This tutorial was inspired by a question that I was recently asked via the AllExperts website.


Recently, I was asked "how do you 'tap'? I've read about it, especially in regards to Eddie Van Halen's style, but the actual technique eludes me, although it sounds like it would be great to learn. Any pointers? I'm totally clueless about this."

Tapping basically means using the picking hand on the fingerboard as wall as the left. When you mention tapping, most people will think of Eddie Van Halen, who did so much to popularise the technique, but his style of tapping is just one of several variations.

Music_PickHolding3a_T.jpgIn its simplest form, tapping involves using a single finger from your right hand (assuming you're right-handed, and that this is your picking hand). If you play with a pick, then generally you'll find it easiest to use your middle finger, as you can keep hold of the pick between your thumb and index finger as normal, and this lets you switch between picking and tapping with relative ease.

The style of tapping which occurs most often in rock music is one where arpeggio patterns ra eplayed using a there-notes-per-string approach. Normally, the range of an arpeggio would be too great to be able to play on a single string - the left-hand fingers just can't reach that far. However, when the right-hand is used, the stretch is easily playable.

Check out this example, where the right-hand is used to provide the 5th degree of an Am arpeggio. Note the use of a 'T' symbol in the tablature to indicate which hand is being used - the 't' stands for 'tap' and indicates that the right-hand should be used to tap the note.

Am Arpeggio

This is a very useful pattern, and once you've mastered the basic technique you can experiment with moving notes around to get different arpeggio patterns. Have a look at this example, which starts on that Am arpeggio and then moves through a whole progression.

Tapped arpeggios

Whilst those examples sound OK, they do run the risk of sounding a bit cliched. The idea of playing triplet patterns with tapping like that has been used a lot, so it's worthwhile taking a look at ways that we can use to make them sound a bit more interesting.

The first way that we can may the pattens sound a bit more interesting is to play a slight slur with the right hand. Instead of just tapping on a single note, the right-hand finger can be slid up to a higher note after playing the initial tap.

Taps with slides

Another thing you could try is to play the pattern as semiquavers instead of triplets, with the tapped note being played more often, as in this example.

Tapped semiquavers

You can get some great sounds if you experiment with this idea and try to introduce less a 'linear' approach to tapped patterns. One guitarist who does this very well is Blues Saraceno. You will hear tapped patterns in his playing quite often, but they aleays sound interesting as tends to avoid using very basic phrasing.

Here we've looked at basic tapping. However, there are more advanced variations of two-handed playing, where all four fingers of each hand are used on the neck.

One style of 8-finger tapping uses both hands working together, allowing you to play relatively complex (and fast) patterns, with a smooth, legato feel. A superb exponent of this is Jennifer Batten - track down a copy of her version of 'Flight of the Bumblebee' to hear just what 8 fingers on the neck can achieve.

Another variation of two-handed tapping uses all 8 fingers, but heas the left and right hands working independent of each other. This is similar to the way that the left and right hands play separate lines on a piano keyboard. A great exponent of this style is the bassist Stu Hamm - the highlight of his solo spot is Beethoven's 'Moonlight Sonata' which is a great showcase of this technique.

Finally, despite the fact that so many of the references here have been to rock, don't that tapping is a technique limited to this style of music alone. It crops up in other styles of music, albeit less frequently. Jazz guitarist Stanley Jordan is a great exponent of the style, who uses tapping to achieve smooth legato passages in his soloing.

As with any guitar technique, take the time to master the basics, and then experiment to see what you can achieve. Have fun.

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