Rusty Cooley(7)

Because it became such a cliché of ’80s hair metal, and because many people associate it with the legions of shameless Eddie Van Halen wannabes that appeared immediately after the release of Van Halen’s debut album, the two-hands-on-the-fretboard technique known as tapping has certainly gotten a bad rap. But let’s not forget that there are artful ways to incorporate tapped notes into lead lines that don’t result in tired sounding, “Eruption” rip-off licks. In fact, there are tapping approaches that produce stunningly fluid legato lines that can dazzle even the snobbiest of shred connoisseurs.

In my playing, I often use tapping fingers as extensions of my fretting hand to, in effect, give the appendage a total of five, six, seven, or, in extreme situations, eight fingers with which to play legato runs and single-string scales. I rarely tap with the index finger, as I like to keep my pick planted between it and the thumb so my pick’s always ready for action. Instead, my go-to finger is the middle (m),

followed by the ring (a) and pinky (c) fingers. You can use these three fingers to tap legato lines, as illustrated by the introductory exercise in Ex. 1. Experiment with this example slowly, leaving each finger planted after tapping so that the three tapping fingers remain in place for the two pull-offs that conclude bar 1’s five-note phrase. Also, try the drill on different strings, as suggested by bar 2.

The legato magic begins when you pair the tapping hand with the fretting hand. Here’s a repeating Phrygian dominant phrase incorporating notes tapped by the middle and ring fingers that, once the moves are mastered, can be played astoundingly fast [Ex. 2]. (Launch this phrase by hammering the first note with the fretting hand’s 1st finger.) To create a blistering ascent using this approach, play the pitches using the

13-note pattern that opens Ex. 3. (Notice that this example has no time signature. The bar lines are only there for a clearer presentation.) Once you tap the last note of bar 1, the phrase repeats up an octave (bar 2) and then up an additional octave (bar 3) before closing with the wild descent in the last measure.

Practice the moves until all the notes come out even in volume and duration. Then, experiment with other ways of playing this stuff. For instance, here’s the same pattern made simpler by omitting the D# fretted with the fourth finger [Ex. 4]. Once you get this version down, go ahead and—you guessed it—transpose it to other strings.