The Thinking Shredder: Tapping Into the Unusual

 Click here to download a printable PDF of this lesson's notation. Chops: Advanced Theory: Intermediate Lesson Overview: • Understand the basic concept of tapping and string skipping. • Create licks that use “hammer-ons from nowhere.” • Develop phrases that combine triplets, sextuplets, and quintuplets.
Today, we are going to look at an unusual way of combining right- and left-hand tapping with some basic scale shapes. I am sure many of you are familiar with tapping, but for those of you who aren’t, let me give you a short explanation. Tapping utilizes the fingers of the picking hand to produce notes on the fretboard with simple hammer-ons and pull-offs. This technique will guide you to new and interesting phrases that would be quite difficult to play with only one hand.

My approach to tapping is different than the usual Van Halen-style of licks. I utilize the additional finger–or fingers–to create different phrases and sounds. Thinking of it more as an extension of my left hand gives me more options. This column will show you some basic ideas that will put interesting spin on your sound and playing.

We begin with Fig. 1, a simple three-note-per-string major (or Ionian) scale in Bb. The difference here is that I play the first note with a “hammer-on from nowhere.” This is when I use a finger on my fretting hand to sound a note without plucking it. Even though I could easily reach the third note on each string with my pinky finger, I choose to use my picking-hand to tap each note. This creates a very smooth and even sound and can be played extremely fast without breaking out in sweat. After you have played it a few times, try other fingerings of the scale in different keys and get used to the new shapes.

Once you have the basic technique together, we want to move on to something new. An easy way to build on this idea is to combine it with some string skipping and move it around to different octaves. In Fig. 2 we move to the key of Eb major and create a pattern that is primarily based off of three notes–Eb, F, and G. We start the pattern on the 5th before skipping to the 3rd and then the 1st before ending the phrase with a tapped bend that goes from A to Bb.

In Fig. 3, I begin the phrase with an ascending scale pattern sequence in D minor based on alternating 5- and 4-note patterns. When I reach the top of the phrase I descend with a series of sextuplets based on a hexatonic (6-note) scale. The goal is to try and develop different patterns and sequences that train our fingers to move independently with a light and smooth touch.

We move to the key of A minor for Fig. 4. Traditionally, this type of phrase is played with only the fretting hand. Depending on your posture, and where your guitar sits in relationship to the rest of your body, some string skipping licks can be quite difficult to pull off painlessly. Make sure you relax and take each phrase very slow. Check out how I combined triplets with quintuplets to give the lick an off-kilter feel.

In Fig. 5 and Fig. 6, we applied these new ideas to some basic ascending and descending patterns that most players learn with alternate picking. Playing these common phrases with tapping will give you an exceptionally smooth sound. Try to use this “basic” idea of tapping the third note of a three-note-per-string scale, pattern, or fragment to create new and exciting licks and sounds. The sky is the limit!