Eruption Tapping | How Does It Work?

Eruption Tapping | How Does It Work?

Eruption Tapping | How Does It Work?

In this free guitar lesson, I demonstrate part of the instrumental track, “Eruption,” that is featured on the very first Van Halen record and performed by Eddie Van Halen. I explain how the finger tapping technique works, how the tapping uses arpeggios, and how those arpeggios create a chord progression that features modal interchange and harmonic minor. 

To get my sound, I’m using the bridge humbucker on my guitar and a vintage Marshall amp Kemper profile. For effects, I’m using reverb, delay, and phaser. 

“Eruption” was recorded on a guitar tuned down a half-step to Eb. I’m playing in standard tuning, so I sound a half-step higher than the recording. The tapping section that I’m going to cover begins around the 57-second mark in the track. 

“Eruption” Van Halen Finger Tapping Guitar Lesson

I’m tapping into the 9th fret of the second string with a finger on my picking hand. I then pull my finger off and sound the 2nd fret, which I’m fretting with the index finger on my fretting hand. This is immediately followed by a hammer-on at the 5th fret. You can use either your ring finger or pinky finger for the hammer-on, whichever you’re most comfortable using. 

This note group is repeated rapidly using sextuplet rhythm values. 

To get a clean sound, you need to avoid causing vibrations on unused strings. When you fret notes along the second string with your fretting hand, place your fingers down so that they lightly touch strings 1 and 3. This will cut off any noise on those strings. Avoid touching other strings with your tapping hand. 

When you take a look at the notes in use here, you see they are C#, E, and G#. These notes make up a C minor arpeggio. You can play them together on separate strings, in which case they fit right into a standard minor barre chord shape.

The next group on notes you tap consists of C#, E, and A. This is nearly identical to the first group of notes. To make the change, all you need to do is tap one fret higher. 

The notes C#, E, and A form an A major chord. So, we’re slowing piecing together a chord progression. 

Next, your fretting fingers move up a whole step to frets 4 and 7. Your tapping finger stays put at the 10th fret. These notes are D#, F#, and A, which are the 3rd, 5th, and b7th of a B7 chord. You raise the tapped note, A, to B at the 12th fret on the last beat of this measure. This is not a chord change. The B note is still part of the B7 chord. 

From here your fretting fingers shift to frets 5 and 9 while your tapping finger stays at 12. These notes are E, G#, and B, which form an E major chord. 

If we back up and review the chord changes, they are:

| C#m / / / | A / / / | B7 / / / | E / / / |

These chords are straight out of the E major scale. They make a vi IV V I chord progression, if you’re familiar with the number system used in music. 

And here are the same chords played as arpeggios along the second string using the finger tapping technique. 

Hindsight is 20/20. It’s easy to break the tapping down and see how the idea stems from a standard chord progression, but it took the genius of Eddie Van Halen to perform this piece in such an innovative way. 

Moving on, the next chords are:

| C / / / | D / / / | E / / / / / |

These chords make a bVI bVII I chord progression. Here Eddie has introduced modal interchange by borrowing the C and D chords from the parallel scale of E minor (see my course, Fretboard Theory, for an explanation of this topic). Some people call this sound the “Mario Cadence” because it’s found in the music of the Super Mario Brothers video game. 

You tap the C chord by fretting E and G at frets 5 and 8, then tapping C at fret 13. You move everything up a whole step to tap the D chord, then move up a whole step again for the E major chord. 

Now let’s review the chords and the tapping from the top beginning with the chords.

| C#m / / / | A / / / | B7 / / / | E / / / | C / / / | D / / / | E / / / / / |

When you tap, take notice of how you move one hand at a time during the first four chords. You move your tapping finger when you change from C#m to A. You move your fretting fingers when you move from A to B7. You move your tapping finger on the last beat of the B7 measure before moving your fretting fingers to the E. The use of common tones here makes it easy to keep one hand in position while you look to reposition your other hand. But to play the Mario Cadence, you need to shift both hands together in whole steps. This is tricky because you need to look at both hands and make sure you get to the right frets.

As you learn this piece, you don’t need to copy my fingerings. You might be more comfortable using your pinky when you see me using my ring finger. Or, you might prefer to tap with your middle finger instead of your index finger. Also, you can pull off your tapping finger by either pulling it toward you or flicking it away from you. Either way is fine as long as you produce a strong pull-off.

Moving on, the next part sounds like this… Here we have descending chromatic movement that is based on a typical blues turnaround. You essentially play an E dominant 7th chord. In true blues fashion, you move backward from the 5th and b7th of the chord to the 3rd and 5th of the chord. You might be more familiar with this movement in the open position. 

Eddie applies tapping to this idea by playing all the notes along the second string. You fret the 5th, B, at fret 12 using your index finger, you fret the b7th, D, at fret 15 using your ring finger (or perhaps your pinky), and you tap the root, E, at fret 17. 

You play one sextuplet group, then you lower your fretting fingers by one half-step and do it again, then lower your fingers again, and finally you finish with your fingers on the 3rd and 5th of E. Your index finger taps E at the 17th fret the whole time. You play through the turnaround twice.

From here, Eddie takes the same idea and moves down in wholesteps. So, instead of a blues turnaround on E7, you do it on D7 and then C7. You can use dominant 7th chord shapes to keep track of where to place your fretting fingers. Your tapping finger will always play the root of each chord. You only play the turnaround once for D7 and C7. 

|E7 / / / | / / / / | D7 / / / | C7 / / / |

From where you leave off with C7, you drop your fretting fingers a half-step. Your tapping finger moves down a half-step too. Now you’re tapping the D#, F#, and B, which form a B major chord. 

From here, you raise your fretting fingers a half-step, but keep your tapping finger at the 12th fret. Now you’re playing the notes E, G, and B, which form an E minor chord. The B and Em chords are straight out of the E harmonic minor scale.

| B / / / | Em / / / | B / / / | 

In the final few measures of the tapping section, you split the sextuplet between Em and B. You do this for two measures, then tap at the 12th and pull-off to the 5th.

That completes the tapping section to “Eruption.” Let’s review the music by focusing on the chords.

| C#m / / / | A / / / | B7 / / / | E / / / | C / / / | D / / / | E / / / / / |

|E7 / / / | / / / / | D7 / / / | C7 / / / |

| B / / / | Em / / / | B / / / | Em B… |

From a compositional perspective, the music starts in E major with the chords vi IV V I, then incorporates modal interchange by playing bVI bVII I, then the E major changes to E dominant 7th and you make use of descending chromatic blues turnaround movement. This movement is transposed down in whole-steps. Finally, you finish with E harmonic minor. So in all, this tapping section makes use of E major, E minor, E dominant (which is E Mixolydian mode), and E harmonic minor.

It’s a brilliant composition. And to say that “Eruption” was innovative when it was released in 1978 is an understatement. It was groundbreaking, it was a game changer, it blew everyone’s minds, and that’s why Eddie Van Halen is a legend.

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