Fingerpicking guitar without depressing strings?

Inspired by this video of a guitar player playing the Simpsons theme using two guitars at the same time, is is possible to fingerpick a guitar without depressing strings? It may be some kind of illusion, but it appears as though the guitar player in this video plays different notes not just by playing different strings, but also by playing the strings at different locations along their length but without the aid of depressing the strings (I realize there is a capo in the video, but it’s permanently set at one position during the entire song).

I’m not a guitar player, but within my limited understanding it would seem that with two guitars, each only fingerpicked without depression (or just one permanent depression), there would be a limit of 12 total notes. What’s the scoop here?

He’s using a technique called tapping. It’s basically what it sounds like. You hit the guitar strings with your finger and it makes the sound. If you have a guitar at home, you can try it too.

He’s using hammer-ons. If you depress the string quickly, you’ll vibrate it enough to make sound as well as actually fret the note. On an electric guitar (which has the benefits of amplification and less string tension), a hammer-on is easy to make sound as clean and clear as a plucked note.

No, he’s playing harmonics. If you sound a string while touching it at a point corresponding to whole fractions of its length, you create nodes, and cause it to vibrate not up and down as a whole, but in several parts. So for example if you sound a string while lightly touching it at half its free length, you will get a note twice the frequency of the note you would get if you played it freely. Search for “Tommy Emmanuel” on youtube. Not only will you see a guitarist who will leave your jaw on the floor, you will if you watch closely see him playing passages using only harmonics.


If you’re playing even the violin properly, the left hand alone will (more or less) sound the notes due to its action hitting the strings and springing off.

Harmonics still require you to pluck the string, and there are a limited number of notes available if you don’t also fret the string. It’s hammer-ons.

Andy McKee – fingerstyle

What a cool player.

The Chapman stick is meant to be finger tapped. Here is some Bach on a stick.

OK, you’re right. I couldn’t check the video from where I was, but the OP’s reference to “not depressing strings” made me think it had to be harmonics.

To the OP, he clearly is depressing the strings. He’s just not picking them conventionally. So there’s no question of only being able to play a limited number of notes.

Thank you, thank you, thank you. You have just fueled my new music addiction for the month. Man I love this board.


Holy crap, that was incredible. If I had only heard the audio I would swear it was a guy on an electric guitar and another guy on bongos or something.

This is an accurate description of harmonics, but is not what the guy in the video is doing.

The tapping tecnique shown in the video was first developed by Chapman, as noted above (AFAIK), with the development of The Stick. Stanley Jordan adapted this approach (I don’t know if he was influenced by Chapman or developed it independently) for the standard guitar, and it has been his primary technique for 30 years. Here is a video of Jordan doing this with two guitars. If you like the video posted by the OP you will be *amazed * at what Jordan does.

Tapping momentarily divides the string into two sections. They both vibrate, as if they were strings of that length. The pickup is under the lower section, so that’s the one you hear. Some players who play only tap-style deaden the nut end of the strings with felt at the nut.

I haven’t read Guitar Player magazine for a few years, but they had a monthly Wiretapping column.

I just came in here to wonder what a depressing string was. I had no idea that any strings on a guitar were happier than others…

Don’t mind me. :smiley:

Well, some guitars are known to gently weep.