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!
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 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