Steve Morse

January 1, 2005

Strum the chord in the grid above Ex. 1, and you’ll hear an ordinary Dm barre chord. To give this grip a more flowing sound, though, many players’ first inclination is to pluck it one note at a time from low to high, which generates an ascending Dm arpeggio. But nothing transforms a simple chord more dramatically than arpeggiating it in shimmering octave harmonics, as is demonstrated in Ex. 1’s notation and tablature staves.

If you’re unfamiliar with how to play octave (sometimes called “artificial”) harmonics, start by fretting just the first note of this example, the D at the 5th fret of the fifth string. Now, with the index finger of your picking hand, touch the same string exactly 12 frets—in other words, one octave—higher up the neck (so that your finger contacts the string exactly above the 17th fret) without actually pushing the string against the fretwire. Finally, with your pick between your thumb and middle finger, pluck! A chimey octave harmonic should greet your ears. Apply this technique to each note of the chord, allowing the pitches to stay ringing, and a magical, bell-like Dm harmony should fill the air.

The next step is applying this technique to melodies. People often ask me how to play the octave-harmonics lick I wrote for “Sometimes I Feel Like Screaming,” from Deep Purple’s Purpendicular album. So, here it is [Ex. 2]. I usually play this lick with distortion, and, again, to get that transcendent, almost pedal-steely sound, it’s crucial that you let each note ring for as long as you can. The only way to get that chordal sound is by letting the notes ring over each other. And when the band is playing, sometimes I leave out the lower notes to keep things from getting too muddy. —As told to Jude Gold

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