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Master Ultra-Fast Runs with Linear Tapping

Learn Greg Howe''s linear tapping approach

Many of my unique or unusual guitar techniques have resulted from attempting to play a particular passage using a conventional approach, and then discovering it didn’t give me the sound I was after. Forced to find another way to execute the passage, I’d stumble across a new idea that I could develop and incorporate into my playing.

Here’s an example: It’s a challenge to disguise or avoid a subtle triplet feel when performing straight, non-sequenced legato lines using three-note-per-string shapes, especially at high speed. We have to deal with two primary issues when playing fast linear lines using a conventional legato technique. First, it’s hard to maintain the same volume and tone between picked notes and those that are articulated by hammer-ons or pull-offs. Second, it’s tough to avoid the slight rhythmic inconsistencies that often occur when you switch from one string to the next.

I wanted to perform ultra-fast linear runs that have the sonic uniformity and evenness we typically associate with keyboardists and sax players—or anomalies like Allan Holdsworth. This quest helped birth the idea behind this lesson’s examples, which involve executing three-note-per-string linear lines with two hands.

The basic principle is that your fretting hand plays two of the three notes on a string, while you tap the third note with your picking hand. To play ascending lines, you use a technique that’s similar to a keyboardist’s approach, in that you’re essentially performing hammer-ons with all fingers. By contrast, descending lines involve mostly pull-offs, with the exception of a tap played by a picking-hand finger. This tap initiates the first of the three notes you play on each new string.

I’ve found this approach to be very effective. Because there’s no picking attack, you get a very consistent volume and tone—one of our goals. Also, by using both hands, you can achieve an overall rhythmic consistency, which is our second goal.

These four examples will get you started with this technique (picking-hand taps are indicated by a “+” above the staff and with a T above the tab). After you play through them, explore the concept with other passages of your own. As you do this, note that tapping sequences involving multiple strings may require you to hammer the initial note on a new string. You might find it uncomfortable when your fretting hand’s first finger is responsible for playing this first note. In such instances, the trick is to hammer hard with your first finger to get the string ringing. This specific move is often the key to unlocking our two-handed legato technique.

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.