The theory


The future of modern music


According to Wikipedia:

“Tapping is a guitar playing technique where a string is fretted and set into vibration as part of a single motion of being pushed onto the fretboard, as opposed to the standard technique being fretted with one hand and picked with the other.

It incorporates the techniques of hammer-ons and pull-offs, but these are usually only performed by the fretting hand, and in conjunction with conventionally picked notes, whereas tap passages involve both hands and consist of only tapped, hammered and pulled notes. Some players (such as Stanley Jordan) rely extensively or exclusively on tapping.

Tapping is also called tap style (tapstyle), touch-style, and two-handed tapping.”

Rather than plucking a string with one hand and fretting it with the other, each hand frets strings by striking them down with the tips of the fingers to play notes. Basically, point to the notes you want to hear and the instrument plays itself!

Tapping has existed in some form or another for centuries. Niccolo Paganini (1782-1840) used similar techniques on the violin.

In the mid 20th century, it began to become a more common and widely used technique on electric and acoustic guitars and basses until finally instruments designed specifically around this technique started popping up around the world.

Tap Theory is the manifestation of the idea that the instruments designed around this technique are a growing and important part of the musical discussion of the future. It is a collection of educational resources, music, song arrangements and instructional videos designed for the tap-guitar to help lower the barrier of entry to learn these amazing instruments!

It’s also a creative outlet and a unifying banner for all the solo work of me, Josh Goldberg.


Why the Stick

On the nature of the 4ths/5ths tuning

Josh Goldberg

The Chapman Stick, invented in the early 1970’s by Emmett Chapman, is a long, bodyless fretboard with 8 to 12 strings depending on the model. Taking advantage of  massive 6 octave range from B1 up to C or D6, the Stick is played primarily by tapping the strings directly onto the frets.  It is also one of the first instruments in the tap guitar family, an offshoot of the guitar family that also include the less popular WARR Guitar and Harpejii.  Having spent more than half my life involved in music, and half again that time playing the Stick, I have lately been pondering what makes this instrument so unique.  

I believe a tapping evolution of the guitar and bass were an inevitable event in the timeline of those two instruments.  Were it not the Stick in particular, another instrument would have doubtless filled that roll.  Certainly I am not downplaying the technique Emmett Chapman helped pioneer, but history notes that tapping can be traced as far back as Niccolò Paganini's early attempts on violin.  I mean to say it was simply a matter of time before someone explored the technique in depth, though this alone is not what makes the Stick so unique in my eyes.  

The design is very utilitarian, a style I appreciate and a factor in my decision to purchase one years ago.  However, any good craftsman recognizes form always comes secondary to function.  Emmett's choice to craft a highly functional and efficient instrument reminds me of the history of Adolphe Sax inventing the saxophone as an attempt to improve upon the clarinet.  One of Sax's major revolutions in his designs was the ability to overblow the saxophone at the octave rather than a 12th like clarinet.  This greatly increased the efficiency of the fingering of his instrument, while allowing it the dynamic range of a brass instrument coupled with the vocal quality of a reeded woodwind.

I believe that the major factor in what makes the Stick such a unique instrument is the 4ths/5ths tuning.  Like the saxophone's streamlined fingering, the Stick's tuning takes influence from its predecessors.  It also takes notice of the quirks inherent to the tunings of each of its predecessors, and efficiently addresses each one.  Guitar, bass guitar, cello, percussion and piano all present themselves in the Stick in different ways.  On their own, each of these instruments is beautiful and capable, each providing different rolls in the musical conversation.  The tuning of the Stick allows for it to take on any one of these rolls with near effortlessness.  Indeed, a truly skilled player can switch between each roll as well as combine them at will.

Everyone knows about the guitar.  Hailed as one of the most popular instrument of the 20th century, it is quintessential to the sound of much of the popular music of the modern era.  The tuning from lowest to highest strings is E, A, D, G, B and E again.  A pattern of stacked 4ths is broken by a single major 3rd before returning to a 4th.  This allows the guitar excellent versatility.  It excels as a chordal instrument, as the 3rd between the G and B strings allow it easy access to chords spanning all six strings with only four fingers.  Its range allows it to cover the range of a violin, viola and cello, and also lets it function very well as a melody instrument.  Guitarists throughout history have pushed the absolute limits of the scalar and chordal abilities of their instrument.  However, it lacks a deep and satisfying low end that has only begun to be touched upon with the addition of extra lower strings, and that major 3rd inherent in the tuning forces guitarists to learn a great deal more shapes than they would have to were the strings to follow a pattern of all 4ths.  Some master guitarists, like Alex Hutchins, have taken to tuning their guitar E, A, D, G, C, F, choosing to play smaller chord shapes primarily to gain that extra efficiency in the melodic realm.

The bass guitar addresses the lack of deep lows in the guitar, as well as the quirk of the pattern break in the tuning.  With the lowest string an octave below that of the guitar, and traditionally without the guitar's highest two strings, the bass's main quirk comes from the limitations of its range.  At the lowest frequencies chords become muddy and difficult to discern.  While virtuosos have pioneered techniques to move past these limitations, in an ensemble setting the bass most often plays a fairly strict monophonic roll covering the low end.  Some of the most notable advancements to the electric bass in recent years have been adding low and high strings to get more range.

The cello has a warm, vocal tone and a range similar to a standard guitar.  There are notable differences that separate the two.  For example, a bow is used on a cello and a plectrum on a guitar, the number of strings on each instrument and the tuning of those strings.  The Cello traditionally has four strings tuned in 5ths with the lowest being a C3.  The 5ths tuning helps to optimize the range on a smaller number of strings, giving each hand position a larger spread of notes to choose from than one would see on a 4ths tuning.  However, due to the bowed nature of the instrument and the relative technical difficulty of playing more than two notes at once when in thumb position, the cello does not easily function as a chordal instrument.  We see the same quirk with the violin and viola, only in different ranges.

Percussion often covers many ranges, from thunderous lows to airy chimes.  As often as not, percussion is either purposefully or incidentally tuned depending on what particular piece of percussion one happens to be playing.  Percussion, particularly rudiments and rhythms found commonly in hand percussion are immediately applicable on the Stick.  The similarities end about there, though.  While there are percussive techniques one can use on the Stick like thumping the strings or tapping on the pickup block, it has the ability to function as a stand alone chordal and melody instrument, something percussion often lacks without serious preparation.

One percussion instrument can, however, function in those ways: the piano.  The piano and the Stick share a great deal of crossover.  I've found some of the best beginner materials for Stick to be simply translating beginner piano books and pieces into Stick arrangements.  The piano has a greater range than the Stick and can easily handle multiple voices, and on occasion multiple musicians.  The piano's range and basic layout of keys grants it a great deal of versatility that many stringed instruments cannot do, but it takes with it two things: the expressiveness and the redundancy of strings.

There are many ways to make a piano more expressive.  Multiple foot pedals control things like sustain, dynamics and tone.  However, there is just no ability to achieve natural vibrato on one's notes, no ability to bend between pitches without a synthesizer set up.  These are so natural to a string player that they are often taken for granted.  Redundancy is a phenomenon of stringed instruments that comes from each string being tuned within one octave of their adjacent neighbors and spanning more than one single octave.  In short, redundancy is when a particular pitch occurs in more than one location on the neck, and is something that string players are so familiar with that some guitarists have based part of their signature styles on it.  While these things are missing from the piano, they exist in spades on the Stick.

Since 4ths and 5ths are mirror intervals of one another, learning more about the treble side of the instrument will passively inform one's knowledge of the bass side.  Scales and chords are understood at a deeper level across the neck sooner than a single tuning pattern.  The quadrants, as denoted by the location of the inlays on the Stick, help reduce the amount of pure geometry the Stickist will have to learn. Each quadrant contains all the same shapes as the others, just displaced by a string set up or down depending on which direction the player has traveled.  The 5ths in the bass allow for a great deal of range in a single position, opening up multiple voices and large chords with one hand.  Applying percussion rudiments between the hands or between the extremes of the range of the bass side makes grooves easy and effective.  The 4ths tuning makes scales and chords efficient, simple and logical and the mirrored nature of 4ths and 5ths means every shape you learn applies to both sides in different ways.

In summary, the 4ths/5ths tuning certainly has its own quirks, as does the Stick as an instrument.  However, it contains within it the combined knowledge of the previously listed instruments, waiting for a skilled player to bring these strengths to life.  It also holds within it the potential to expand on the knowledge lent to it by history.  By way of their tunings, each of these instruments has a single lens to look at music through.  Teachers will often tell their higher level students to learn and transcribe the music of other instruments to gain deeper knowledge and ability to see outside of their respective lenses.  This is an innate piece of learning the Stick right from the start, and talented players can take these roles and combine and refine them to make the instrument work either as an effortless chameleon or to push the envelope and create a new sound entirely.  This is what makes the instrument so unique to me.

A single quadrant of the Stick’s fretboard

A single quadrant of the Stick’s fretboard

Scale rudiments are small, repeating patterns that make up the diatonic scale

Scale rudiments are small, repeating patterns that make up the diatonic scale

The circle of 5ths

The circle of 5ths