Tapping On Bass Guitar. Part 1 - Basics

This is the first in a series of lessons on tapping and related techniques for bass guitar. I hope to explain both the physical side of things, and some of the theory behind the notes.

logo
Ultimate Guitar
Tapping On Bass Guitar. Part 1 - Basics
66
This is the first in a series of lessons on tapping and related techniques for bass guitar. I hope to explain both the physical side of things, and some of the theory behind the notes. I'm starting from absolute basics so it should be very easy to follow - get this stuff nailed and the rest is easy too. Please mail me if you thing I'm going too fast or too slow. The very existence of this course depends on feedback - unless I know people are reading this then I won't even write part 2. I'll try and address any problems or suggestions I receive in future lessons.

Tapping is often seen as a technique used exclusively for solos but this isn't necessarily the case and I'll try and provide examples of each lesson point that demonstrates its use in a supporting SONG context. On a related note I will feel free to digress into other techniques as and when I feel that they are interesting or necessary to place a piece of tapping in context.

The techniques I'll outline form a part of a good bass players toolbag. You don't have to be an experienced bass player to follow this course, but if you are starting from near absolute scratch then make sure you spend time acquiring other techniques. This stuff will sound great, and may make an audience notice you if the band is working well - but if you can't pedal quavers then the band isn't going to work, and you're just going to look daft.

Tapping can be roughly divided into two styles - the Billy Sheehan (+Eddie Van Halen) and the Stu Hamm (Joe Satriani) style. I'll touch on both, but concentrate on the latter, as it tends to be more harmonically driven, and is more applicable to a typical band situation.

OK - enough waffle lets start...

Sit down with your bass and with the index finger of your LEFT hand play the A string at the 12th fret by hammering on (don't use your
right hand at all):
    __
|-----------------||--/--\-------O------------
|-----------------|| \ | .
|--12-------------||------|-------------------
|-----------------|| / .
H|-----/--------------------
| /
|---/----------------------
|
|--------------------------
Easy huh? Make sure that it sounds clean. Practise ending the note as well as starting it by lifting you finger a small fraction away from the fretboard so the string is damped. There should be no rattles, and the note should end when you want it to.

Now keep your left hand in about the same position and bring your right hand round so your elbow is over the bridge(ish), and your fingers are over the fretboard. Rest your thumb on the top side of the neck and place your fingers over the 14th fret - index finger over the D string, middle over the G string. This is your basic arm position (though like all basic things you'll grow to learn when not appropriate). Now bring your right index finger down onto the string to tap your first note.
-O-

---
__
|-----------------||--/--\--------------------
|----14-----------|| \ | .
|-----------------||------|-------------------
|-----------------|| / .
T|-----/--------------------
| /
|---/----------------------
|
|--------------------------

Once again practise starting and stopping the note cleanly - it should be just as good as the note hammered with your left hand.

Now lets put those two together...
    -O-

---
__
|-----------------||--/--\----------O---------
|o------14-------o|| \ | .
|o--12-----------o||------|-------------------
|-----------------|| / . .
H1T1|-----/--------------------
| / .
|---/----------------------
|
|--------------------------
Repeat this until you feel comfortable with it. Listen to the sound of the interval (the gap between the notes) - I'll deal with this in a few weeks, but you should start listening now, so that you'll be ready.


Now its time to bring in another finger - the middle finger of your right hand. It should have been hanging over the 14th fret of the G string up till this point so try tapping there.
 O
---

---

---
__
|------14---------||--/--\--------------------
|-----------------|| \ | .
|-----------------||------|-------------------
|-----------------|| / .
H2|-----/--------------------
| /
|---/----------------------
|
|--------------------------
Once you're comfortable with this, start put it together with the other notes.
First:

O
---

---

---
__
|-------14--------||--/--\-----O--------------
|-----------------|| \ | .
|---12------------||------|-------------------
|-----------------|| / .
H1 T2|-----/--------------------
| /
|---/----------------------
|
|--------------------------

Then:

O
---

-O- ---

--- ---
__
|----------14-----||--/--\--------------------
|------14---------|| \ | .
|-----------------||------|-------------------
|-----------------|| / .
|-----/--------------------
| /
|---/----------------------
|
|--------------------------

And then finally:

O
---

-O- --- -O-

--- --- ---
__
|----------14-----||--/--\-----O--------------
|------14------14-|| \ | .
|--12-------------||------|-------------------
|-----------------|| / .
|-----/--------------------
| /
|---/----------------------
|
|--------------------------

Loop all of these until you're completely comfortable with them - Your going to be able to play these in your sleep (with your eyes shut goes without saying - seriously! you shouldn't need to look at the fretboard, though it is excusable to start off with, or when learning something new).

[This might be a good time to take a break if you've had problems with the previous stuff - get it right before progressing]

Right now lets shift that whole pattern down a whole tone


-O-

---
O O
--- --- ---
__
|---------12------||--/--\--------------------
|-----12------12--|| \ | . O
|-10--------------||------|-------------------
|-----------------|| / .
|-----/--------------------
| /
|---/----------------------
|
|--------------------------

Get that sorted, and we'll move down again...
  O
---

-O- --- -O-
__
|----------10-----||--/--\--------------------
|------10------10-|| \ | .
|--8--------------||------|---O---------------
|-----------------|| / .
|-----/--------------------
| /
|---/----------------------
|
|--------------------------
Now as a final exercise lets put those last three together to form our first song:
   e  e  e  e  e  e  e  e    e e  e  e  s s s s  s s s s
|--------14----------12----|------10--------10-------12----|
|o----14----14----12----12-|---10----10---10--10---12--12-o|
|o-12----------10----------|-8----------8--------10-------o|
|--------------------------|-------------------------------|

Next time the band play's All Along the WatchTower (in the key of A) you'll be able to hold down the chords, and keep the sound interesting during the guitar solo.

71 comments sorted by best / new / date

    bassguruelliott
    Wow. You really don't need theory to be a good musican. That is a load of horse shit. Music theory is just a theory, not the way your supposed to play music. I know nothing about theory but I can play just fine.
    pixies3141
    djpiggy wrote: Sparky24 wrote: Who cares about octaves? All i wanna learn is some cool bass riffs, n e one know n e gud ones? Your a dumbass how can you expect to play anything decent and not know any theory
    totally agree and still dont know if im doing it write but its a great lesson and great fun to try!!
    VanQuisheR91
    rexy wrote: can i hear how it should sound ?
    agree ! i want to know the "tapping" i do based on your lesson is right or not !
    Ellerttoohey
    bassguruelliott wrote: Wow. You really don't need theory to be a good musican. That is a load of horse shit. Music theory is just a theory, not the way your supposed to play music. I know nothing about theory but I can play just fine.
    Honestly I hope you get hit by a truck. You need Music theory to do anything in music. Fucking idiot.
    Thelonious
    Great! Another technique in the bag (well sortof, atleast i know what im doing) thank you.
    josephmbaker
    People always use tapping to show off, but you make it easy! I'm going right to lesson 2 now.
    djpiggy
    Sparky24 wrote: Who cares about octaves? All i wanna learn is some cool bass riffs, n e one know n e gud ones?
    Your a dumbass how can you expect to play anything decent and not know any theory
    bassguruelliott
    Ellerttoohey wrote: bassguruelliott wrote: Wow. You really don't need theory to be a good musican. That is a load of horse shit. Music theory is just a theory, not the way your supposed to play music. I know nothing about theory but I can play just fine. Honestly I hope you get hit by a truck. You need Music theory to do anything in music. Fucking idiot.
    Haha wow, you really think you know your shit don't you? There is a thing in music, (you would only know this if you were a real musician) where you can feel what your playing, it puts you in a zone, it's like nothing else matters. Sometimes you don't even remember what you did, but you are sure it sounded good because your mood was great and your audience were pleased. Now tell me, ellerttoohey, where is the soul in theory? Anybody could learn music theory, you could teach a monkey music theory, but where is the soul at? Music theory definiton: the study of the theoretical elements of music including sound and pitch, rhythm, melody, harmony, and notation. There are two things, Music and Music theory. Involved with music, there are no guidelines, there are no boundaries. I'm quite sure that people billions of years ago didn't have this "Music theory", They played what they had, and played what sounded "right". Of course, Music Theory does help, I'm not bashing it at all. I'm just stating the simple fact that you don't need it to be a good musician. Music theory was created by a person, obviously, and they must have been a very talented individual at the instruments they played, right? God created music, not the theory. Man created the theory. Now shut the **** up. Maybe your the one who needs to get hit by a truck, look at your words, and tell me how you are right.
    megaluisdeth
    Music theory is a great thing. It tells you what you're playing. If you add theory and soul, you're work will be epic. Music theory has been around forever since they made the first instrument. If you use your soul and theory, you'll make great music.
    bassguruelliott wrote: Ellerttoohey wrote: bassguruelliott wrote: Wow. You really don't need theory to be a good musican. That is a load of horse shit. Music theory is just a theory, not the way your supposed to play music. I know nothing about theory but I can play just fine. Honestly I hope you get hit by a truck. You need Music theory to do anything in music. Fucking idiot. Haha wow, you really think you know your shit don't you? There is a thing in music, (you would only know this if you were a real musician) where you can feel what your playing, it puts you in a zone, it's like nothing else matters. Sometimes you don't even remember what you did, but you are sure it sounded good because your mood was great and your audience were pleased. Now tell me, ellerttoohey, where is the soul in theory? Anybody could learn music theory, you could teach a monkey music theory, but where is the soul at? Music theory definiton: the study of the theoretical elements of music including sound and pitch, rhythm, melody, harmony, and notation. There are two things, Music and Music theory. Involved with music, there are no guidelines, there are no boundaries. I'm quite sure that people billions of years ago didn't have this "Music theory", They played what they had, and played what sounded "right". Of course, Music Theory does help, I'm not bashing it at all. I'm just stating the simple fact that you don't need it to be a good musician. Music theory was created by a person, obviously, and they must have been a very talented individual at the instruments they played, right? God created music, not the theory. Man created the theory. Now shut the **** up. Maybe your the one who needs to get hit by a truck, look at your words, and tell me how you are right.
    Zaqq
    For some reason I see tabs here completely messed up (with Opera), no page zoom or something like that. The same with other browsers.
    Prince-Delirium
    I know this is a VERY old thread but I had to reply to some of the posts here : You can be high, playing for a bunch of drunk, high people and they may think you rocked out by smashing your guitar strings around at the end! However if you want to compose music, REAL MUSIC, understanding and using theory helps solidify your pillars! If you listen to any classical piece like Chopin, Beethoven, while understanding theory, your mind will be blown 100times more than listening to the same artists with little to no knowledge of music theory... I speak from personal experience... Anyone who says you NEED theory to play or be a good player or member is just as ignorant as anyone who says music theory is shit and you don't need it at all! As someone mentioned, theory is what constructs and gives properties to a piece you write! No one sits down and writes a formula for a song they want to compose (although if you understand theory completely you could compose masterpieces without an instrument)... Most of us, myself included play what comes to us and then jot it down in the form of notes or tabs... If you write it in notes (aka in the way used in the theory) any musician in the world can look at it and understand what it is you're doing and follow you... While a tab reader and/or someone who does not understand the essence of music may not even understand what you're doing while hearing it, and play completely off! (Key here is I said MOST and SOME, not ALL or NONE... There is an exception to every rule... And I'm 99.99% sure if any of us here were it, we'd be prodigies and therefore NOT on these forums trying to learn how to Tap) So NO ONE here should be making any claims that they are in any way superior in knowledge or skill! If you think you are then you are either a sad person, or a truly egotistic individual trying to claim fame and acceptance through music, which in my eyes is the most disgusting and pathetic action anyone can make (hence my absolute hate for the artists of the 21st century) So, to close, I'd suggest anyone here who says Theory is shit to try to learn it, and understand that knowing theory WILL help you become a better musician, and if you claim you're a true musician, then you should be CONSTANTLY trying to become better than you were yesterday! For those who say theory is EVERYTHING! I suggest you sit down and play something that is COMPLETELY original and not based on other works! It is true that understanding theory will help you put notes together, but FEELING the music will help you put the right ones together to create sound waves that will touch people on a Quantum level! All the best to everyone,
    handsanitizer
    To the earlier argument, from my perspective musicians need to be able to understand which chords they can use and which chords they cannot. Its not like sticking to the major scale in the key of whatever is rocket science or anything but if you can't figure that part out you're not making music, objectively subjectively or otherwise.
    handsanitizer
    Not understanding music theory = not being able to read street signs. Yeah you can drive but you'll piss some people off, ha! But thank you, Ultimate Guitar Team, I found that lesson extremely helpful. I loved watching Victor Wooten's YouTube lesson on this, but it is so much more gratifying to know that someone organized their thoughts well enough to write out the content & organize the logic. I pretty love every technique lesson on here and have used them since I began seriously practicing bass guitar a long time ago, so thank you. I will say this however: songsterr has really got you all with the tab notation. Not for the playback feature (because serious musicians should use the metronome anyway), but because there is rhythm notation for every measure of music as well as time signatures and BPM. I've noticed tabs for newer bands I like such as Blitzen Trapper on other sites but not with rhythm notation yet... Tabs like these on here would just awesome, but you guys & gals are doing a great job anyway thanks for looking out for musicians.
    dreamerthinker5
    It seems like the people who say theory isn't necessary are the ones who don't know it or don't use it. I took piano lessons for like 7 years and all through it I was taught music theory. I'm not saying I liked it, but now that I'm starting to play new instruments I am finding it helpful. Theory doesn't make music, and music doesn't need theory, but I've found that it makes some things a little bit easier. I'm going to close my eyes as I hit the "Post a comment" button, because I'm really hoping no one quotes me here. I'm just expressing my opinion here, please don't bash me!
    andrewcap
    great lesson! i agree with axeman, it was time for me to learn something new, and this was great for tapping basics thanks a lot for the lesson!
    bonestro
    Do I place my left hand on top or under the fretboard? gr8 lessons anyways
    Axeman20
    Great lesson, about time I started to learn something new, technique wise.
    arzga
    yeah very nice.. seems I've got to read the rest of the series Great lesson... I've got quite the same situation as marcusmassacre here (first played guitar, but didn't like... I'm happy about switching to bass, except i've played bass for six months and I'm pretty good (of course there's a lot to learn) and I've studied tapping more to the evh style, but just have found victor wooten (incredible guy )) Anyway this one gave me a good new way improve my tapping..
    marcusmassacre
    This was a good lesson. i taught myself taps by listening to Victor Wooten and Les Claypool stuff, so i had this down already. But i give you credit, i've been playing bass for over a year now, and the first few months were very hard, because i was used to playing 6string. but i realized that i would never have what it takes to be a great guitarist so i switched. i'm very happy with my decision, and can say(with certainty) that i'm one of the best in my area. i get together with bassist from local bands and music shops, and talk for hours about technique and style, and most are blown out of the water by my opinions and skill. but if i went back to when i just began, this lesson would have helped so much. the point that i'm getting to with all of this is: You don't need theory to play well. i didn't start learning theory until recently, and it has made a huge difference in my playing and skill, but it doesn't make you a musician. it helps you understand everything better, and can make or break(in most cases) a good player, but is definitely not necessary. the only benefits, that i've seen with theory are: A) i really don't play better, but write better. B) My improv is much more structured and comes more naturally(especially in jazz and blues) and C) i can teach others and they understand what i'm saying. so for anyone out there who thinks that you need theory, you don't, and every true musician will agree. But, it most certainly doesn't hurt to know. The greatest bass guitarist(in my opinion), Victor Wooten, says himself that it's like adding extra words to your vocabulary. but if you focus too much on your wording, you tend to have to think more before you talk. You can't just play, you become forced to follow rules and limit yourself. i've never been a fan of that, so i tend to practice for about 3hours a day using only improv and my own knowledge, and then spend the rest of whatever time i have left studying theory and learning new songs and techniques. but that's just me and my opinion, so if i deserve to be hit by a truck because i like to play what i think sounds and feels better, be the one to hit me. And afterwords, go join the Nazi party. They seem to think the same way you do.
    Fraztastick
    Outstanding lesson, zero to tapping in fifteen minutes. Brilliant. And @ the whole theory argument... there's a difference between a guitarist and a musician. I find that theory is essential. Chord structure, arpeggios... all you are ever going to be able to do by reading tab is play what is front of you, you'll never understand it. Two mates of mine are forever fighting this one out.
    yamaha4string
    first thing i would like to say is as a musician, you do need at least some knowledge of theory to be able to function in a band, unless all your going to do is follow tabs your whole life. but any way, is there another lesson comin? or did you just stop?
    mattvilla1
    Haha wow, you really think you know your shit don't you? There is a thing in music, (you would only know this if you were a real musician) where you can feel what your playing, it puts you in a zone, it's like nothing else matters. Sometimes you don't even remember what you did, but you are sure it sounded good because your mood was great and your audience were pleased. Now tell me, ellerttoohey, where is the soul in theory? Anybody could learn music theory, you could teach a monkey music theory, but where is the soul at? Music theory definiton: the study of the theoretical elements of music including sound and pitch, rhythm, melody, harmony, and notation. There are two things, Music and Music theory. Involved with music, there are no guidelines, there are no boundaries. I'm quite sure that people billions of years ago didn't have this "Music theory", They played what they had, and played what sounded "right". Of course, Music Theory does help, I'm not bashing it at all. I'm just stating the simple fact that you don't need it to be a good musician. Music theory was created by a person, obviously, and they must have been a very talented individual at the instruments they played, right? God created music, not the theory. Man created the theory. Now shut the **** up. Maybe your the one who needs to get hit by a truck, look at your words, and tell me how you are right.
    Theory wasn't made by one person man, its a collaboration of discoveries made by musicians. The best way to learn music is to do the theory. With the theory, you know the basics of what sounds good! How do you think the best musicians write their music? Jimi Hendrix, Flea, KK, Stevie Ray etc etc all knew their theory. You don't need it to be a good player, but you need it to be a good band member. Otherwise, how are you meant to mix in and co-operate with your drummer? However, Ellerttoohey is obviously a moron, people shouldn't be hit by trucks for having an opinion.
    Zeebraa
    wow, I am totally amazed. i never understood anybody else. thx alot man, ur awsome. =)
    Peewhy
    When I tap, I hear to notes : one for both side of the string. How can I make the extra note disapear?
    staine_082000
    i dont care about tapping in a bass all i know is i am good.. hahaha but that was extraordinary..
    mong12345
    how's the tabs messed up that's just normal music notation it's just hard to tab out n e way good lesson although i still can't make a loud enough sound
    musicphreak13
    i think that was helpful cuz otherwise i would have asked my bass teacher cuz he did it in one of his concerts I saw
    Sparky24
    Who cares about octaves? All i wanna learn is some cool bass riffs, n e one know n e gud ones?