Playing a Natural Harmonic
Go to the 3rd string, and place the tip of any finger above the 12th fret bar. Normally when you play a note at the 12th fret, you are pressing down just to the left of the 12th fret bar. When playing a harmonic, you are going to be very lightly touching the string (not pressing down) over the fret bar at the end of the fret or right side. While lightly touching pluck the 3rd string.
How harmonics look in tablature and standard notation
Notation for bass guitar is far from being standardized. Here are some of the ways that you will see natural harmonics written in both tablature and standard notation.
More places to play natural harmonics on the bass
The most common places to play natural harmonics, are at the 12th fret, 7th fret, and 5th fret. Practice playing the harmonics on all of the strings at these frets. There are more places to play harmonics, and you will be learning them soon enough. But work on getting a good sound on these first.
Tips on getting a better sound when playing natural harmonics
- Try to use as small a part of the tip of your left hand finger as possible.
- Flip to different pickups and see which one sounds the best with harmonics on your particular bass.
How Natural Harmonics work
OK, now you have a basic understanding of how to play natural harmonics. Now let’s take a look at how they are created, and some other places that you can get natural harmonics to ring.
Normally when you play the note at the 12th fret on any string, you are shortening the length of the string that is ringing and getting a higher pitch. The string is only ringing from the fret bar that you are pressing down at, to the bridge. On the other hand, if you are playing the 12th fret harmonic, the string is actually ringing on both sides of where you are touching. The only part of the string that is not ringing is where you were touching the string. The point of the string that is not ringing is called the node. The string is ringing in 2 divided sections.
Dividing the bass string into 3 equal parts
Now play the harmonic at the 7th fret. What is happening here is that the string is ringing in 3 equal parts. There are 2 nodes, one where you touched the string at the 7th fret, and another at the 19 fret.
If you go to the 19th fret you will notice that the harmonic is exactly the same at the 7th. After you play the harmonic at the 7th fret, try touching the string at the 19th fret. You will notice that nothing happens. This is because the string is not ringing at that point. But if you touch the string in at any point other that the 7th or 19th frets, the string will stop ringing.
Dividing the bass string into 4 equal parts
Next play the harmonic at the 5th fret. In this case the string is ringing in 4 equal parts. When you played the harmonics at the 7th and 19th frets, you got the same exact harmonic at both of these nodes. In this case, only the 5th fret and the 24th fret will sound exactly the same, and the 12th fret will sound an octave lower. So even though the 12th fret is a node, and is a part of the string that is not ringing, you can not get the same harmonic as the 5th fret to ring there. A little confusing, I know. It all has to do with physics, and I don't want to get too much into that in this lesson.