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.