1. Getting Started
2. Right Hand
Finger Freedom
3. Harp Style
Examples and Chords
4. Celtic Ornamentation
Triplet Variations
Thumb Triplets
5. Related Tunings
6. Scales in DADGAD
Detailed Charts
7. Chords in DADGAD
Detailed Charts
8. Tablature
Performance Notes
Notation Guide
9. Articles
Miscellaneous Topics

Play DADGAD - Simon Fox

4(e). Percussive Ornamentation


Not so much a Celtic ornament, but a very useful technique in adding energy and drive to an up-tempo piece, the thumb slap is executed in a way similar to a funk bass slap. The thumb impacts the bass strings at the side of the knuckle joint. The following pictures show before and after thumb slap positions of the right-hand.

Fig 4.1. Bass slap – before and after

Naturally, it is easiest to use the lowest bass string to avoid interfering with other strings. If the left-hand frets a note on the target string being slapped, it is possible to gain some sense of that note's pitch combined with the percussive sound. The slap is played with a short and sharp rotation of the wrist to bring the thumb down on the string. The closer you can start the thumb to the string, the better, as this makes it easier to hit the string cleanly. If you take a huge swing at it, you only end up slapping the face of your guitar, which can look a little embarrassing.

This effect is used on the Night Fishing CD and examples can be heard in measures 26 to 56 of “The Ullapool Decision” and measure 12 of “The Potato Van”.

Back of Nail Percussive “Thwack”

Another way of creating a percussive attack on a fretted note is to use the back of the nail of the right-hand middle finger. In this effect, the nail starts off against the thumb. Then in a sharp movement, the nail flicks down against the string. Figure 4.2 below illustrates this.

The difficult thing about executing this effect is to hit only one string. This takes a lot of practice to control. On the bass strings, the effect is a solid percussive thud. On the treble strings some interesting sounds are possible. The effect can be either a percussive thwack, or more of a zinging note that stands out in a run.

Fig 4.2. Percussive thwack – before and after


Middle Finger Thud

This technique produces a mild percussive thud sound, and is useful in creating a simple backbeat for a section. Covering 2 notes, the technique is notated with an X, followed by an open-string for the following note. For example, see the tablature for the song “Any Day Now”, starting at measure 20. Instead of plucking the first note marked X, the right-hand middle finger lands on the string with the fleshy part just below nail to give a light thud sound. The following note is the sounding of this open string, voiced by lifting the middle finger from the string and giving a very slight flick on the way off. As the skin leaves the string it will give enough movement to give the string vibration.

The technique is used extensively in the tune “Kettle of Fish”, where the thud is voiced at the same time a bass note is being plucked with the thumb. For example, see the second note of measure 2. In this case the thud is quite subtle, and is voiced as a combined movement with the plucking thumb. It is important to keep the right-hand very relaxed. This example is probably best left until after the sections at the end of “Any Day Now” (measure 20) and “All At Sea” (measure 68).

This topic is not covered in detail here, but take a look at the scrapbook page for an article with some examples and a video demo.

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