When you very lightly touch the halfway point of the string (at the 12th fret or 12 frets above whatever note you are playing) it will ring an octave higher than the original note (the fundamental). You can also touch at the 1/3 point of the string* (7 frets above the fretted note) to get an octave and a fifth above the original note, or the 1/4 point of the string (5 frets above the fretted note) to get two octaves above the original note. *It is interesting to note that besides the octave, the interval that occurs with the simplest string ratio is the interval of the fifth - the primary building block of Western music.
The harmonic tone is created by touching very lightly at the exact halfway point, (or fraction of the string) called the "node," and plucking the string anywhere along its length. Because more of the higher partials of the string are activated when played near either end of the string, harmonics come out clearer when you strike the string close to the bridge or near the node. You can change the pitch harmonic notes by pressing down on a fret with the left hand, and touching the point 12 frets higher with a finger or thumb of the right hand, while striking the string with a different finger or thumb of the right hand. This is called an artificial harmonic.
The following techniques are based on the halfway point of the string (12th fret harmonic.) You may also use some of the same techniques touching 1/3 point of the string, or the 1/4 point of the string, although the harmonic will be both higher in pitch and fainter in tone as the fractions of the string length get smaller.
You can also play an interval of a third by placing the left hand on a C note, 2nd string first fret. Slant the right hand index finger to touch the 1st string 12th fret with the tip of the finger and the 2nd string 13th fret near the first joint of the same finger. Then pluck the 2nd string with the thumb and the 1st string with the ring finger. Likewise you can move the interval of a 3rd anywhere up the neck, and move the right hand harmonic the same number of frets up the neck. For instance, place the left hand fingers on the 3rd string 4nd fret and 2nd string 3rd fret, and touch the harmonic on the 16th and 15th frets. This will give you an interval of a minor third; part of a Bm chord or G chord.
You can also play a minor third by fingering an interval two frets apart (for example, an F# on the 4th string 4th fret and an A on the 3rd string 2nd fret). For the harmonic on this interval, use the same technique and slant the right hand finger at a greater angle.
Send comments or questions to Muriel Anderson.
Composer and award winning guitarist Muriel Anderson has released six CD's in the US, three in Japan, several books and videos, and is host and originator of the renowned "Muriel Anderson's All Star Guitar Night." Her Heartstrings album traveled as far as outer space, accompanying the astronauts on a space shuttle mission. According to the Chicago Tribune: "Acoustic guitarist Muriel Anderson... has justifiably gained a reputation as one of the world's best, and most versatile, guitar instrumentalists."
Muriel Anderson was raised in a musical family in Downers Grove, Illinois. Her mother taught piano and her grandfather had played saxophone in John Philip Sousa's band. Muriel fell in love with the guitar at an early age and learned every style available to her, culminating in classical guitar study at DePaul University. She went on to study with classical virtuoso Christopher Parkening and with Nashville legend Chet Atkins. She has composed music since about age 6, and has written music for guitar and orchestra as well as songs, solo compositions, and her new work for guitar and cello / viola.