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Hammer-ons From Everywhere!

Greg Howe shares a tapping technique using hammer-ons

While writing the lead song “Kick It All Over” from my first album, Greg Howe, I stumbled across a concept that went on to become a key component in my overall note delivery style. Tapping is a term generally associated directly with two-handed guitar playing. It’s basically a technique performed by forcefully bringing one or more of the fingers of the picking hand toward the fretboard and onto a string in an effort to extend the role typically occupied exclusively by the fretting hand. Because of this, tapping will often involve the use of hammer-ons and pull-offs, whereby the fingers of the fretting hand play sequences that are synchronized with the tapping hand. This is usually for the purpose of creating lightning-fast repetitive sequences, often involving intervals that would otherwise be difficult or impossible to finger conventionally.

A very typical tapping sequence that you’re likely already familiar with goes something like this: Tap a note at the 12th fret of the high E string with a picking hand finger, then pull it off to the first finger of the fretting hand located at the 5th fret of the same string, and then hammer-on to the 8th fret of the same string with the 4th finger of the fretting hand and start over.

Because of the fact that it is almost always a finger of the right hand (or picking hand) that initiates these sequences, tapping licks often contain a sort of backward like note order, which in combination with the distinct texture they possess due to the complete absence of any pick attack, makes them quite easy to recognize. However, these characteristics become much less obvious when tapped sequences are initiated with a finger of the fretting hand rather than the picking hand.

There are also many practical advantages to this approach. The most significant advantage is that it can become easier to start creating lines or passages as opposed to just repetitive sequences. In my opinion this helps to bring a sort of keyboardist’s perspective to the fretboard, which, in turn, could help to inspire unique and fresh ideas. This approach also lends itself to the executing of some of the most outrageous sounding all-out shred licks I’ve personally ever performed or heard.

The first few examples below illustrate the concept in its most basic form. We’re utilizing the sequence (hammer-tap-pull) while the left and right hands take responsibility for fretting different inversions of the same triad for the purpose of delivering the triad in a fast triplet fashion. The last few examples below get into more complex sequences, some of which include huge string skipping.

Example 1: Basic sequence using two A major triad shapes

Example 2: Identical sequence using A minor triads

Example 3: Identical sequence using diminished triads

Example 4: Variation on diminished arpeggio

Example 5: Lick from "Kick it all over" Outlines: Bb major - F major - G min7

Example 6: String skipping sequence with octaves

Example 7: String skipping lick for any G major related mode

Example 8: String skipping tapping lick with huge interval jumps

Note: Tapping with the fretting hand is very similar to “Hammer-Ons From Nowhere” (which I discussed in the last article) in the sense that the success of execution will largely be dependent on one’s ability to whack the strings hard with the fingers of their fretting hand. Because of this, all taps with the fretting hand will be notated as hammer-ons. Also, It can be helpful to use a string dampener to eliminate excessive string noise particularly with some of the examples that involve intense string skipping. If you don’t have one you might try using a piece of cloth tied firmly around the guitar neck at the first fret.

Greg Howe
Greg Howe has enjoyed a successful recording career since bursting onto the scene in 1988, and his talents have been sought after by some of the biggest names in the music entertainment industry, such as Michael Jackson, Justin Timberlake, and Enrique Iglesias.