Welcome to this step-by-step pinch harmonics guitar lesson. You’ll learn how to play pinch harmonics, and how to practice them.
How to play pinch harmonics
Pinch harmonics are played by striking the string with the pick and flesh of the thumb at the same time.
Here’s a step-by-step process:
- Hold your pick as close to the tip as possible, making sure the flesh of the thumb can make contact with the string
- Fret a note. I suggest fretting the 2nd fret on the D or G string for beginner’s practice.
- Tilt your picking hand inward so the tip your thumb is facing the floort
- With your thumb laying across the string, strike the string with a downstroke, and release your picking hand so it doesn’t mute the harmonic.
- Practice at multiple points on the string to find the sweet spot
- Continue to do this until you are comfortable with the technique!
What is a pinch harmonic?
A pinch harmonic lets you play and access artificial harmonics using the combination of thumb and pick on the picking hand.
These are the harmonics often referred to as “Squeals”, because of their high pitched, screeching sound.
They are most commonly played, and easiest to play, on an electric guitar. However, they’re sometimes used and played on acoustic or classical guitars as well.
Pinch harmonics = guitar screams
You make your guitar scream by playing a pinch harmonic. This means that pinch harmonics are often referred to as a guitar scream.
How to practice pinch harmonics on guitar
There are some general best practices for practicing pinch harmonics on guitar.
Try them in different spots
You’ll want to practice your pinch harmonics on different strings, and in different areas on each string.
This all changes depending on your guitar’s build and pickup locations.
If your pinch harmonics aren’t very loud, you’re probably just playing them in a bad spot. That’s why you need to find the spot that sounds best on your guitar, or on all of your guitars if you own multiple!
Remember to not give up. Just practice for a few minutes a day! It’s seriously a simple technique.
View a pinch harmonic close-up
Watching someone do a pinch harmonic in a video can help you understand how to better position your picking hand for success.
Seeing a guitarist do this in person, perhaps a mentor or friend, will help you even more!
Executing a pinch harmonic properly
As a a general rule a properly executed pinch harmonic will happen on a high gain tone, using the bridge pickup, striking your string where the pinch harmonic will sound clear and loud.
Pinch harmonics guitar exercises
The best exercises for pinch harmonics practice are songs!
If a harmonic worked for another guitar player, then the chances are good it will work for you, too!
Pinch harmonics guitar video
The best pinch harmonics guitarist
The best pinch harmonics guitarist is arguably Zakk Wylde from Ozzy Osbourne and Black Label Society.
However, the guitarist responsible for pioneering pinch harmonics is Billy Gibbons from ZZ Top.
Here’s an article from Guitar World about the best pick squealers of all time.
Questions about pinch harmonics
Are pinch harmonics hard?
Pinch harmonics are only hard until you find the sweet spot on your guitar.
They’re surprisingly easy for a lot of guitarists I know.
You may find that they’re easier to play on other guitars, so try practicing them on some guitars at a local guitar shop.
Why can’t I hit pinch harmonics?
You probably can’t hit pinch harmonics for a couple of reasons:
- You’re not hitting the string with the flesh of your thumb
- You’re hitting the string in the wrong spot
These are the two most popular problems I’ve seen amongst my guitar friends and students.
Do strings matter for pinch harmonics?
The strings you play on do matter for pinch harmonics. The higher strings, like B and high E, are more difficult to play pinch harmonics on because the strings are so thin.
Pinch harmonics guitar summary
Practice pinch harmonics in multiple strings in multiple places, and you’ll nail squeals in no time!
And if you’re having a lot of trouble, seek out a friend or mentor to help you.