TOUCH, OR TWO-HANDED TAPPING TECHNIQUE can
provide limitless possibilities for exploration on
the guitar. The earliest documented guitarist using
this approach was Jimmy Webster in the 1950s. It has
now begun to enjoy considerable use among guitarists.
The essence of tapping is this: By hammering the string
against the fretboard with your finger, you can produce
a note with one hand. You don't need to pluck or strum,
because the impact of the string hitting the fret
causes the string to vibrate. Either hand works, and
you can even use both hands tapping simultaneously
on the fingerboard, performing independent parts.
the sound in this way is easy. But mastering its awesome
and unexpected possibilities is another matter! It
gives you a level of musical and orchestral complexity
previously possible only on keyboard instruments.
You can create bass and chord accompaniment to your
own leads as a self-contained soloist. You can also
perform complex counterpoint, such as Bach two and
three-part inventions. With a band, you can use your
hands together to play leads with undreamed-of speed
of your first experiments are likely to be expansions
of what you already do on the guitar, and adaptations
of pianistic possibilities. But you'll soon learn
that you hold in your hands a whole new instrument
with its own unique and unlimited potentials.
are, you can apply the touch technique to your own
guitar with just a few minor adjustments. I have used
it successfully on Fender Stratocasters, Gibson Les
Pauls and ES-175s, Travis Beans, and others. I have
even used it on various brands of acoustic steel-and
nylon-string guitars. Ideally, an instrument used
for touch playing should be an electric with an accurate
neck, frets in good condition, strong pickups, and
good sustain. Of all these characteristics, the neck
and frets are the most critical.
lack of proper adjustment is the main reason people
say to me, "I tried it on my guitar, and it didn't
work." The most important single factor is low
action; the strings should practically touch the frets.
This is absolutely crucial for ease of playing, clarity,
and sustain. If you have tried tapping with normal
action, you probably heard a weak, dull tone, because
a large portion of the attack was the sound of the
finger hitting the string. But with low action, a
very light tap unites string and fret immediately,
giving you a crisp tone.
low must you set your action ? Extremely low! If the
distance between a string and the 12th fret is greater
than the thickness of a penny, it is probably too
high. After you become more proficient with tapping,
you may decide to bring your action back up a bit
for a fuller sound. But for now, get it as low as
The fingerboard and the height and contour of the
frets must be accurate to get the required action
without buzzing at certain points. If you have a problem,
sight along the neck to check the straightness. The
instrument may need a truss rod adjustment. [Ed. Note:
If you aren't sure how to adjust a truss rod, take
your instrument to a repair person. Incorrect adjustment
can result in permanent damage to your guitar.] However,
electric guitars have an advantage, because some buzzes
aren't picked up and therefore don't reach the amp.
Check the condition of your frets; if they are unevenly
worn, you won't be able to get the required action.
Consider getting a fret job. If the frets are worn,
it may be a good idea anyway--regardless of how you
play. It could make all the difference in the world
for setting your guitar up for the touch technique.
If you decide to get a fret job, ask around to find
out who does the best work in your area. Then explain
to the repair person about your special requirements,
because this fret job must be more accurate than usual.
Set the action where you want it, take your instrument
to the shop, and say, "I'd like to be able to
tap with my action this low without buzzing."
is an advantage to having a bridge with individual
height-adjustable saddles for all six strings: It
allows you to set each string where you want it, to
compensate for differences in string tension and volume.
(There is also an advantage to the bridge with just
two height adjustments, one at each end: It allows
you to change your action quickly, facilitating a
single guitar's use should you employ both conventional
and touch techniques on the same gig.)
is also critical because your new freedom allows you
to play at opposite ends of the neck simultaneously,
thereby spotlighting any inaccuracies in the intonation.
Your two-handed harmonies will sound much sweeter
and the voices of your chords will sing more clearly
if the intonation is properly adjusted.
if there weren't enough to think about already, here
is yet another problem to overcome. With "normal"
techniques, you rely on the energy from right-hand
plucking or strumming to sound the notes, while your
left hand merely holds down strings. You probably
employ left-hand fingers to mute strings not in use,
preventing accidental extraneous sounds. But with
the touch technique, that can be hard to do. Because
of the low action, you can easily hit notes on strings
you don't want to play: All it really takes is a touch.
I recommend bringing the fingers straight down, trying
to touch only the strings you want to play.
with clean, direct fingering, you will still get sympathetic
vibrations in the strings you're not touching, so
you will probably need some kind of damper near the
nut to prevent vibrations in the untouched strings.
On the stick, for example, this is accomplished by
a strip of felt permanently attached to the fingerboard,
lying under the strings at the 1st fret. You may want
to experiment with a similar attachment, or if you
want something quicker and less permanent, you can
put a loose-fitting capo at the 1st fret to act as
a damper. Not just any capo will work, though, because
you must be able to put it on without pushing the
strings all the way to the frets. I get good results
with Jim Dunlop 14 FD and 14 CD capos, as well as
the Golden Gate GC-8. Also, you might get good results
with the George van Eps or Kleen-Axe String Dampers.
When choosing a capo, it must match the contour of
your fingerboard, so take note whether it's curved
or flat. Incidentally, if you do happen to use an
acoustic, the damper is essential to prevent string
vibrations between your finger and the nut.
you try the touch technique, change your strings;
old ones can be more debilitating with touch than
with other techniques. Prepare to increase your budget
for strings. They must always be clean and true to
tuning. As far as their gauges are concerned, use
some discretion. When I first started, I used .008
and .009 high E's. Now I use .010s on my Travis Bean
and .009s on my Vigier. Sometimes I'll take a set
of .009s but replace the .009 with a .010 for more
punch and sustain in my leads. There is a tradeoff
here, because lighter strings and lower action make
the technique easier, but the sound is less full and
the dynamic range is reduced.
is also a good idea to wash your hands and trim your
fingernails before playing. When your fingers come
straight down onto the strings, fingernails really
get in the way. I recommend warming up with conventional
techniques before attempting touch, and if you happen
to be a keyboardist, it may help to do a keyboard
warmup. Naturally, the spacings are different, but
the strength and agility you develop playing keyboards
can be a big help. Since the touch system results
in a certain amount of volume loss, electric guitars
tend to be more suitable; strong pickups are also
helpful. Turn up your volume, and learn to play sensitively
in order to increase your range of dynamic control.
If your pickups have pole pieces, screw them in, and/or
move the pickups as close to the strings as possible
for maximum sensitivity.
here you are with your guitar set up for the touch
technique. Your strings are adjusted and your hands
are clean. You're ready to get down. How should you
hold the guitar? Start with whatever you're used to,
whatever feels most comfortable. You can stand up,
sit down with the guitar on your left or right leg,
or you could even set the guitar on a stand. A very
important thing to remember: Stay relaxed, especially
in your hands. The key to relaxing your hands is keeping
your thumbs loose. Both hands are stabilized on the
neck by means of the thumbs. However, in time you
will learn to not always stabilize your right hand
in this way, depending on what you're playing.
fingers should come down between the frets in the
same places they would using normal techniques. Your
right hand is more nearly perpendicular to the neck,
and therefore you may want to hold the guitar with
the nut tipped up so that you don't have to bend your
right wrist too much. Moving your right elbow forward
a few inches can help straighten your right wrist.
To avoid tendonitis and carpal tunnel syndrome, try
not to bend your right wrist more than about 10 degrees.
Make sure to keep your right shoulder down to minimize
shoulder tension and to keep your overall posture
basic finger action to sound a note is tap and hold.
Your finger comes straight down and taps the string
against the fret, holding it there for as long as
you want the note to last. To cut off the note, lightly
pull your finger straight off the string with as little
side-to-side motion as possible. This movement must
be very light. You barely even try to release your
finger; mainly relax it, and let the string push it
hammering action should come primarily from your fingers--not
your wrists. If you get into the habit of using your
wrists too much, your fingers may get stiff and you
will never develop much speed. You can use all four
fingers on both hands. You can even use your right
thumb, but I recommend starting with just the fingers.
now for a big surprise: The words "tap"
and "touch" are oversimplifications, because
we're really talking about a whole cluster of related
techniques. You'll need other techniques to make your
articulation more interesting and to add some real
expression to your music. One useful technique is
the "slide," which is used to create glissandi
(glides between notes on a single string; see
in the A section of "Touch
Of Blue," which follows). Tap the string and
slide your finger along it while holding it down.
Make sure your finger comes straight down on the string,
avoiding adjacent strings.
and legato lines (hammers and pulls) are easiest when
all the notes are on the same string (example: the
opening figure of two sixteenth-notes and a quarter-note
in the first bar of the A
section of "Touch
Of Blue"). To play an ascending line, tap the
first note normally, but after that, tap each note
without releasing your finger from the previous note.
Just hammer each note in turn, leaving all the fingers
on the string.
descend along a string, use pulloffs. Again, the first
note is tapped normally, but before you release it,
have the finger for the next note already down. Then
pull the releasing finger off sideways, so that it
plucks the string on its way off. Generally, right-hand
fingers pull off toward the sixth string, and left
hand fingers toward the first string. As always, be
careful not to hit adjacent strings.
crossing from one string to another, whether ascending
or descending, release the first note late so that
it overlaps the next one for an instant (see
bar 3, first beat, part A).
This eliminates gaps of silence between notes, and
blurs differences in timbre and volume between strings.
The overlapping technique takes practice. After all,
it's hard to make perfectly seamless legato runs,
because crossing strings is still different from playing
along a single string. For a legato run to be as smooth
as possible, all of the notes must be located on the
lower your action, the less you need the overlapping
technique, because differences between strings are
reduced and there is less time between hitting the
string and hearing the sound. This reduces the likelihood
of gaps between the notes, and single-string legato
techniques become easier. When your strings are really
down low, you can play runs with great speed and fluidity.
a legato run involves more than four notes in either
direction or contains wide interval skips, you can
use both hands together, "handing off" the
series from one hand to the other or back and forth,
as necessary. This opens up a wealth of cool possibilities.
more thing before we start playing: Although you can
use the touch technique with any tuning you please,
most guitarists will probably want to start with standard
tuning. However, I usually tune in fourths:
E A D G C F, low to high. The first and second strings
are raised a half-step higher than standard tuning.
Thus, any pair of adjacent strings is a perfect fourth
apart. I find that this simplifies the fingerboard
and makes it more logical--an advantage that can really
be appreciated when you have two hands going all over
the neck. The exercise and song that follow are written
in standard tuning, but as you'll see, it is easy
to convert to the fourths tuning if you are feeling
is a lot more to the touch technique, but now you
know the basics. The exercise should get your hands
working. Both hands play the same thing an octave
apart. Practice the exercise until you feel comfortable
with it and are producing clear tones with even dynamics.
few words on notation:
The exercise and song are written at actual pitch
on double staves employing both the treble and bass
clefs, in order to accommodate the extended range
facilitated by the technique. (Most guitar music is
written an octave higher than it sounds.) The top
staff is for the right hand, while the lower staff
is for the left hand. Numbers next to the notes indicate
fingerings using standard Arabic numbering for both
hands. The numbers in parentheses show the fingerings
you would use in fourths tuning.
the double staves is a tablature staff written for
standard tuning. If you want to try the fourths tuning,
simply retune your first and second strings up a half-step
and play one fret lower on those strings (subtract
one from all the numbers on the top two tablature
lines). The exercise demonstrates the advantage of
the fourths tuning, since both hands play exactly
the same patterns, merely transposed to a different
part of the neck.
song is a transcription of a composition of mine called
Of Blue" [Touch