Published On: Thu, Aug 7th, 2014

Guitar Techniques: Tap Tempo

Welcome to the arpeggiated land of tapping: abandon all credibility, ye who enter here…

And now for something completely different. After a couple of Boot Camps based on time-honoured scales and arpeggios, this month’s guitar drill brings us bang up to date – or at least into the late ’70s – with some tapped arpeggios.

Though an accepted technique for decades, tapping was popularised by Eddie Van Halen in his instrumental Eruption from Van Halen I (1978). This striking innovation quickly became a cliché as everyone jumped on the bandwagon, but it’s still a useful technique to master.

However, we’re going to pass on the hoary old tapped triplet in favour of a four-note pattern. The pattern explored in this Boot Camp involves three fretted notes, the highest one being tapped with a plucking hand finger, with the open top string at the bottom of the pattern. Mastering this technique enables wide-ranging note patterns to be played very fast and very smoothly.

1: E Major Pattern

‘T’ means ‘tap’ with a plectrum hand finger – try the middle finger (the plectrum can still be held between thumb and index finger). All the notes are slurred, as indicated by the long curved ‘slur’ line, meaning none of the notes should be plucked in the conventional manner.

Place the fretting hand fingers on their notes before starting the pattern – for example, the fourth finger on the seventh fret and the first finger at the fourth fret. When slurring to the next note with either the tapping finger or the fretting hand finger, make sure there’s a downward component to the motion rather than just lifting the finger directly upwards in order to ensure a crisp slur to the next note.

This particular pattern outlines an E chord. ‘Sim’ is short for ‘simile’ – that is, continue in a similar manner. The pattern in the first bar is repeated in bars 2 and 3. The descending part of the pattern is played twice in bar 4 to add some variety to the melody.

2: A Minor Pattern Over An E

The effect of the ‘3 times’ indication is to make this exercise the same length as the pattern in Exercise 1. This pattern outlines an Am chord over an E in the bass or at the bottom of the chord, hence the Am/E chord indication.

3: E7 No Third Pattern

This pattern outlines an E7 chord but without the third degree of the scale, G#, hence the E7 (no third) name. As in Exercise 2, the effect of the ‘3 times’ indication is to make the pattern the same length as Exercise 1.

Once each pattern has been mastered, play the arpeggios in the chord progression of E, Am/E, E7 (no third), Am/E – and then repeat.

As always, clarity and precision are more important than speed. However, once you’ve nailed both speed and accuracy, play as fast as possible. This pattern can be worked up to a significant speed… exactly how fast is up to you. When you can play this progression smoothly on the top string, play the same pattern on each of the other strings in turn, taking care not to sound any adjacent strings. Because of their different gauges, the pattern will feel slightly different on each string.


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