What is 'Touch-Style"?
By: Traktor Topaz
Twenty years ago, Alvin Toffler's book "Future Shock", described a "demographic wave", which means a fundamental shift within a culture which changes the way we live.
For example, "personal" computers have changed the way we work and live and play, forever. Toffler also predicted that more of us would work at home. Many laughed at this prediction, but now lots of folks work from home.
The musical community is witnessing a major demographic wave in the spontaneous evolution of "Touch -Style" music, meaning to play an amplified stringed instrument by tapping the strings with both hands, making two-handed play possible.
A demographic wave evolves due to underlying shifts in the culture. In our case, improvements in amplification and instrument construction, and also changes in popular music. Emergence of guitar and bass as primary instruments since the Big-Band era, with consequent diversity in guitar and bass music have caused a phenomenon:
The spontaneous discovery, by many different musicians, of the tapping approach — the spontaneous eruption and evolution of Touch-Style music within different genres and upon different instruments.
There have been pioneers, and this is the history of those pioneers and developments which led to the Touch-Style technique.
In 1952, Jimmie Webster described his new way to play guitar in a book called "Touch System". There were pioneers Merle Travis and Mark Laughlin, and then Dave Bunker, all playing with two-handed tapping.
Simultaneously, guitarists and bass-players have discovered many systems of Touch-Style play. Touch-Style systems exist in speed-metal, rock and roll, funk bass, and even upon acoustic instruments. Notable guitarists include Stanley Jordan, Steve Vai, Allan Holdsworth, Eddie Van Halen, Victor Wooten, Michael Manring, Michael Hedges, and others.
Numerous specialty instruments have also been developed: Webster's split-pickup guitar, the Biaxe, the TrebleBass, the Hammatar, the Warr guitar, the Megatar bass and others.
The word "TouchStyle" was coined by Frank Jolliffe, using variations as trademarks to describe his company, "TouchStyle Publications", and his products, such as the "TouchStyle Quarterly" newsletter. The word Touch-Style was adapted from the guitar term "fingerstyle" (which describes a method of finger picking). Jolliffe routinely grants permission for others to use variants, such as "Touch-Style" or "touchstyle", so that we may all have a generic label for the method of playing stringed instruments by two-handed tapping.
The 'Touch-Style' label then is an appellation for any and all methods of two-handed tapping, including those popularized by Webster, Bunker, Chapman, Van Halen, Jordan, Culbertson, Wooten and others, and including any two-handed tapping method yet to be discovered.
And when you play by tapping on your guitar (or megatar, or bass), you're part of an emerging community of players worldwide, part of a new method, a new approach, a new future. You have been picked up by a demographic wave.
We think it's the Wave of the Future.
And you're riding it.
Ride 'em, Cowboy!
Changes in the Music World
Evolution of Electric Guitar
Hundreds of years ago, guitars evolved as one of the more generally useful stringed instruments — more portable than a concert harp, easier to tune than a piano.
Popular music then wandered through the classical period and into the 20th century and in the war years the dance-band grew into the big-band, riding the popularity of that newly popular idiom called "Jazz".
During the hardships of these years, popular entertainment focused primarily on propaganda movies and on movies showing elegant life. These movies tended to feature big-band music.
But as the US economy returned to normal, economics and popular taste began to downsize the bands. In the '50s, television began competing with live entertainment and with the movies, and during this same time, Mr. Les Paul's new electric amplifier for guitar was coming into greater use among combos. The rise of "rhythm & blues", and its adoption by the mainstream white community as "rock & roll" was accelerated as radio abandoned drama as a lost cause and began to focus on musical programs.
And the result?
A singer, plus what was originally the "rhythm section" of the big band — bass, guitar (now amplified), and drums — became the whole band. The economics were right, the popular taste was right, and the radio desperately needed material. Big-bands disappeared; Elvis and then the Stones took over.
Electric guitar design adapted to amplification, dropping the (now unneeded) resonant sound-box, and acoustic basses adapted in the same way. Since a guitar-player could often sing while playing, the bands got very compact.
So in a way, as we will see, Touch-Style music evolved from the small combo, and in particular, the electric guitar of the rock band!
The pioneer of modern two-handed tapping is Dave Bunker. On his website, which can be found at www.conceptsnet.com/~bunker/, he describes how two-handed tapping began. As he was there, and saw it with his own eyes, this is probably the most accurate report we have.
Here's what he says:
"Lots of controversy exists over who did what and when on the Touch Method of play. Well, here it is. And this is right:
"Actually Merle Travis was one of the first artists to play using two hands [tapping] on the fingerboard. The first artist to really bring it out and do something with it was Jimmy Webster, who wrote the first Touch System method book for a single neck type electric guitar played with two hand tapping.
"I was the first to build and patent [a specialty tapping instrument] that you could tap on two necks , and also wrote and copyrighted the first double neck method book.
"One of the earlier great contributors has been Emmett Chapman and the Stick® design, which is probably the best known of the touch type instruments. Some great artists followed such as Eddie Van Halen and Stanley Jordan."
There you have it, straight from the source. Perhaps this will clear up some misunderstandings about the origin of touch-style and two-handed tapping! And now let's visit these pioneers of touch-style --
According to the website of the Nashville Songwriter's Hall of Fame, which can be found at www.songs.org/~nsf/frame-hof.html, Merle Travis (1917-1983) is generally credited with designing the first solid-body electric guitar (electric Fender). He brought a banjo-style fingerpicking to guitar, using thumb to play accompaniment while the forefinger plays the melody on the higher-pitched strings. Seven gold records and 12 BMI awards for top songs, including "Sixteen Tons" and "Smoke, Smoke, Smoke that Cigarette!"
According to Dave Bunker, Travis was the first to employ two-handed tapping on guitar.