A-Z of mu­sic the­ory: T

This month Char­lie Grif­fiths Talks Tor­ridly about Two-handed Tap­ping, Tremolo pick­ing, Triplets, Tri­ads and the Tri­tone scale. To­tally Ter­riffic!

Guitar Techniques - - Lesson: Rockschool -


Two-handed tap­ping was oc­ca­sion­ally used by jazz gui­tarists such as Barney Kes­sel in the 60s and by prog leg­end Steve Hack­ett dur­ing the early 70s, most fa­mously on the Gen­e­sis track The Re­turn Of The Gi­ant Hog­weed. It was how­ever Ed­die Van Halen who de­vel­oped tap­ping into a fully recog­nised gui­tar tech­nique in the late 1970s. Tap­ping is an ex­ten­sion of legato tech­nique. While ham­mer-ons and pull-offs are usu­ally the do­main of the fret­ting hand, they can just as eas­ily be pro­duced with any spare pick­ing hand fin­gers you have to add notes fur­ther up the neck. This al­lows ac­cess to much wider in­ter­val spac­ing than would nor­mally be pos­si­ble with even the most stretched out fret­ting hand. Usu­ally the sec­ond fin­ger is used for tap­ping, al­low­ing the player to keep hold of the pick, but play­ers like Jennifer Bat­ten and TJ Helmerich of­ten dis­card the pick com­pletely to free up all eight fin­gers for some in­cred­i­bly fast, fluid lines.

Tremolo Pick­ing

Tremolo pick­ing is per­formed by strik­ing the string with rapid, con­tin­u­ous al­ter­nate down and up strokes and is noth­ing to do with the tremolo bar. The tech­nique has roots in man­dolin play­ing and was fa­mously used through­out Nino Rota’s score for the God­fa­ther movies; man­dolin mas­ter Al Vi­ola used tremolo pick­ing ex­ten­sively through­out the main theme, but is of­ten used as a solo­ing tech­nique by rock­ers such as Van Halen and for black metal riff­ing by play­ers such as Em­peror gui­tarist Isahn. The idea is that you pick as fast as pos­si­ble, with no spe­cific sub­di­vi­sion in mind. In or­der to main­tain top speed with­out get­ting tired, a re­laxed tech­nique is es­sen­tial. Keep your arm re­laxed by bend­ing your wrist slightly and mov­ing the hand by turn­ing your fore­arm, rather than mov­ing the arm up and down in a strum­ming mo­tion.


A triad is a three-note chord, usu­ally con­tain­ing the 1st, 3rd and 5th in­ter­vals from the par­ent scale. If we take C ma­jor, for ex­am­ple, it con­tains the notes C D E F G A B. The 1st, 3rd and 5th are C, E and G, which is ma­jor 3rd in­ter­val with a mi­nor 3rd one stacked on top; these three notes make up a ma­jor triad. If we build a triad from C mi­nor scale (C D Eb F G Ab Bb) we get C, Eb, G. This gives us the op­po­site in­ter­val struc­ture, a mi­nor 3rd in­ter­val with a ma­jor 3rd stacked on top - a mi­nor triad. Ma­jor and mi­nor tri­ads both have a per­fect 5th (ie not b5 or #5), but a dif­fer­ent type of 3rd: a ma­jor 3rd and a mi­nor 3rd. These are the two most com­monly used tri­ads, but there are two oth­ers: Aug­mented and Di­min­ished. Aug­mented tri­ads are made up of two ma­jor 3rds stacked on top of the other, giv­ing us the in­ter­vals 1, 3 #5. Di­min­ished tri­ads have two stacked mi­nor 3rds, giv­ing us 1, b3, b5. All four of these dif­fer­ent types of triad can be found in the har­monised melodic mi­nor scale, which we have used in our mu­si­cal ex­am­ple.


Or­di­nar­ily we di­vide beats into two or four notes - eighth and 16th notes - but we can fur­ther di­vide beats to make what we call ‘triplets’. Try tap­ping your foot and play­ing three equal notes per beat. You may want to count ‘1 and a, 2 and a, 3 and a, 4 and a’ out loud to make sure each note is an even length. You are now play­ing three notes in the space of what would nor­mally be two eighth notes, so we call these ‘eighth note triplets’. We can also dou­ble the speed to six-notes per beat to make 16th-note triplets, or halve the speed to make quar­ter-note triplets - three notes in the space of two quar­ter-notes. Our ex­am­ple will help you prac­tice switch­ing be­tween eighth­note and quar­ter-note triplets.



This is a hex­a­tonic (six-note) scale made up from the notes of two ma­jor tri­ads spaced a tri­tone (six semi­tones) apart. It can be de­scribed as poly­tonic. Lets build the scale from a C root. Start with a C ma­jor triad - C, E, G - then add an­other ma­jor triad a tri­tone or b5 above; this gives us Gb, which has the notes Gb, Bb, Db. Now if we com­bine these six notes in al­pha­bet­i­cal or­der we get C, Db, E, Gb, G and Bb. Rather than hav­ing two dif­fer­ent ‘G’ notes, we can use Gb’s en­har­monic name F#, which would make it C, Db, E, F#, G, Bb. This can be spelled out as the in­ter­vals: R, b2, 3, b5, 5, b7. The R, 3, 5, b7 in­ter­vals spell out a dom­i­nant 7th chord, which gives us an idea of when we might use this scale. The other notes b2 and b5 are what a jazz player would call ‘al­tered’ in­ter­vals, mak­ing this scale per­fect in a func­tion­ing ‘V-I’ sit­u­a­tion.

Ed­die Van Halen: rev­o­lu­tionised rock with twohanded tap­ping

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