is when the string vibrates in sections by being touched somewhere that equates to a fractional value of its length. 1/2 (12th fret), 1/3 (7th or 19th fret), 1/4 (5th or 24th), 1/5 1/6 etc. You don't even have to remember that but knowing the # of frets past the note and the intervals created is useful and should become instinctive after a while. The guitar doesn't care how or why you played a harmonic or if it's starting at the nut or a 'new nut' i.e. the fret you're holding it at. Get to know them and the most comfortable methods that work for you when trying to sound any of the types listed above.
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