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lesson: 29
title: everything on harmonics
level: beginners ( and the other )
style: technique
instructor: vincent pagel

dear guitar lessoners of the week, today we're going to meditate steve
portigal's thoughts about harmonics :

"hey man , it's easier to produce harmonics on the 12th fret
than 7th fret, on the 7th than on the 5th and so on.
can you help me ? "

is it him , his guitar , or both? well it's not surprising that harms on
the lower frets are more difficult to produce. i'll try to give you an
initiation , giving you some theoretical reasons first, then i'll give
you practical advice to produce them queer notes coming from outer

fasten your seatbelts ...for those of you who are really disgusted by maths you can skip the theoretical part, but it sometimes can help you to understand the grounds of strings' behavior.

when you play a note, you initiate the vibration of the string with your
right hand, and as you perhaps know the physics of vibrating strings
tells us that for a given string there exists an infinite ( theoriticaly
) of vibrating modes :

the first , which is called the fondamental with a frequency f1, and the others, called harmonics whose frequency is an integer multiple of f1:

fn = n * f1
f1 is the fondamental it is the percieved frequency
f2= 2 * f1 is one octave higher than the fondamentale
f3= 3 * f1 is one octave and a half hihger => it's a fifth, that is to

say that if f1 is a c, f3 is a g on the octave above, that's the reason why whenyou play a c and a g at the same time it sound very consonnant to your ears, because the c already include a g !

f4= 4 * f1 is two octaves higher

f5= 5 * f1 is two octaves plus a third. that is to say for a c , f5 is e, and what do you see in front of your puzzled eyes : c e g is a chord of c major, also called the perfect chord. with f7 you get the b which is a major seventh.

here is the base of the theory of our music ( consonance ).
remark : to transform frequency into semi-tone intervals ->
log (f/440) * 12 / log 2 = number of semi tones from a (440hz).
this explain :

* when you multiply by 2 the frequency, you raise by an octave
log( 2f / 440)/log2*12 - log(f/440)/log2*12
= log( 2f/f ) /log2 *12
= 12 semitones interval = 1 octave

* f3 = 3 * f1 gives us log 3/log2 * 12 = 19.01955
= 1 octave + 7 semitones
so the interval between f3 and f1 is 1 octave and a fifth

so when the string begins to vibrate, its movement is not monochromatic,
it's made of the fondamental which is the more energetic, superposed
with the succesion of its harmonics whose energy goes decreasing like an
exponent function. as someone, i forgot the name, replied to me this is
due to the initial condition of the string : the shape it has when you
release it with your finger or mediator is approximativately a triangle
( the flat corner being made at the position where you pull the string
). and the fourrier transform of such a wave function gives us
an exponantial repartition. so the sound ( the repartition ) depends on
the way you pinch the string, of the resonnance with the wood of your
guitar an so on (( note: even on an electric guitar there's resonance
with the wood of it's body))) you can notice that if you pinch the
string nearly at the 12th fret, the sound is very dull. the reason is
that there is nearly no second harmonic

what's the conclusion : when you make a note, your ear percieve only one
note, that is to say the most energetic, the fondamental, but in fact
there are fainter other notes you don't percieve but you can clearly see
on a spectrogram as represented below => when you play one note, you
actually play a perfect chord without knowing it!!!!

f9 ...

you can hear harmonics when you play a note and that you let the sound die. when
the fundamental has nearly completely damped, then you hear the rest. this is
particularly true on an electric guitar with much amplification.

but there is one way to make the harmonics audible at first => if you manage to absorb all the harmonics from f1 ( fondamental ) to fk, then fk+1 become audible because all the other frequencies more energetic thant it are dead, so fk+1 becomes the most energetic frequency and is audible ( and as a matter of fact is the new fondamental )!!!!

here we are : when you just put your finger on the twelveth fret with
pressing, you prevent the string from vibrating in impair modes because

the 12th fret is exactly in the middle of the string, and your finger
creates an initial condition saying : the middle of the sting is
moveless, since the finger prevent it from moving ! so the possible
vibration frequencies are multiple by 2 of f1

so if you draw the spectrogram of the sound you get => you see f2 f4 f6 f8 f10 and so on, with energy decreasing. so if you make it on the first string which is e, you will hear a e one octave higher.

on the seventh fret, only multiples of f3 are heard because the 7th fret
parts the string in exactly 3 parts : spectrogram shows f3 f6 f9 f12
..... on the first string it gives you a b

on the fifth fret, multiples of f4 cos' the 5th parts the string in 4
equal parts: spectro shows f4 f8 f12 ... you hear a e two octaves higher
than the fondamental

on the third , multiples of f5 : f5 f10 f15 f20.... your hear a g sharp

but as i was telling you earlier the energy of harms decreases like an
exponential function so higher the number of the harm is, the fainter it
is, and the harder it is to produce it, because the finger of your left
hand can easily absorb this energy if badly placed (and the width of the
node of the vibration is smaller)!!!!!

so let's give up with theory, let's speak technic. there is two
convenient ways to produce harmonics:

first: you put one of your finger (the thiner side of your little finger
) of the left hand on the 12th fret without pressing at all, and as the
same time as you pinch the string you take this finger off. it's not
easy to have a good coordination between the pinching and the taking
off. if you go off to early the string sound as usual, and if you go off
too late the harmonic sounds "poor" and doesn't last long. just train on
the 12th fret to get some beautiful harmonics that sound bright and last
for a minute.

when your sound is neat, you can train on the 7th, 5th, 3th
fret... which is getting harder and harder. first of all the position on
the string is not exactly the position of the fret because, as i did not
mention earlier, the higher the order of the harmonic is, the more it is
getting "untuned". for this reason try to move your finger of the left
hand around the position of the fret to feel the exact place of the
harmonic. e. g. 2 ^ ( 7 / 12 ) = 1.4983071 which indicates the position
of the 7th fret. to divide the string in 4 equal parts the rate should
have been 1.5, so the position of the third harm is a bit higher than
the 7th. for the fifth fret => 2 ^ (5/12) =1.3348399 , to divide the
string in three part the rate should have been 1.3333333 so this time
the harmonic position is lower than the 5th fret. 2^((4/12) = 1.259921
so to reach the 1.25 rate and get the fourth harmonic you must place
your finger between the 3th and the 4th fret.

something funny, when around the 3th fret the position of successive harmonics becomes closer and closer and is not adjusted at all with frets, and if you simply move a bit your finger, you will change the note by a great interval. but those harmonics near the third fret are

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