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Guitar Technique:
Octave Harmonics

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Q: I just got into a guitarist named Larry Coryell and he sometimes uses a technique that makes his guitar sound kind of like a harp. Would you be able to do a video explaining the technique of this sound. It is really cool.
- Bennie Chicago

A: This technique is usually referred to as, Octave Harmonics. And, it is a very cool technique thats done by touching the harmonic of a note above any open, or fretted note. It is important to also keep in mind that a harmonic can be produced by touching over frets above other points along the neck as well.


The behavior of the touch harmonic in regard to the quality of the note produced has a lot to do with mastering the connection of the touch and the pluck. The better your connection at this part of the technique - the louder and clearer the note produced will be. Make sure that your finger touching the string is perfectly over the fret wire. The touch must be very light, (I recall a past teacher of mine saying it is a lot like touching a baby's cheek). The pluck made with your pick, or thumb, must connect accurately and with strong attack.


With this technique we are able to produce a clear bell-chime style harmonic of an open, or fretted note. The effect is different when touching the string at distances of 5, 7, or 12 frets away from the fretted note. Understand, that the actual harmonic is the same tonal note when touching at 5 frets, or at 12 frets.

At 5 frets away from the fretted note we produce a double-octave of the fretted note. This is twice (2 octaves) above the note produced at 12 frets away from the fretted note. However, at 12 frets away the harmonic is definitely brighter (especially when playing acoustic, or an electric run through a clean tone).

At 7 frets away from the fretted note, the harmonic produced is a 5th interval of the fretted note. For example; if we fretted the C note at the fifth string on third fret, and performed a touch harmonic at seven frets away, the result would be a G note harmonic.

This technique is fantastic on both acoustic or electric guitar. The volume and sustain improve greatly when electrics are set to distortion. It is simply a must know for every players arsenal of guitar techniques!


Octave Harmonics Exercise Tab Chart
(Adobe PDF Document)
Octave Harmonics Exercise Tab Chart
(Powertab Document)