~Sunday 24th of June 2018~
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How To Play Harmonic Notes On Ukulele
Sometimes when I used to play guitar and was looking for tabs I would encounter something called “harmonic notes”. You’re probably asking yourself what these are? Well, they are “musical notes played by preventing or amplifying vibration of certain overtones of a guitar string” (cf. Wikipedia). Harmonics can take a song you are playing to a higher level and make it a lot more variated by adding a chiming sound.
Well, that’s for guitars, but I wouldn’t be writing this guide if it wasn’t related to ukulele. Just like the guitar, the ukulele is also a stringed instrument and thus it is possible to play harmonics on the ukulele. It is even a well known technique in Hawaiian lap steel playing. Harmonics contain very high pitched notes and offer a different sound quality. I have to note though, that playing harmonics is a bit more difficult on the ukulele because of the shorter fretboard.
So OK, now how do we play these things on the ukulele? You can create a harmonic by first placing a finger of your fretting hand (preferably your index finger) very lightly on a string, barely touching it. The place where you do this is very important and needs to be quite precise. The easiest way to produce a harmonic is on the 12th fret, so go ahead and touch the string lightly at the 12th fret (not between frets, but actually above the 12th fret). Now pluck the string you are touching with your right hand and immediately after that you’ll need to lift your finger (left hand).
If you’ve done it correctly you should hear the harmonic (chiming sound), which will be one octave above the open string. Not getting it right the first time? Don’t worry, almost nobody does. Keep trying to find the right amount of pressure and get the correct timing of plucking/releasing the string. Not enough pressure will result in the open string being played, too much pressure will result in no sound at all.
In theory, harmonics can be created on the 12th, 9th, 7th, 5th and 3rd fret but some are quite tricky to get right. They can either be played separately (example 1) or barred (example 2) like in “Haba na Haba” by Tommy Emmanuel (ukulele arranged) for example.
Great, now you know what natural harmonics are! Unfortunately the amount of harmonic notes you can play is very limited, especially on an ukulele fretboard, that’s where artificial harmonics come in. It is not that easy to play them, but they will allow you to play different harmonic notes on different places along the fretboard.
There are two steps to play an artificial harmonic note. First step, simply fret a note like usual (with your fretting hand). The second step is the tricky one, because basically you’ll have to do the same action as with natural harmonics but this time with only one hand (your strumming hand). Different techniques to do this exist and you can simple use the one that suits you the best (or maybe use your own technique).
For example, you can use your index finger to hold the string (cf. with natural harmonics this was a finger of your fretting hand) and picking with your ring or middle finger. Of course your thumb or even pinky would work as well. Instead of your index finger you could also try another finger. I’d like to to touch the string with my index finger and picking with my thumb. Find the right position for you and practice is the key!
Now, where do you this “action” with your strumming hand? You’ll want to do this twelve frets up from where you are fretting the note (cf. step one two paragraphs higher), thus playing in harmonics. This should also work 5 or 7 frets higher, but as noted before, they are a bit more difficult to get right.
Final note, how are they shown in tabs?
Maybe you have already come across the symbol for harmonic notes but didn’t know what it meant? Well, now you’ll know! Harmonic notes are noted in tablature as a diamond shape “♦” (this is a text symbol and can be typed easily). Below I have added an example of how it will look like in text tablature.
Hopefully you’ll understand what those mysterious sounding harmonic notes are and how you can play them on the ukulele!