Master Two-Handed Harmonics

Acoustic maestro Don Ross gives a detailed, nifty lesson in harmonics.
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At the Ellnora Guitar Festival in Champaign, Illinois a few years back, Don Ross wowed the crowd with his incredible acoustic chops and his witty sense of humor. A highlight of his set was his tune “Afraid to Dance,” which showcases his deft ability to slap harmonics with both hands.

“This song is very close to standard tuning,” he says.” Your A string goes up a whole-step to B, and then the G goes down to E, so it’s E, B, D, E, B, E, low to high. It’s basically an Em7 chord with no 3rd. The intro involves slap harmonics at the 12th fret and the 7th fret, but I slap them not just with the picking hand but also with the fretting hand.”

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Okay, let’s rock this thing. The groove for the intro is a swing-sixteenth pulse, which is kind of like a hip-hop feel. Slap your picking-hand middle finger on the 12th fret and then bounce your fretting-hand middle finger on the 7th, and then back and forth, in the timing indicated. Master the timing, then take a look at the second bar. He gets that triplet feel by slapping with the index and middle fingers of his picking hand. At the end of that bar you can easily hammer the one-finger power chords that follow. Cool, huh?

For the verse section that begins at the 5th bar, Ross explains it like so: “I’m doing a combination of broken chords, pinched chords, and brushes. For the first bit of the melody, I play the bottom string with my thumb, followed by a broken chord in the top three strings. After that I do up-brushing from string one to three with my right-hand third finger. For the bass figure that follows, I first hit the open strings with my index finger and then follow with double-stops played with the right-hand thumb. The next bit is played by pinching again on the top three strings, and then the octaves are played on strings two and five with the thumb and third finger of the right hand.”

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The fact is, this tuning makes it so easy and so much fun to mess with these techniques that the most important thing you can do is just get a guitar into said tuning and start experimenting. You’ll see!