• Understand the fundamentals of 8-finger tapping.
• Create smooth, legato lines that combine open strings with linear phrases.
• Develop a more precise hammer- on and pull-off technique.
Hey there! Right now you are either saying, “Who the heck is this guy?” or “Hey, I know that dude!” If it’s the first, here’s the story: I might be one of the busiest guitar players you’ve never heard of. I have a double major in working my butt off and remaining relatively unknown. I play with the band Night Ranger, the hit Broadway show Rock of Ages, and also tour with Trans-Siberian Orchestra.
When I was a kid growing up in the ’80s, I was lucky enough to have a great guitar teacher named TJ Helmerich who got me going with the 8-finger tapping technique. After missing the first wave of commercial relevance for this technique in the rock world (see “shred era”) and entering a seemingly endless period where nobody thought lead guitar was even remotely cool, I now find myself with three really great gigs where this technique is not only used, but has proven to be a major asset for me—an ace up my sleeve if you will.
Here I’ll share a few tapping ideas that I’ve been using lately and hopefully get a few of you to develop calluses on “the other hand.”
To start, we are just going to work on Fig. 1, which is a simple chromatic exercise that will strengthen all of your fingers. It’s really important to start very slow to make sure all of the notes come out nice and clear. This can be done on any eight frets and any string of course, but to keep things easy, we’ll just go with the 5th fret through the 12th fret on the second string.
Fret the index finger of your left hand down on the 5th fret and then use some simple hammer-ons moving up to the 8th fret. Now the real fun starts! Use your right-hand index finger on the 9th fret, and while keeping your index finger down (all four left-hand fingers should still be down), fret your middle finger on the 10th fret, ring finger on 11th fret and pinky on the 12th. The next part is where most people run into trouble with this technique: pull-offs. Work your way back down by lifting your pinky up and across the string. You’ll notice the pull-off will sound much better by lifting the pinky up instead of down. Pushing down is the equivalent of pushing up for a pull-off with your left hand—not good. Now that you have the important info, let’s keep going. Lift the ring off to the middle, middle to index, and then index off to those left-hand fingers that are still waiting. Now simply repeat the process and move it around. It’s an easy concept, but a great way to get all your fingers going.
For those unfamiliar with Rock of Ages, it’s a Broadway show based on all the hit rock songs from the ’80s. It begins with me playing something similar to the Steve Vai intro solo to the David Lee Roth song “Just Like Paradise.” During this part I’m at the front of the stage with a fan blowing my hair. The director liked the moment so much upon first viewing that she said, “Can we add to that and go two more times around?” I had about two seconds to think of something before she changed her mind, but immediately I thought of tapping as a perfect signature technique of the ’80s and came up with Fig. 2.
Basically these are simple triad arpeggios that outline the G–D–A progression.
Night Ranger has a built-in need for this technique, thanks to Jeff Watson’s groundbreaking signature solo on the song “(You Can Still) Rock in America.” My ability to duplicate Jeff ’s work in the band these days alongside the amazing Brad Gillis has been very important. Most fans are there for those classic songs and solos and I do my best to give them what they want. Recently, I recorded my first album with Night Ranger, Somewhere in California. So, in an effort to continue that element of the band’s sound, I squeezed in a few 8-finger moments of my own. Fig. 3 is an example of what I came up with on the song “Say it with Love.”
Another advantage of this technique is the ability to grab wide interval jumps with ease. Fig. 4 is from the song “Lay It on Me” on the latest Night Ranger album. It’s a great illustration of how tapping simple octaves can give your lines a more angular sound.
I hope this inspired some of you to try something new, or maybe it’s revisiting something old for some of the vets out there. Now get working on those calluses!
Joel Hoekstra is a New York City-based guitarist that plays for Night Ranger, the hit Broadway musical Rock of Ages, and the Trans- Siberian Orchestra. Hoekstra can be heard on Night Ranger’s latest album, Somewhere in California, Jack Blades’ Rock N’ Roll Ride, and Jeff Scott Soto’s Damage Control. His solo effort, 13 Acoustic Songs, is available at his website joelhoekstra.com.