Learn Tapping in 5 Minutes With a Simple Pentatonic Exercise

In this lesson I will teach you the fundamentals of a technique that tends to be overcomplicated - the two-handed tapping technique - and I'll teach it to you it in it's simplest form using a common scale shape and a breakdown of the technique into its smallest movements.

Ultimate Guitar
Hey, UG Readers!

It's been a long time since I've written for you guys, but I'm happy to be back with a new guitar lesson that'll quickly teach you the basics of the tapping technique. Read on and you'll be up and shredding in no time.

So I always hated math. And I wasn't too excited when I had to fulfill a math requirement in college. Based on my general apathy toward the subject, I don't remember much about the actual class; however, there was one concept that the professor taught us that still resonates with me to this day:

When trying to learn something, aim to understand simple things deeply.

In other words, try to get to the fundamental core of whatever you're learning so you build a solid foundation to stand on. Focus on the basic building blocks and move on once you truly understand them. Makes sense right?

And yet, we routinely get stuck in the learning process in our guitar playing because we want to jump straight into complicated techniques, solos and theory concepts.

As guitar players, we have the tendency to bite off more than we can chew when we want to learn something new. We'll check out a Guitar World magazine, see a complicated-yet-awesome lick and try it out, only to quit after 5 minutes of difficulty and frustration. It sucks.

But by taking a step back and focusing on the simplest elements in whatever it is you're trying to learn (technique, music theory, a solo, etc.), you'll not only be better prepared to learn more effectively, but you'll be able to graduate to the more complicated and exciting things much faster.

So today, I have a lesson that will teach you the fundamentals of a technique that tends to be overcomplicated - the two-handed tapping technique - and I'll teach it to you it in it's simplest form using a common scale shape and a breakdown of the technique into its smallest movements.

This way, you'll start simple and internalize the mechanics of tapping. After that, learning more complicated licks won't be as difficult. You'll be up and running in no time.

So if you're completely new to tapping, this lesson will give you the nuts-and-bolts of the technique and help you develop good habits.

If you already know how to tap but you're sloppy (it's okay, to admit it), this lesson will help clean up your playing and improve your accuracy.

So let's dive into tapping. Tap tap taparoo!

What's the Big Deal with Tapping, Anyway?

If rock and metal give you your jollies, it's hard to NOT want to shred like this:

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Wide intervals! Smooth and fast legato playing! It's impressive to say the least, and yet, the technique is really easy to mess up if you try to mimic it before getting the basics down.

I'm sure you've been to Guitar Center and heard some one aimlessly tapping away at the guitar without any rhyme or reason. Sloppy timing... No consistent pattern... It's a mess.

You don't want to be like this. In order to shred like Eddie Van Halen, Joe Satriani and Steve Vai (or to play the percussive and fluid acoustic tapping style à la Andy McKee), there are some fundamental things to pay attention to so you become accurate and develop the hand synchronization that gives tapping its unique effect.

Start Simple with Micromovements and a Pentatonic Tapping Exercise

Below is a video that will teach you the elements of tapping in 5 minutes. It outlines the smallest finger movements required for tapping ("micromovements") and uses a simple exercise with the tried-and-true root position A minor pentatonic shape.

Watch the video to hear how these exercises should sound. I highly recommend following along with the rest of the lesson's text and tab examples after watching the video.

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Now, as stated in the video, I recommend practicing the micromovements before trying the exercise so you can get used to the mechanics, timing and sound quality. Below are the micromovements covered in the video with tab and music notation.

Micromovement 1

Start in the middle of the pentatonic box on the fourth string.

Hammer onto the 5th fret to sound the note (this is often called "hammering out of nowhere" because you're not plucking a string - you're hammering a fret to sound the note).

Then, hammer onto the 7th fret with your third finger.

Then, tap the 12th fret with your middle finger of your picking hand.

Practice that small movement over and over and strive to have the notes play at the same volume and clarity.

Micromovement 2

Here, you're just going to play 2 notes.

Tap the 12th fret of the fourth string with your middle finger.

Then hammer on the 5th fret of the third string with your first finger.

Changing strings like this is important when continuing tapping licks onto other strings. You want to make sure the notes are even in volume and quality as well.

Again, practice until you get comfortable with the micromovement - ideally it should feel effortless.

Micromovement 3

Tap on the 12th fret, third string, and then pull off to the 7th fret, and then pull off to the 5th fret.

It's the reverse of the first micromovement and very much worth the practice because many tapping licks are centered on descending pull-offs.

Micromovement 4

Similar to the second micromovement, this exercise gives you practice changing strings.

Here, tap on the third string, 5th fret, then tap the 12th fret fourth string, and as you do that, simultaneously move your third finger to the 7th fret of the fourth string so it's prepared to catch the pull off from the 12th fret.

The Exercise

We'll use a scale shape that everyone and their grandmothers know: the tried-and-true root position A minor pentatonic box.

In case you don't know the scale shape, starting from the lowest string, you'll play:
  • Sixth String (lowest string): 5th fret, 8th fret
  • Fifth String: 5th fret, 7th fret
  • Fourth String: 5th fret, 7th fret
  • Third String: 5th fret, 7th fret
  • Second String: 5th fret, 8th fret
  • First String (highest string): 5th fret, 8th fret
The note's we'll tap will be on the 12th fret of each string, with the exception of the 2nd string, which you'll tap the 13th fret.

Essentially, you move up and down the pentatonic box, but before moving to the next string, you'll tap a note with your picking hand's finger on the 12th fret.

I like to use my middle finger. There is no hard-and-fast rule for which finger to use for tapping, but I prefer the middle finger because you can still hold your pick normally, which helps you go back and forth between different techniques with ease.

So Why Practice Like This?

After taking some time to get those smaller movements right, you'll be more than ready to play the full pentatonic lick, which essentially builds on the micro movements ascending and descending down the scale.

Simply put, practicing micromovements in this manner front-loads the work so when it comes time to learn more complicated and faster tapping licks, you'll be able to pick them up much more quickly.

I'll give you a personal example of how this benefited my playing: I recently did a playthrough video of "Bloodmeat" by Protest the Hero - a progressive metal band who is known to do a serious amount of dexterous tapping.

Although these tapping licks required practice to get them clean and up to tempo, they weren't terribly difficult to learn because I had been practicing simple tapping licks for a long time. Being comfortable with the fundamental mechanics of the technique made these complicated tapping licks easy to learn!

Jump to 1:30 in the video below to see some more involved tapping action:

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So There You Have It

While there are additional tricks you can apply to the tapping technique, this lesson gave you the main components of the technique. Practice these micromovements for a little bit each day, and you'll be surprised at how easy tapping becomes.

Also, apply the concept of understanding simple things deeply to all areas of your guitar playing and observe what it does to your overall progress.

Leave a comment below if you've ever had personal success on guitar by taking a simple approach to a new technique or song. I'm curious to hear your stories. Also, feel free to leave any questions and let us know if you'd like to see more guitar lessons like this on UG.

By Zach Pino. zachpinoguitar.com.

15 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Tapping is what guitarists that can't shred do...
    You've clearly never heard of Guthrie Govan or Stanley Jordan (just 2 examples)
    I've heard of them. However, I am referring to the guitarists that replace entire solos with tapping really fast, so that they can pretend that they can shred.
    Why would you make a sweeping generalization like that in the first place? Here we are at a lesson trying to teach beginners how to do some fun things, and you're spreading irrelevant negativity. Also, if they're tapping accurately and quickly, how is it not shredding? Do they have to sweep or bend or something? Example: I consider Tosin Abasi's tapping to be prime shred.
    Heh... ..."sweeping" generalization. And hey, way to discourage guitarists, daylightdies. I never would have gotten into shred guitar quite the same way I did had I not discovered I could tap the solo from Metallica's "One". That made playing fast seem a lot easier and it was a hell of a lot of fun and it got me into other bands that could shred. And if some guitarists keep tapping all the time because it's what they do best... good! Why should we discourage any technique? They're just techniques. As long as there's some kind of soul and passion in the music, I don't care if they're playing guitar with their buttcheeks while grating cheddar on a gnome. Well, not much anyways. But some guitarists just do tapping pretty well.
    Do you have to have the amp jacked way up to sustain the note? I tap or hammer (tap) on frets but the volume doesn't sustain.what to do?
    I started learning to tap by practicing this, probably not the best way to do it though ha Totally worked though
    But I'm not interested in tapping like Eddie Van Halen... I'm interested in the tapping technique of Stanley Jordan and/or Michael Hedges.