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Old 08-10-2017, 06:25 AM
interyeti interyeti is offline
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Default Playing the First Eight Natural Harmonics of First (high E) String of Acoustic Guitar

[TL;DR: If you are interested for any reason, you can hear me play sequences of the first eight (so octave, octave+5th, second octave, second octave+third, second octave+5th, second octave+minor 7th, third octave) natural harmonics on the high E string of an ordinary acoustic guitar here (with every harmonic of equal tone quality):



Further, here is an example of me playing the eighth natural harmonic (third octave above fundamental) followed by the eleventh natural harmonic (the natural harmonic that the equal temperament tritone interval approximates) for good measure:



]

Some weeks ago, as part of work related to more advanced techniques I'm developing, I started looking for something I thought would be relatively straightforward to find: a demonstration of someone actually playing (not just talking about) the first eight natural harmonics (so octave, octave+5th, second octave, second octave+third, second octave+5th, second octave+minor 7th, third octave) on the first string (highest E) of an acoustic guitar; essentially, the overtone series up to the third high E octave, the highest octave theoretically accessible on the guitar. Naively, I thought that this must surely exist; given the number of guitar players out there and the instrument's rich classical tradition, how could it not?

Days went by and it became clear that I was likely searching in vain. I saw some people demonstrate the easy third, fourth, and ninth fret harmonics but only on the lower strings. I scoured forums and both failing in finding the examples I was looking for and succeeding in finding a fair bit of misinformation. The closest I found was Jaco Pastorius' bass playing but, for very particular reasons, I was looking very specifically for all this demonstrated under the limitations imposed by the highest string of acoustic guitar.

When I approached players asking them why they thought I couldn't find what I was looking for, they couldn't even process what I was asking at first and referred me to resources about artificial harmonics (even though I specified that I was not asking about artificial harmonics in my original query). When I explained further, I was essentially rebuked as a lunatic for thinking as I was. That is, until I demonstrated what I could do in front of them.

So, since no one else seems to have as yet has provided it for the public, here is a clip of me playing sequences of the first eight natural harmonics of the high E string on a cheap-as-dirt steel-stringed acoustic guitar with cheap-as-dirt strings and no amplification. I am playing every harmonic up to the third octave completely at will, at multiple speeds, and you'll hopefully hear every higher harmonic just as loud, rich, and true as the twelfth, seventh, and fifth fret ones:



Further, here is a (still comparatively elusive) example of me playing the eighth natural harmonic (third octave above fundamental) followed by the eleventh natural harmonic (the natural harmonic that the equal temperament tritone interval approximates) for good measure:



Maybe the majority of people will simply be apathetic or confused by the content of this post but if my claims above happen to be extraordinary to you then luckily the clips I've provided constitute extraordinary evidence. Whatever the case may be, people should share any thoughts that come to mind, whether positive, neutral, or negative.

Fretboard positions for the higher harmonics can be seen here (I can and do use all of them):

Last edited by interyeti; 09-07-2017 at 01:58 AM.
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Old 08-10-2017, 09:44 AM
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Welcome to the forum. Interesting first post. Clear upper harmonics are easiest using a pick, touch points on the string
near the bridge, and picking near the midpoint of the length of the string between the touch point and the bridge.

Let the music play.
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Old 09-07-2017, 01:34 AM
interyeti interyeti is offline
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Originally Posted by rick-slo View Post
Welcome to the forum. Interesting first post. Clear upper harmonics are easiest using a pick, touch points on the string
near the bridge, and picking near the midpoint of the length of the string between the touch point and the bridge.

Let the music play.
In the clips I provided, I am touching everything you hear on the part of the string over the fretboard. Because of this, I am able to maximize flexibility, tone quality and control. By resorting to only touching near the bridge, you sacrifice all these things*. That may be enough if you have amplification or if you don't care about necessarily getting the best possible quality of sound. But if do not put the hard work into making the wave-fractions vibrate at all resonant locations along the length of the string and rely on shortcuts, you're not gaining in precision or quality of touch on your instrument. Now, this has clearly not been a problem for guitarists thus far---again, artificial harmonics are sufficient for most peoples' songwriting needs---aren't they? But, given the evidence I have provided, I still feel compelled (and justified) to say: easy does not mean sufficient.

If anyone takes issue with what I am saying, I would be delighted if you could either post or PM me a demonstration of the first eight natural harmonics (or even higher if you're really good) with the same or better quality of tone and control as what I have provided in the clips in my initial post to show me why my thinking and attitude are misguided (again, on the highest string of an unamplified acoustic guitar).

Finally, I want to emphasize that I'm not trying to be offensive and I'm not saying that anyone is less of a musician for not being able to do what I can do (when it comes to harmonics)...this isn't even a taught skill! The significance of what I'm demonstrating seems to be initially lost on most people without more thorough explanation except for guitar players with over 30 years of experience---those guys' ears prick up. I was just hoping I could get a wider conversation going. Maybe that's not possible.

*OK, maybe you want to touch near the bridge sometimes. I'm not saying that the points near the bridge are illegitimate, I'm saying that if that's the only place you can get the higher harmonics, you're likely not as skilled at getting the higher harmonics as you think you are. I'm arguing that in order to say that you've really thoroughly developed this skill, you need to be able get the harmonics at all the nodal positions along the length of the string. You can't say that's impossible or impractical when I've provided clips incontrovertibly demonstrating otherwise.

Last edited by Kerbie; 09-07-2017 at 05:26 AM. Reason: Rule #1
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Old 09-07-2017, 02:15 AM
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Interesting second post.

I suggest you post a video of you playing those harmonics.
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Old 09-07-2017, 04:05 AM
interyeti interyeti is offline
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Originally Posted by rick-slo View Post
Interesting second post.

I suggest you post a video of you playing those harmonics.
Thank you for this suggestion. Here's a short video of me playing them:

www.youtube.com/watch?v=ROQkV-OwVmg

Hopefully this will convey my point.
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Old 09-07-2017, 05:50 AM
SunnyDee SunnyDee is offline
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As another person who often asks questions that others can't parse, I applaud you. Are you just showing this is possible or do you have musical applications in mind?
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Old 09-07-2017, 08:15 AM
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Originally Posted by interyeti View Post
Thank you for this suggestion. Here's a short video of me playing them:

www.youtube.com/watch?v=ROQkV-OwVmg

Hopefully this will convey my point.
Yes, that is what I thought and what I would do (sans flatpick) on natural harmonics. Using a flatpick versus bare fingers helps a little in purity and volume

The higher overtones are a little purer, louder, and reliable picking nearer the bridge with the right hand (which you are doing). Left hand touch points on some natural overtones a little purer done near the bridge though not really practical or useful to do it that way within an actual tune.

Have to say though that playing overtones as part of playing a tune is a fairly normal thing that I and many other people know about and use as appropriate for the music - nothing controversial about it. Very high (sixth and above) overtones though are rarely actually attractive or useful in a tune.

To add to your repertoire you might want to practice using artificial harmonics and cascading harmonics such as guitarists like Tommy Emmanuel and Lenny Breau. They have youtube lessons available - for example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5vxfgSDMDCg

Happy playing.
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Last edited by rick-slo; 09-07-2017 at 08:56 AM.
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Old 09-07-2017, 03:53 PM
interyeti interyeti is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by rick-slo View Post
Yes, that is what I thought and what I would do (sans flatpick) on natural harmonics. Using a flatpick versus bare fingers helps a little in purity and volume

The higher overtones are a little purer, louder, and reliable picking nearer the bridge with the right hand (which you are doing). Left hand touch points on some natural overtones a little purer done near the bridge though not really practical or useful to do it that way within an actual tune.

Have to say though that playing overtones as part of playing a tune is a fairly normal thing that I and many other people know about and use as appropriate for the music - nothing controversial about it. Very high (sixth and above) overtones though are rarely actually attractive or useful in a tune.

To add to your repertoire you might want to practice using artificial harmonics and cascading harmonics such as guitarists like Tommy Emmanuel and Lenny Breau. They have youtube lessons available - for example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5vxfgSDMDCg

Happy playing.
Thanks for your response and very thoughtful comments.

I'd like the address you what you've said about harmonics above the 5th (2nd octave plus major 3rd). In that video, I'm striking the 6th, 7th, and 8th harmonics with the same quality of tone as the 2nd through 5th (I actually don't even consider 6-8 to be really high, not after I've been working on 9-12). They are all very attractive once you get them to ring properly*. The 7th is the most different from its equally tempered cousin and is often dismissed but if it's resonating correctly, it's particularly beautiful. For example, here are two clips of me playing the 7th natural harmonic (two octaves+flat minor 7th above the fundamental):

1: https://youtu.be/PK2iNcQJzGM

2: https://youtu.be/OcHMea9SZMU

The first clip shows me accessing the 7th natural harmonic at the nodal position between the 15th fret and 16th fret and the second clip shows me accessing the 7th natural harmonic at the nodal position just below the 3rd fret.

For reference, here is a clip of me playing the "ordinary" 2nd and 3rd harmonics (octave above fundamental and octave+ 5th above the fundamental) at the 7th and 12th frets:

https://youtu.be/s-x-kcAF-IM

To my ears, my 7th harmonic sounds just as resonant and usable as my 2nd and 3rd harmonics (in the appropriate musical context of course). Let me know if you disagree.

Also, artificial harmonics are not appropriate for my purposes (though I'm proficient at them) because they are not genuinely distinct overtone series members, just scaled up versions of the lower overtones acquired by shortening the effective string length.

*I'm not the only one who thinks the higher harmonics are attractive when they are brought out properly, Jaco Pastorius made brilliant use of the 11th harmonic (third octave plus tritone), though he did it on electric bass: https://youtu.be/LEs5sKDXZuk?t=1m16s
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Old 09-07-2017, 04:13 PM
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I can play the higher harmonics but not have found much call for it in actual pieces of music. Your clips are not in context of actual pieces of music. Post a clip of yourself playing a complete musical composition where you are using some of those higher harmonics to good effect.
Maybe some other AGF member can provide examples played on an acoustic guitar.
Happy guitar playing.
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Old 09-07-2017, 05:38 PM
interyeti interyeti is offline
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Originally Posted by rick-slo View Post
I can play the higher harmonics but not have found much call for it in actual pieces of music. Your clips are not in context of actual pieces of music. Post a clip of yourself playing a complete musical composition where you are using some of those higher harmonics to good effect.
Maybe some other AGF member can provide examples played on an acoustic guitar.
Happy guitar playing.
My original post was only concerned with being able to get the higher overtones on a purely technical level. I specifically wanted to know if there was anyone else who could get all the natural harmonics up to the eighth at all nodal points (again, on the highest string of acoustic guitar) along the length of the string exactly like I demonstrated. If you're saying you can do that (with the same level of control and same quality of tone), you're honestly the first other person I've encountered, which would, I suppose, make my original post a success (though I was looking for an actual recording, but I'll take your word for it).

Whether or not they are used in actual music is not my concern---the Jaco Pastorius example (he uses the far more dissonant eleventh, let alone the seventh) I gave already proves that they can be used in the context of actual music (but maybe jazz isn't your thing, which would be fair). The fact that I'm going several octaves higher shouldn't change things all that much in terms of usability in music. The relatively shrill piccolo is not as widely used as the clarinet but it still has its place, doesn't it?

But don't get me wrong, I understand where you're coming from: so what if I can get the higher natural harmonics, how does that really benefit me when I can always fall back on artificial harmonics if I really wanted to get high? That is a valid and intelligent concern---most other guitarists simply insist that it's outright impossible to do.
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Old 09-07-2017, 05:47 PM
interyeti interyeti is offline
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Originally Posted by SunnyDee View Post
As another person who often asks questions that others can't parse, I applaud you. Are you just showing this is possible or do you have musical applications in mind?
Thank you. To answer your question: both.

On one level, I just want to show that it is perfectly possible to strike the higher overtones with just as much clarity as the lower overtones.

But there are far more advanced techniques that are available to you once you've developed the touch to be able to sound up to at least the eighth natural harmonic with each harmonic of the same quality of tone and at all nodal positions along the length of the string (on every string). If you really grapple with what a harmonic truly is, you'll discover that the harmonics you strike off the string (what you get the way people usually play harmonics) are efficiently modeled as harmonic differentials. And if you really understand what this means starting from first principles, you gain the ability to start exploring and using harmonic integrals.
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Old 09-07-2017, 06:08 PM
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That is all fine, but I really think the resistance you get, or lack of interest, on this overtone topic is that they are not very common or useful in actual tunes, not that they are hard to play. It's more of why bother.
Anyway, explore more on the forum. Lots of good knowledge, info, and talent here.
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Old 09-07-2017, 06:53 PM
stanron stanron is offline
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Will this work on old strings? How much are new strings an important factor?
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Old 09-07-2017, 07:19 PM
interyeti interyeti is offline
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Will this work on old strings? How much are new strings an important factor?
The strings I am using are several months old (I should probably change them soon). I'm purposely demonstrating on the "worst" possible instrument at my disposal to emphasize that, yes, proper technique will allow you to do this on strings at any level of wear and on any sort of guitar.
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Old 09-07-2017, 07:24 PM
interyeti interyeti is offline
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Originally Posted by rick-slo View Post
That is all fine, but I really think the resistance you get, or lack of interest, on this overtone topic is that they are not very common or useful in actual tunes, not that they are hard to play. It's more of why bother.
Anyway, explore more on the forum. Lots of good knowledge, info, and talent here.
I'm not trying to say it's hard (or harder than any other skill on the instrument), my point is actually to the contrary; as with anything else, it's simply a matter of practice and technique, I'm sure you'd agree. But other experienced players I have talked to have indeed expressed the sentiment that, forgetting about utility, it's simply impractical (to my surprise at the time). Maybe a good way of putting it would be that they perceived the usefulness to practicality ratio to be too low to warrant pursuit (it seems like you would agree with this even though you'd be coming at it from the other side). I, on one level, just wanted to show definitively that, at least as far as practicality is concerned, it's perfectly reasonable to be able to strike the higher harmonics with the same level of clarity as the lower ones.

More generally, the attitude of "why bother?," while understandable, is unsatisfactory to me. Whether the reason people don't pursue this area is because they find it not to be useful or because they find it too impractical/difficult is not the important point (in my opinion). It's not necessarily about the tones themselves but more about the knowledge that remains obscure if the effort is not made to access them. As an analogy, there's a lot of pure math that at first seems useless in the real world but proves to be vital downstream in physics years later.

Also, I wouldn't at all say that I'm experiencing resistance or lack of interest. Most people are usually very interested when I explain things properly. It's more that the topic is somewhat confusing at first because it has to do with things most people aren't used to. For example, believe it or not, I had the audacity of applying to a fairly prestigious post-graduate program using the clips above as the sole basis for my application material (I did this mostly as a lark, to see what would happen) and, whether you think rightly or wrongly, I just found out that I got in. However, if you've already mastered every harmonic (up to the eighth or higher) at every nodal position on the string as shown on the diagram, it makes sense if you're interpreting this as a trivial and/or inconsequential matter and my comments are likely irrelevant to you.

Last edited by interyeti; 09-07-2017 at 08:39 PM.
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