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How To Play Harmonics On The Bass

Updated: May 13

What are natural harmonics?

When we pluck a note (let's say G), we hear the note G, but that's not all...

We're actually hearing lots of different frequencies at one time.

These frequencies are called overtones.

When we start using natural harmonics in our playing, what we're doing essentially is highlighting the overtones (harmonics) of a particular note (the fundamental).

How do we play harmonics on the bass?

Even though the science behind harmonics is quite complex, playing them on the bass is actually pretty simple in most cases.

As an example, take your bass and hold your finger lightly over the 5th fret of the G string. Now pluck.

Congratulations, you've played a natural harmonic.

If you struggled to get a sound from your bass, don't worry, here are a few things you need to keep in mind when playing them.

  • Your finger placement needs to be accurate, and placed exactly over the 5th fret.

  • Try to remove your finger from the string as soon as you pluck the harmonic to let it ring out.

  • If you're playing a Jazz Bass or any bass with a bridge pickup, it's much easier to get the sound by rolling off the neck pickup and plucking the note over the bridge pickup instead.

What other harmonics are there?

There are lots of options in terms of natural harmonics, but let's look at some of the clearest and most commonly used harmonics:

Harmonics fret positions
Here are some of the easier harmonics to play.

As we can see from this diagram, you can find plenty of harmonics for you to start with up and down the fretboard. On the 4th, 5th, 7th, 9th and 12th frets.

A side note on harmonics:

Whilst harmonics can be an excellent tool for creativity, it's important not to overuse them, particularly in an ensemble.

Try to reserve harmonics for appropriate times, or in your own solo compositions.

Now you've learned what harmonics are and how to play them, try them out for yourself!


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