Harmonic Writing Methods for Guitar

Last updated on the 24th November, 2014  

While composing Opus 11, The Wonderer in the Night, I came across some challenges in deciding which harmonics writing method to use. (All the examples in this article are from my composition). I have seen various ways of how to write harmonics for the guitar in notated sheet music. These are the some of the most common ways I have seen:

Natural Harmonics


By putting “arm 12” above the harmonic note heads which are already open strings (Strings G and B in this example) then this simply means to play the harmonics on the 12th fret. This method is very easy and understand able, however, it does not always have correct representation of the exact note you are playing. In the example, the second bar has “arm 7” written. This means to play harmonics on the open strings G and B on the 7th fret. The notes that you actually produce from this are not G and B, it’s actually B and E.


Roman numeral over the harmonic note heads also indicate to play harmonics. In this case, the actual note that is being played is written down. However, this method becomes a little confusing if not familiar with harmonics. Sometimes, indications to what string and if it is an open string or not would be put to assist such as in the note B in the above example, both a 0 was put for the open string and a 1 in in circle was put to indicate that it is the first string.



 Artificial Harmonics


When “arm 8 va” is written above the harmonic note heads, it means to play the harmonics an octave higher than the written note (this can be used for both artificial and natural harmonics). In this method, a good grasp of the knowledge of harmonics is required because a lot of times, it will not be indicated what string to use or if it is an open string. In the above example, the string to use and the open string are indicated; however, if that was left out, it would look like this:


Since no indications were put in place, this could be played different ways. For example, the first note B could be played with the 6th string open harmonic on the 7th fret instead of on the 5th string as written before. It becomes about the readers/players experience and personal interpretation to decide how they are going to play the harmonics.


They’re all the same


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