Tapping In Depth. Part 2

Although regular tapping is very common in the modern music scene, one technique that was developed by the man Eddie Van Halen himself has remained quite elusive and hidden. Tapped Harmonics are a very interesting yechnique that you can use to spice up your arpeggio lines.

Ultimate Guitar
Because I have received so many emails and such asking me to extrapolate on the original "Tapping In Depth" lesson, I have decided to make it into a three or four part lesson. If you have not done so, you may want to check out the previous installment before venturing forward. So, now for the million dollar questions; what the hell is a tapped harmonic? And what can I do with it? Well, to answer the first query, a tapped harmonic is simply a "natural harmonic" (which I will discuss briefly) that has been manipulated from it's original form into a different key. And to answer the second, using these manipulated harmonics can allow for clean or acoustic arpeggios to adapt a much more interesting and different sound, and for the distorted guitar, the big advantage here is that one is able to use a harmonic in any key they choose. As in the previous installment, I will go through preliminary techniques before finally tackling the tapped harmonics, but if you feel you are comfortable with the following techniques, then feel free to go right ahead to the section of your choice. What Is A Harmonic? A harmonic is an area along the strings of the guitar where certain sonic tones naturally, and sometimes artificially, occur. Depending on the guitar you are using and the type of harmonic that you use, you can all kinds of sounds that can squeal and wail all over the place. However, by far the most recognizable sound that a harmonic can produce is that of the natural harmonic, which sounds similar to windchimes or bells. Remember, this can be done on either an acoustic or electric (although the latter, distortion definitely helps to bring it out more).

Natural Harmonics

So, now that you know that harmonics can be found in specific areas along the strings, the next step is to realize how to unleash them. The best way to pull off one of these bad boys is to learn at the easiest spot. Place your finger over the 12th fret of the G-String (third skinniest) and fret the note. If you play that note, you will get a G note (obviously). Now, this time I want you to place your finger over the exact same position, only this time, I want you to do the opposite; instead of fretting the note, I want you to simply touch it as lightly as you can on the G string, over top of the 12th fret. Now pluck the string, and as soon as you do, remove your finger from the string. If done correctly, you should hear that same G note, except that now it will be a bit more chime-like. Congratulations. You have just completed a natural harmonic. Important Note: Make sure that whenever I'm talking about frets in relation to performing harmonics, that you realize I'm talking about the actual fret (the metal wire directly below the fret space). The metal area is the best place to produce a harmonic. Now, if you haven't done it already, you can actually do the same thing on all of the other strings over the twelfth fret. But is the twelfth fret the only place this feat can be accomplished? No. You can do this on the 12th fret, 9th fret, 7th fret, 5th fret, 4th fret. There's like four places you can do them within the actual space of the 3rd fret, and also the 2nd fret can be used as well. However, some of these frequencies will not sound very well unless you are using a distorted guitar. By the way, most of the time on a tab, a natural harmonic is indicated by simply the letters "nh" sometimes coupled with a diamond shape.

Tapped Harmonics

Awesome, so now you are able to do a natural harmonic, but there are some very important differences when moving into the tapping territory. The first one you have to realize is that you will have to tap instead of pick, but at the same time, it's more like "half-tapping." What do I mean by this? Well, I'll show you. Okay, this time I want you to give your left hand a break, and move your right index finger over top of the twelfth fret of the low e string (the fat guy). Normally to tap this note, you would simply just slam your finger onto the fret space to sound the note, however as we have seen earlier, harmonics are a much more delicate art. Instead of pushing down, your going to do very quick on and off the string "finger punches... " if that makes any sense. Basically, try to push the string onto the fret wire as fast as you can, and then release it as fast as you can, letting go of the string as soon as you have struck it. Hopefully, you should get a chimey sounding e note from this method. You basically just hit the same harmonic that you could do with natural harmonics in the same position. So why the hell did I just teach you a more complicated way of doing natural harmonics? Because it looks cool? Well, whether it looks cool or not, I don't really care, but the bottom line is, you have just done a tapped harmonic, and now the real fun begins. Now, get your left hand ready. I want you to to actually fret the first fret of the low e string with your left hand. Alright, now with your right hand I want you to do that same tapped harmonic method you did earlier, only this time, on the 13th fret (notice please: 1 and 13 are 12 frets are part, as are 0 and 12... Hint hint). If you did it right, you should hear a chimey sound, only this time, it will be an "F" harmonic. Now fret the 2nd fret with your left hand, and make a tapped harmonic on the 14th fret (again 12 frets apart). If you haven't figured it out yet, you can keep doing this up the neck, fretting the 3rd fret and tapping on the 15th and so on, as long as they are 12 frets apart. So now instead of the always boring e natural harmonic, you get F, F# and G, or whatever else you might want to do. Now if you thought that was cool, wait till you try this. Fret the 1st fret with your left hand, and tap harmonic on the 8th fret. Indeed, it is true that you have hit yet another harmonic. And I bet you've also figured out that you can pair up the 2nd and 9th fret, or the 3rd and tenth fret (all 7 frets apart). So, now I bet you're becoming very curious as to these spacings for which you can emulate tapped harmonics. Why does 12 and 7 frets apart work? Well, remember earlier how I mentioned that you could do a natural harmonic on the 12th, 9th, 7th, 5th, 4th, 3rd and 2nd frets? Well, that's in essence what you are doing with tapped harmonics, except that because the lower note (ie the fret being held be the left hand) has moved up in pitch, so must the higher note. Try these exercises to see if you can perfect your skills ("th" means tapped harmonic by the way):
      TH      TH      TH      TH      TH      TH
The above is just to simply get used to the whole idea.
     TH     TH      TH
This exercise demonstrates the interval changes for applying different fretted tapped harmonics. After you can do those two exercises, we can start applying tapped harmonics to your playing.

Tapped Harmonic Arpeggios

This is my personal favorite way to use tapped harmonics. It is basically a way to spice up your normal arpeggios (chords where each note is picked separately), and making them sound very exotic. So, the premise of this technique involves that your fingers on the left hand form a chord. Since it is probably one of the easiest, form your fingers into an E minor chord. If you somehow haven't learned what this is yet, I will show you below:
This is the E minor chord. So, now that your fingers are firmly in place, with your left hand, do a tapped harmonic over each of the 6 strings at the correct interval. It will look like this:
In essence, you have just played an E minor one octave (12 frets) higher than normal. With that in mind, you could also do the same thing with a seven fret interval, or even a five; any of the natural harmonic intervals that I discussed earlier can be used in this manner, to get some very fluid and interesting sounding arpeggios. For instance:
Now we can put it all together. Since there are few audio examples of this technique being used that come to mind, I will have to go straight to the source: Mr. Eddie Van Halen. His most prominent use of the technique is on the Van Halen song "Spanish Fly," often revered as the "acoustic eruption." The beginning and end of this song use tapped harmonic arpeggios. I will tab both parts below: Tuning: Down 1 Whole Step (2 frets down)
This first bar (as indicated above) is in a fairly odd timing (9/8)
This bar however, is in 4/4 timing. Now, simply repeat both bars, and you have the intro to Spanish Fly. The ending, which comes right after the intense tapping section, goes like this:


And there you have it. By now, you are probably quite proficient in tapped harmonics. Now I would suggest getting creative with them. Pick a song that has a nice arpeggio line, and do tapped harmonics over it. Like I said, it isn't a very well known technique, so it will definitely impress many other players as well as non-players as well. Some of my favorite arpeggio lines turned into tapped harmonic lines include the clean guitar section of "Rose Of Pain" by X Japan, "Goodbye Blue Sky" by Pink Floyd and the opening to "Cemetary Gates" by Pantera. Or, you can use this technique to hopefully spice up your on material as well. In the future installments (whenever I happen to do them), I will go into more complicated types of tapping, the other two types of linear tapping and hopefully get into 6 and 8 finger tapping eventually as well. I hope this lesson has improved your overall tapping abilities, and has overall improved your overall skills as a guitar player.

12 comments sorted by best / new / date

    ye thx man i always tried to do em but when u said do it quick like a finger punch, that helped keep it up hey is there something called a muted harmonic or somfin. ive seen eric johnson do this thing where he taps and holds for like a second and its real hi pitch anyway thx
    Lovely.. not many people use this technique. Obviously Steve Vai would know it cause he's the master. Anyway, great lesson!!
    hey is there something called a muted harmonic or somfin. ive seen eric johnson do this thing where he taps and holds for like a second and its real hi pitch
    You may be thinking of a pinched harmonic, Thats a whole other can of worms. You pick the note (Eg. 3rd fret E string) and with your thumb on its normal spot on the pick (may wanna move it closer to the tip) you brush it against the string, giving it that squealing sound. Hopefully that helped. Great lesson mate, 10 thumbs up
    hellz yeha its about time some one got the amazing skill of tapping harmonics out there its by far my fav thing to play around with on guitar but the notes are more like pinched if any body wants some great ideas as to what u can do with tapping harmonics study into some van halen < then mans an insperation . great lesson
    This is brilliant (: dead helpful Now someone's mentioned the pinched harmonic, I'm curious. Heard it used in so many songs (including one I've covered) but never known how to do it. It would be brilliant if you could possibly do a lesson on pinched harmonics too!