Gordon explores the “harping” technique on his composition ‘Isabella’s Wedding’
Normally within my columns, I focus on sections that may prove tricky by looking at them in sequence. In this case, I want to jump ahead and look at bars 34 and 35 so be sure to have downloded the entire tab from the website. Both these bars feature a lovely technique called “harping” – so called because it emulates the sound of a harp when played in an arpeggio style using harmonics and open strings. In order to really do justice to this technique you need a reasonably good thumb nail or thumb pick.
Designate the thumb and the index finger of the right hand to pluck the harmonic 12 frets beyond either an open string or 12 frets beyond a fretted string. What you are doing is plucking a string (fretted or otherwise) followed by a harmonic on another string using the thumb to pluck the string while placing the index finger lightly over the crown of the fret (plucking simultaneously) so it rings loud and clear like a bell or in this case a harp.
Here is a quick exercise to get you going if you haven’t ventured into harping territory before. The left hand does not come into play yet. Pluck an open fourth string (D). I suggest either the second or third finger right hand and then follow that with a harmonic at the twelfth fret bass sixth string (E) using the thumb and index finger outlined above. This applies to all of the following.
Move up to the third string (G) and play that string open followed by a harmonic at the twelfth fret at the fifth string (A). Move up to the second string (B) and play that string open followed by a harmonic at the twelfth fret fourth string (D). Move up to the first string (E) and play that string open followed by a harmonic at the twelfth fret third string (G). Follow this with the harmonic at the twelfth fret second string (B), and then with the twelfth fret harmonic at the first string (E) again using the thumb and index finger to play the harmonic.
On paper this probably looks confusing but as you try it you will see an obvious pattern emerging from the example that follows.
Picking harmonic pattern
4 open, 6 harmonic
3 open, 5 harmonic
2 open, 4 harmonic
1 open, 3 harmonic
Once you get the feel and flow of this ascending sequence, try playing it backwards!
Open first string (E), harmonic third string (G)
Open first string again (E), harmonic fourth string (D)
Open second string (B), harmonic fifth string (A)
Open third string (G), harmonic sixth string (E)
Let us get back to those two bars in question: 34 and 35. Here you will see that the left hand does come into play now with the fourth fret on the D string covered while “harping” 12 frets beyond that fret. In bar 35, the second fret fourth string is covered while you “harp” 12 frets above that. The fret numbers are clearly marked. There are many masters of this technique: Tommy Emmanuel and the late Lenny Breau.
Returning to the piece itself: At the beginning of bar seven (the 4/4 bar) we have what I describe as a typical Giltrap signature hammer-on riff which I have used in many of my pieces, repeated in bars seven, nine, 11, 13, 15 and in a similar way on the lower strings in bars 17/19/21/23/25 and 27. The trick is to keep them all consistent. Note in bar six there is a pull off to an open string from the seventh fret first string. This occurs in bars 10 and 14. If you wish, you can play this as a plucked note. There is a long stretch in section B bar 10 that happens again on the repeats.
Section E is what I describe as my Elgar-influenced pastoral section leading up the harping part. You can play this a tad slower if you wish as it has a more reflective and romantic feel to it. Throughout the piece there are many repeated parts. Try to vary the dynamics each time.
Thanks go to Steve Marsh for the transcription taken from my book Troubadour. This piece, along with many of my compositions, can be downloaded from Lathkill’s website.
Download the tablature: Isabella’s Wedding