Guitar Techniques - - TALK BACK -

Learn Steve Howe’s acous­tic gui­tar show piece from the leg­endary 1971 Yes Al­bum. Acous­tic supremo Stu­art Ryan is your guide.

Although fA­mous for his fluid elec­tric gui­tar lines with Yes on his ubiq­ui­tous Gibson ES-175 (which en­joyed its own first-class seat when Steve was fly­ing), in this in­stru­men­tal tour de force Steve Howe demon­strated that he has fin­ger­style chops to match his burning elec­tric style. Steve played the track on his diminu­tive Martin 00-18 gui­tar.

Of­ten wrongly re­ferred to as ‘The Clap’ ow­ing to mis-prints in al­bum liner notes and singer Jon An­der­son’s ac­ci­den­tal an­nounc­ing of it as such, Clap ap­pears on The Yes Al­bum, re­leased in Fe­bru­ary 1971. This par­tic­u­lar ver­sion was recorded live at Lon­don’s Lyceum Theatre the pre­vi­ous year and show­cases Howe’s clean, up­tempo acous­tic style. In­spired by the play­ing of Chet Atkins and Ma­son Wil­liams (par­tic­u­larly his hit ver­sion of Clas­si­cal Gas) Howe ac­tu­ally played the piece with pick and fin­gers - the pick pro­vid­ing attack. How­ever, please don’t let this put you off if you are not a hy­brid picker, as it’s equally pos­si­ble to play with a thumbpick and fin­gers, or just fin­gers (pima) ap­proach. I opted for the lat­ter method here.

The track was writ­ten to cel­e­brate the birth of Howe’s son, Dy­lan, in Au­gust 1969 (Dy­lan was born on 4th and Steve says he com­pleted Clap the fol­low­ing day), and this is re­flected in the eu­phoric, up­tempo bounce that per­me­ates the piece.

The Yes Al­bum was some­thing of a turn­ing point for the group: it was Howe’s first with the band since re­plac­ing gui­tarist Peter Banks; and also the first to fea­ture en­tirely orig­i­nal ma­te­rial from Howe, Jon An­der­son, bassist Chris Squire, drum­mer Bill Bru­ford and Tony Kaye (Kaye would soon leave to be re­placed by Rick Wake­man). It came at a time when they des­per­ately needed a com­mer­cial and crit­i­cal suc­cess, and the abum did this in spades, sell­ing over a mil­lion copies and reach­ing the Top 5 of the UK al­bum charts and the Top 40 in the US. On a later re-is­sue of the al­bum a stu­dio ver­sion of Clap ap­peared - which is ap­par­ently what Howe had orig­i­nally in­tended in the first place. How­ever, for this tran­scrip­tion we’ll fo­cus on the live ver­sion with all its twists and turns.

Howe’s pick and fin­gers tech­nique can be hard to mas­ter, although it cer­tainly makes pas­sages of this piece eas­ier to ex­e­cute, from the rapid strummed parts to the in­tri­cate lead lines that ap­pear at var­i­ous points. If you come from a tra­di­tional fin­ger­style back­ground it’s worth tak­ing a good look through the piece first, so you can iden­tify how to ap­proach the var­i­ous sec­tions. In gen­eral a stan­dard ‘pima’ ap­proach will get you through, though be aware of the var­i­ous Chet Atkins in­spired sec­tions which will re­quire the thumb to pluck the bass notes, typ­i­cally al­ter­nat­ing be­tween two strings. This tech­nique is also drawn from the early Delta blues play­ers so get ready for a proper thumb work­out! The sheer speed of the piece is also a chal­lenge. Plus it’s not all about the pick­ing there’s a lot for the fret­ting hand to con­tend with too - so I’ve added plenty of sug­gested fin­ger­ings to help you out.

Although Steve Howe orig­i­nally per­formed this piece with hy­brid pick­ing, a ‘pima’ ap­proach will also get you through.

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