Tremolo Tapping

Welcome to my first online lesson! In the sixteen years I’ve been teaching guitar, I have seldom had the opportunity to delve into the more advanced and specialized musical concepts that I really enjoy. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against the major scale, but I like to put my own spin on things, so that I can make them my own. For this reason, I’m going to use these online lessons as a forum to share all of my favourite tricks and techniques that I have acquired over the years. Hence, I’m going to break out of the formalized structure of traditional “How to Play” courses and present different themes as the mood strikes me. I encourage you to take what you learn here, and apply it to your own playing in such a way that will allow you to take the material to a new level.

Today, I’m going to talk about tremolo tapping, which is a technique that I used to create a dramatic run in the song Up from the Ashes from my band’s Unconscience album (see figure 7). I “borrowed” the technique from Randy Rhoads’ work on the classic Ozzy albums Blizzard of Ozzand Diary of a Madman. Other artists who employ this technique in their songs include Joe Satriani and John Petrucci.

These files are the author’s own work and represent his interpretation of this song. They are intended solely for private study, scholarship or research.

Before we get into the specifics of tremolo tapping technique, let’s have a gander at the tremolo effect, its origins, and uses. Tremolo is the repetition of a note by means of very fast alternate picking. This creates a kind of a “trembling” sound, which is used especially for dramatic effect and/or tonal intensification. Double stops (2 notes) and even chords can also be played with tremolo. Usually, tremolos are measured, meaning that it subdivides the beat accurately according to the number of bars through the note stem (see figure 1A). An unmeasured tremolo, usually indicated with the word trem, can also be used. Tremolos were first seen on the piano and other keyboard instruments. The composer Franz Liszt often called for the technique to be used in his piano pieces. By the beginning of the 19th Century, tremolos had made their way into the Orchestra’s string section’s standard repertoire of effects.

Here are some examples of tremolo notation and their equivalents in regular notation:

Tremolo Notation for Single Notes

Figure 1A Without Tremolo Notation

Tremolo Notation for Multiple Notes
Figure 2A Without Tremolo Notation

Playing tremolos that involve several notes is very challenging if you use only one hand to alternate between the notes. In fact, you would probably have great difficulty keeping up in quick tempos. By tapping the higher notes, you can achieve a speed far surpassing the fretting hand. To execute tremolo tapping, use the back or side of the pick to strike the string. This will give you a more pronounced attack. In fact, some players, such as George Lynch, have been known to use quarters and other objects to get different sounds. Another important point is to keep your arm very stiff as you tap so that you are using your forearm to move the pick rather than your wrist. For extra speed, concentrate on keeping the pick very close to the string at all times because the further from the string you get, the longer it will take to hit it again!

Here’s our first example of tremolo tapping in action. It is short filler lick from I Don’t Know off of the Blizzard of Ozz album. To play it, place your index finger on the 5th fret of the fourth string and tap the higher notes with the pick. There are some slower notes at the beginning and end of the lick to give you time to get into and out of position.

I Don't Know 1
I Don't Know 2
I Don't Know 3
I Don't Know 4
I Don't Know 5

An Ozzy favourite, Crazy Train showcases yet another amazing display of Randy Rhoads’ virtuoso technique. This time, he uses odd note groupings to create a kind of wavering in speed that very much blurs the line between a measured and unmeasured tremolo:

Crazy Train 1
Crazy Train 2
Crazy Train 3
Crazy Train 4
Crazy Train 5

Our next example is an excerpt from Surfin’ With The Alien by Joe Satriani. This is a real fast and long descending sequence, which is sure to put your endurance to the test!

Surfin' With The Alien 1
Surfin' With The Alien 2
Surfin' With The Alien 3
Surfin' With The Alien 4
Surfin' With The Alien 5

And finally, let’s look at the Up From The Ashes lick from off of my band’s Unconscience album. My aim was to combine Rik Emmett’s “Pentatonic Waterfalls” with tremolo tapping. Whereas Rik Emmett used pull-offs on a nylon string guitar to achieve a soothing waterfall-like effect, I used rapid-fire tremolo tapping, a doubled track, and lots of distortion to unleash unbridled metal fury!

Pentatonic Waterfalls In Fantasy Serenade 1
Pentatonic Waterfalls In Fantasy Serenade 2
Pentatonic Waterfalls In Fantasy Serenade 3

To play the Up From The Ashes lick, slide your index finger up to the 12th fret and move it down to the next string as you descend. I don’t recommend barring the 12th fret because that will result in a lot of ringing. It may look fast with all the 32 nd notes, but at a mere 115 beats per minute, it actually works out to be slightly slower than the Joe Satriani example.

Up From The Ashes 1
Up From The Ashes 2
Up From The Ashes 3

That brings us to the end of today’s lesson. I hope that these examples inspired you to come up with your own unique licks. Feel free to email me some of your ideas! Until next time, happy practicing!

All examples in this lesson were notated using Guitar-Pro software.