“I’d tap that”

by Jungreis

In 1978, Eddie Van Halen transformed guitar playing with an instrumental lasting less than two minutes. Eruption ushered-in the era of shred guitar that was so pervasive in the 80s. Spectacular guitar playing was nothing new. Voodoo Child still leaves me amazed, and that was ten years before Van Halen. However, Van Halen did something in Eruption that few others were doing: fretting notes with his picking hand. This technique is called “tapping”. It’s nothing more than extended legato, but while my reach across the fretboard is limited by how far apart I can spread my fingers, tapping extends my range to every note since I can spread my hands several feet while my fingers just a few inches.

The tapping passage comes in around the 56-second mark, though I encourage everyone to listen to the entire piece multiple times.

While this was not present today, when Erica introduced herself early in the term, one of the comments that she made about her style of composing was that she liked to use unusual techniques. Children are weird with instruments and bang on the strings inside a piano, and while that might be nothing more than noise, perhaps there is some value to such a non-standard technique. Certainly, non-standard techniques have been important to my little world of guitar playing. With frequency, hear fast passages that the performing guitarists pick and then think to myself, “If I had to play that live where I can’t make mistakes even at high speed, picking every note might be a bad plan. I’d tap that.” The technique allows for so many interesting phrases to be much easier to play! It’s great.

Eddie Van Halen is often credited with being the inventor of tapping. Upon a quick investigation, it becomes clear that jazz guitarists were tapping before World War Two ended, before Eddie had even been born. He popularized the technique, though, so he is appropriately regarded as highly important to the development of guitar techniques.

I can follow the playing of a violinist or a sax player, recognize the playing as clearly demanding, and have a lot of respect for the performer. I also know nothing about the techniques used to facilitate such playing on instruments other than the guitar. What techniques do the rest of you use to play difficult passages at high speeds? Are any of them considered non-standard like tapping or banging the strings inside a piano?

Here is a link to Eruption.

The tapping passage comes in around the 56-second mark, though I encourage everyone to listen to the entire piece multiple times.

Here is a link to a video with a very complicated tapping passage. This is not what Van Halen did, and I have yet to figure out why multi-finger tapping is better than more standard techniques that I already know, but it looks really cool (and maybe that’s all that matters).

(Yes, there is the super-arrogant “Betcha can’t play this” comment. The point of these “Betcha can’t play this” videos is to give guitarists something challenging to learn. It keeps good players from getting complacent and lazy about practicing. Broderick is also right in that almost everyone who sees the clip will be unable to play it, including me.)