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The Lost Art of Two-Handed Tapping

by Jon Finn

The first time I heard Eddie Van Halen do his tapping thing, I sat in disbelief that what I was hearing was guitar. Of course, so many of us guitarists became so enamoured of that sound that we all learned how to do it. Eventually it became a cliche. Many guitarists came after Eddie to bring the technique further; Most notably Stanley Jordan and Jennifer Batten. I think the most important contribution they made was to bring it beyond a mere "stupid guitarist" trick in to an actual vocabulary.

How to do it

Explaining how to do it is easy. Instead of one hand picking and the other fingering, both hands finger the fretboard. The hand that normally picks goes over the fingerboard. You can almost think of the way to position your hands on the fretboard as holding a baseball bat left-handed. It will make sense when you try it. In traditional two handed tapping (a la EVH), many times the right hand notes pull off to left hand notes. In this case, the right hand notes are always hammer-ons. Any line that crosses from left to right (or vice versa) does not include pull-offs. Any pull-offs that occur in this piece are in the left hand only.Making it sound good is hard. Because none of the notes you play are picked, you rely entirely on the strength of the hammer-on to create the tone. Getting your right-hand-pinky to fret with the same strength as your left-hand-index takes practice! Another difficult task is keeping unintended strings from vibrating.What I found fascinating was how much musical independence this technique affords. Each hand is capable of playing its own separate part, much like a piano.The two hands can also work in tandem to play lines that are unplayable otherwise.

All Tapped Out

This is a piece I wrote that takes advantage of many of the available textures using this technique. Like many pieces I've written, the inspiration comes not only on an emotional level, but also to push my own musical boundaries. Play it using a clean sound on electric. Be sure that when you set up the tone, there is an even balance between low and high strings. You may find you'll have to adjust your touch quite a lot to get the desired effect. Fairly low action is probably advisable too. In the notation, all the notes played with the right hand are written with the noteheads "staves up" while the left hand is "staves down." The right hand notes are indicated in the tablature by the box around the note The piece benefits a great deal from the kind of expressiveness we guitarists love to engage in: dynamics, tempo shift and well-placed vibrato being among them. On a physical level the piece is very difficult to master.

-The repeating dotted 8th note rhythm in the melody in measures 3 and 4 (sometimes notated as a quarter tied to an eighth) creates an interesting rhythm against the eighth note pattern that the left hand plays. If you play each part separately, you'll notice they are fairly easy. The challenge is when they are combined. This is the kind of thing drummers and pianists call "independance"

-Measure 7 is a challenge for the right hand. It sounds smoothest when you use different right hand fingers (almost as if you're playing an upside down left handed guitar...). I found that you almost have to "slam" that high G with your pinky in order to get it to ring. Once the note sounds, adding vibrato helps it sustain for the intended length.

-Measure 13 and 14 is a break from the tapping technique. Here, you play a fairly simple line while creating a neat texture by letting the strings ring in to each other. Hold each note and let it ring until the string is needed for another note. Use your right hand to pluck the strings.

-Measures 19 and 20 is another instance of the repeating dotted quarter note rhythm in the melody. But here there two differences: 1)The rhythm starts on the "and" after beat one. 2)This part uses double stops in the right hand.

-In measures 25 and 26, the left and right hands work in tandem to create a single line. Deliberately speeding up the tempo a bit here adds to the effect of moving to a different segment.

-The middle section (measures 27 thru 51) uses another variation of "tandem lines." These textures are similar to what you would find in many solo piano pieces. Even though the right hand plays double stops, the highest note is considered to be the melody. The line in the left hand seemlessly connects to the double stops in the right hand. Be sure that the double stops are held to their full value (sustaining on top of the left hand lines that continue under it)!

-If you've picked up the tempo for the middle section, use the lines in measures 50 and 51 to slow down to the original tempo before you hit the DS (the musical cue that take you to measure 3).It's been said that if the car you drive can't handle the road, you have two choices: widen the road or drive a car that handles better. For me, this piece does both.

All Tapped Out - MPEG Audio

All Tapped Out - PDF Sheet Music

© 2003 www.jonfinn.com, All Rights Reserved.

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