This is a simplified version of a lick I get asked about a lot (from my tune “Fives,” since you ask). It illustrates the kind of results you can get by skipping more than one string at a time. An entire A Dorian mode (A B C D E F# G) is contained in the first seven notes alone, but the way the notes are distributed creates more of an extended arpeggio effect.
Here's one final application of the stretching/string-skipping approach. This one's a little easier, and indeed a bit more universally applicable. It's the humble A minor pentatonic scale (A C D E G), but check out how fluid it sounds when you play it this way.
Now let's look at some other tapping approaches. FIGURE 23 sounds a lot like a conventional E minor pentatonic (E G A B D) lick, but the tapping enables you to achieve more speed and fluidity. Start by mastering the basic pattern outlined in the first six notes; then memorize all the places you have to tap. You could use two separate tapping fingers for each string, but it's probably better to learn the lick using one tapping finger throughout; this will also help with the next example!
Here's an example of what Greg Howe would call a “reciprocal tapping lick.” You’re essentially descending a G major arpeggio in three-note groups. It's possible to play this lick without tapping the first string’s 10th-fret notes (such as the fourth note) but there's an advantage to using the fingering suggested in the tab; your tapping hand gets to do something at regular eighth-note intervals, which helps to hold the timing together at higher speeds. Take this one slowly at first—it's important to ensure that your hands don't collide with each other!
I've tried to avoid the topic of “eight-finger tapping” in this feature, as it's a complex technique that probably warrants a feature all of its own, but FIGURE 25 will at least give you some idea what can be done if you use two fingers of your tapping hand. I would recommend using your middle and ring fingers. The main new challenge here is pulling off from the higher tapped note to the lower one, so take a little time to establish the most comfortable way of doing this.
Now, as a change of pace, here's a cheeky tip of the hat to Steve Stevens' guitar work on Billy Idol's “Rebel Yell.” Of course, you could always fret those double-stops on the first and second strings at the sixth fret and pluck them, but I think the pattern works equally well as a tapping idea. Start by teaching your fretting hand how to hammer the low notes, then add in those staccato double-stops; the more even and robotic-sounding you can make them the better.
This next example is based on what Jennifer Batten would call the “chordal capo” approach. The pattern is based on something bassist Billy Sheehan does from time to time. Your fretting hand simply holds down a seventh-position B major barre chord throughout, and you hammer and pull off the tapped notes as indicated to create a constant stream of notes. Let everything ring out as much as possible for maximum “harp” effect. Very pretty!
Here's an example of how you can use tapping to arpeggiate open-voiced chords. You may recognize something of Joe Satriani in this lick, and it also sounds a little like a harpsicord (clean tone with the neck pickup is nice). You'll probably find it easiest to tap those sixth intervals with your first and second fingers.
This next example illustrates some ideas for emulating the close-voiced chord inversions so often favored by jazz pianists. Rather than attempting unfeasibly wide stretches, it can sometimes be easier to add an otherwise inaccessible note with your tapping hand. The theme with this group of shapes is that the tapped note on the fifth string is always higher in pitch than the one on the fourth string, but never as high as the third-string note. The trickiest part is that you have to hammer all the notes simultaneously, and a compressor will certainly help even-out things here.
(Incidentally, you might also want to try using the pinkie of your picking/tapping hand to strum the chords with gentle upstrokes while holding down the tapped notes.
This next lick illustrates a fun way to come up with some pretty chord-tapping parts. Most of the pattern is based on fifth intervals. Fifths have a pleasingly 'open' sound, devoid of any major or minor bias, so they lend themselves well to being moved around the neck. Experiment with varying degrees of sustain; you can either let the notes ring into each other or play them staccato. Both approaches can sound effective.
Here’s another tapped chord idea that’s based on stacked fifth shapes, though less so. It's a simplified version of something you'll hear Bumblefoot play on “Turn Around” (Normal). To get into the spirit of things, crank up the gain on your amp and try to let each note ring only for its indicated time value. If, like me, you keep an elastic hair band wrapped around the neck of your guitar at all times, this might be a good time to pull it across the nut so it can help with the damping of unwanted string noise. It's worth adding, however, that a player like Ron gets amazingly clean results without recourse to the use of hair ties, simply by muting the un-played strings with the underside of his fret-hand index finger.
The next two examples are very different but share a theme; every note starts on a new string, creating an interesting percussive effect. FIGURE 32 is probably best suited to clean sounds, and it might help you to start by learning the second bar. This lick is based on a descending sequence using notes from E Mixolydian mode (E F# G# A B C# D), and the unusual sound is entirely a product of the unorthodox fingering. The first bar is an example of what you can get if you take a small chunk of the second bar and experiment by moving your tapping hand around; the concept is to take a basic scale exercise and transform it into a loop-able sequencer-like pattern.
The approach taken with this next lick is reminiscent of that used by Steve Vai in “Building The Church,” albeit with different notes. You'll note that the transcription recommends using three fingers of the tapping hand, but that's actually the easy part. The really interesting thing here is that the basic tapping-hand pattern repeats every six notes while the fretting-hand pattern repeats every four notes. (I’ve attempted to make this clearer in the music by notating the two halves of the bar differently.) In essence, playing this pattern requires you to be aware of two completely different rhythms simultaneously.
Vai would tackle the non-tapping content of a lick like this by bringing his fretting hand over the top of the neck, resting as much of it as possible on the strings for damping purposes and then hammering the notes with his first and second fingers. I've always found this (literally) over-the-top approach to feel rather unnatural, and I actually find it easier to keep the fretting hand positioned normally and mute with the underside of the first finger while hammering as indicated in the tab. As always, the important thing is to find the way that works best for you.
This next lick requires less concentration, although it takes some accuracy to get it right at high speeds, and it can injure the fingertips of your fretting hand if you get over enthusiastic! (Think I'm joking? You'll believe me once you've tried it.) If you can create the “sound effect” indicated by the first two notes in the tab, you can do the whole thing. Start by tapping the first note, with your fretting hand stationed several frets behind it: then, pull off with your tapping finger and immediately slide your fret-hand finger up to the same fret. Repeat as necessary.
This next example is loosely based on a lick Billy Sheehan plays at the beginning of Mr. Big's “Addicted to that Rush” and offers you a way to play “impossibly” fast trills by tackling the higher note of the trill with alternate hands. As with FIGURE 24, you'll need to exercise caution to ensure that your tapping finger doesn't collide with its partner in crime on the other hand.
As this next example demonstrates, you can also trill with the tapping hand alone. If you station the tapping finger above the appropriate fret and then send your wrist into a kind of 'juddering' motion, you can get surprisingly fast trills. This lick applies this technique while incorporating a subtle bend into the proceedings, the aim being to sounding like a blues harmonica player trilling between two notes while drooping their pitches. I used a regular fingertip on the recorded example, but you may well have heard Joe Satriani doing similar things with the side of his pick.
The next two examples draw once again on the work of Bumblefoot, who has devised all manner of tapping approaches that would simply never have occurred to most everyone else. The easiest way to play this lick cleanly is to rotate your fret hand around to the top side of the fretboard so that you can rest the side of your pinkie lightly against the strings just above the seventh fret with the rest of your fingers poised to tap in the area between the 10th and 12th frets. You would then play each three-note group by tapping the first note, then pulling off to 'reveal' the harmonic at the seventh fret and finally hammering with a fret-hand finger. To make this lick work, you'll need to experiment with the precise placement of your rotated fret hand’s pinkie and with the amount of pressure it applies to the strings to get clear natural harmonics.
This lick offers one more taste of Ron Thal's eccentric tapping. This time the themes are octave displacement and chromaticism. The fingering given in the tab suggests using the fret hand’s second and fourth fingers: this may not look like the easiest way to finger the notes, but it leaves your first finger free to act as a string damper, resulting in a cleaner sound. By the way, you are not advised to try this cool but rather jarring and atonal-sounding lick at a wedding gig!
And now for something relatively normal, at least for the fret hand. Try holding down a “C-shaped” E major chord as shown in the tab while tapping harmonics at the frets indicated just above. For the clearest results, tap directly over the fret (as opposed to the left of it, as you normally would) and bounce your fingertip briskly off the string. New strings will help bring out these tapped harmonics, as will the use of your bridge pickup.
Our final lick is a pedal steel-style country lick, and the idea is to let the notes ring into each other wherever possible. Think of it as a “Jerry Donahue plus tapping” idea.
It's not easy to write clear tab for stuff like this, so a little explanation will hopefully help. Your fretting hand essentially plays two double-stop shapes in this lick. The first couples the eighth fret on the high E string with the eighth fret, bending up one whole step, on the B string; the next double-stop pairs the eighth fret on the B string and the seventh fret, bending up one step, on the G string. Meanwhile, your tapping hand outlines two shapes: the first is at the 15th fret on the top two strings; the second involves the 12th fret on the G string and the 13th on the B.
With the first fret-hand shape in place, tap the B string, bend it up (with the fretting hand) and hold. Now tap the high E string and pull off again. Next, pull off with your B-string tapping finger to reveal the bent note held by the fretting hand, then release the bend. Now tap on the B string and hold. At this point, your fret hand should be getting into position for its second double-stop shape. Tap on the G string, bend up (with the fretting hand again), and we've reached the beginning of bar 2. Now pull off the tapping fingers in sequence—B string first—and release the G-string bend. For the final chord, bend the G string back up and tap the A-string note.