The Ultimate Guide To Guitar. Chapter III: 3 Technique - Tapping

author: ZeGuitarist date: 03/02/2009 category: the guide to
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Part III - Chapter 3

"Technique - Tapping"

Hey all, and welcome to the Technique section of Part III in the Ultimate Guide to Guitar! You now have most of the theory I want to teach you down, apart from one chunk of very hard to digest study material... which I'm saving for the Advanced section of this Guide. But before we continue to that, we have a lot of technique to look into, for both the left and right hand...

We'll start off with the right hand, with a very commonly used technique that isn't too difficult to learn, but nonetheless very hard to master completely! The technique I'm talking about is "tapping": using your right hand to hammer-on and pull-off strings instead of just picking, to open up a much broader range of notes you can play all over the fretboard!

In this lesson, we will look deeper into the technique of right hand tapping and its uses. We're going to approach this technique in 3 steps, like we did in the Beginner technique chapters: first, I'll give you a step-by-step explanation of how the technique is done; then, I will give you an example to show you how the technique is used in lead guitar; and finally, I'll give you a set of exercises so you can train your skill in this technique! Furthermore, we will explore a variation of the right hand technique called "two handed tapping", which obviously uses both the left and the right hands!

So, the content of this chapter:

01. How it's done: the technique broken down into some easy steps
02. Tapping in lead guitar: how to use tapping in your lead play, and why?
03. Exercises: see the situations in which tapping can be used, and practice, practice, practice!
04. Examples: how the pros do it!

We have a lot of ground to cover... Let's get on with it already!

How it's done

We'll start off with explaining the technique of right hand tapping, which is like I said a very easy to learn, but difficult to master technique! It's a very commonly used technique though (at least in some musical genres), so it's very important that you learn how to do it!

Basically, tapping is nothing but hammering-on and pulling-off as you know it... only, it's done with the right hand instead of the left! There's not much to it other than that, tapping is a pretty straightforward technique... so, here's a pretty straightforward example to show you how to tap, in a couple of easy steps!

01.Fret a note: let's say you fret down on the 3rd string, on the 5th fret.
02.Pluck the note: just use your pick...
03.While the note is ringing, move your right hand up to the 12th fret on the fretboard, and hammer down the ringing string on that fret using your right hand middle finger! Just like with a "regular" hammer-on, you should now hear the note at the 12th fret ringing instead of at the 5th fret!
(Note: Keep the string fretted down at the 5th fret as well, so you can pull back off afterwards!)
04.Pull your right hand middle finger off the string in a sideways motion, just like with a "regular" pull-off. The string should now be ringing at the 5th fret again, if you pulled off correctly!

Note: the middle finger is most commonly used for tapping, as most players use their index and thumb to hold their picks. Some players prefer to tap with their index, though, while holding their pick between thumb and middle finger... this is especially true for players who usually hold their pick with their thumb, index and middle fingers. Another technique is to use the pick itself to tap!
Basically, there is no "right" or "wrong" way to hold your pick, nor is there a rule that says you "have" to use this finger to tap with! I'm just pointing out the most common practice...

The above example shows a pretty basic application of the tapping technique: simply hammering-on and pulling-off a single note. There's more to tapping than that, though, and this is why I said in the beginning of this lesson that tapping is an easy to learn but difficult to master technique! Some examples to show you some more "complex" applications of the tapping technique, so you see what I mean:

  • Tapping can be combined with hammer-ons and pull-offs in the left hand, to create legato passages that can become rather complex and speedy!
  • Tapping runs on more than one string, using more than one finger to tap, are not very uncommon either... Usually, tapping passages like this are played at a relatively high speed as well, making it even more complex!
Basically, there's not much difference between these techniques and the simple "one-note-tap" example I gave above: the tapping technique is exactly the same, only doing it on multiple strings and at a solid speed makes it more difficult to get the notes clean and even... Therefore, in the exercises below, you'll find tapping runs ranging from the most basic to much more advanced levels... but first, let's look into the practical applications of right hand tapping!

Right Hand Tapping In Lead Guitar

So, how do we put this technique we just learned to use in our lead play? What are the particular benefits of using tapping in solos? Here's a short list of what tapping is useful for:

  • Playing faster: tapping is similar to hammer-ons, in the sense that it allows for faster play. Using the fingers of two hands obviously allows you to make notes follow each other up a lot faster, especially when you combine tapping with left hand hammer-ons and pull-offs!
  • Legato: tapping allows for legato play, and in that sense it's also similar to hammer-ons and pull-offs. Legato, or the stringing together of notes without a pause in between, was discussed in Chapter I-4, where we discussed hammer-ons and pull-offs... The above 2 advantages of tapping are also discussed in that chapter, as advantages of hammering-on and pulling-off. Review that chapter if you want to learn more!
  • Wider reach of notes: tapping allows you to play a broader scala of notes when soloing. You can use your left hand to play notes on the lower frets, and use your right hand to tap on notes on the higher frets... This will create a nice contrast between the notes from the lower and higher registry, and make your solos much more interesting!
These 3 advantages are the elements that make tapping a useful technique to have in your arsenal... I will now try and make the above explanation, which is pretty wordy, a bit more clear by giving you exercises allowing you to see the different situations I described, and practice playing them as well!


Like I said, the following exercises serve 2 purposes. First of all, they're for you to practice your tapping technique with... The obvious purpose of exercises, of course! Secondly, though, through these exercises I can demonstrate a couple of practical situations in which tapping is used!

Exercise set 1

     T  p T  p T  p T  p T  p T  p T  p T

This first "set" of exercises contains only one exercise... why? Well, this is simply the most basic form of right hand tapping there is: simply tapping and pulling off between two notes. That's all there's to it! This very easy exercise is designed for you to practice on the technique of hammering-on and pulling-off using your right hand instead of the left... The technique is practically the same, you just need to get used to using your other hand! That's what this exercise is for...

Note that you can move this pattern to any of the 6 strings, or to different frets if you like... The purpose of the exercise is to practice the tapping technique, so the position doesn't really matter anyway!

Exercise set 2

     h T  p p h T  p p h T  p p h T  p p

h T p p h T p p h T p p h T p p

h h T p p p h h T p p p h h T p p p

h T p p h T p p h T p p
In this second set of exercises, we're throwing in a couple of other expression techniques along with tapping! In the first exercise of the set, we're combining tapping with hammer-ons and pull-offs to create a legato run. The second exercise is similar, only we're using an open string now as well! The third exercise is a combination of the two first exercises... And the fourth exercise is a little more tricky: we throw in a slide between two notes, making it difficult to get the timing between the notes right! Practice on that, you'll find that tapping is usually used in combination with other techniques like this...

Other than the expression techniques often used in combination with tapping, this set of exercises demonstrates another important aspect of right hand tapping... Very often, you'll notice that the notes in tapping passages are arpeggios, or notes that construct a chord together played separately! And indeed, the above exercises are in fact tapped arpeggios, a C Minor arpeggio to be precise... A C Minor triad consists of C, Eb and G, and those are the exact 3 notes you'll find in all 4 exercises! The first 3 exercises also have an Ab, though, which is the minor 6th from the C Minor scale added to the triad.

Any arpeggio can be played with tapping, and notes can be added or replaced to create different arpeggios like we learned in the chord construction chapter... Experiment, and make up your own tapping riffs using different arpeggios and adding in different expression techniques!

Exercise set 3

   h h T  p  h h T  p h h T  p h h T  p

h h T h h T h h T h h T

h T p T p p h T p h T p
This last set of exercises takes the tapping technique even further, by applying it to more than one string... In the above tabs, you may notice that all 3 tapping passages consist of nothing but left hand hammer-ons and pull-offs, and right hand tapping. When changing strings, you're not picking the string you're moving to, but hammering onto it "out of nowhere"... I indicated this in the tab with an underlined "h".
This technique - using only hammer-ons, pull-offs and tapping, and no "regular" picking - is often called "two handed tapping", because you're in fact using both hands to hammer-on and pull-off every single note! "Regular" tapping often only consists of a couple of tapped notes in a solo sequence (with regular picking), while the term "two handed tapping" is usually used for long legato runs (or even entire songs!) where no picking is used, only hammer-ons, pull-offs and tapping. Check out the list of example songs below to see some examples!

Furthermore, like in the previous exercise set, this set of exercises shows a series of arpeggios that are played by tapping. The first exercise consists of a C Minor arpeggio on the G string, and a G Minor arpeggio on the D string. In the second exercise, an Eb Major arpeggio is added, so we have an arpeggio progression of Cm - Gm - Eb... This chord progression (because arpeggios are broken down chords!) is in the key of C Minor! The arpeggio progression in the third exercise uses the same arpeggios, only the notes are scrambled into a different order, creating my own tapped arpeggio riff in C Minor... I even recorded it for you! You can listen to it here... it's made with Guitar Pro, as I didn't have time to play and record it myself!

So as you can see, this exercise serves two purposes again: first of all, it shows you the technique of two handed tapping, so you can practice on it using these exercises... And second of all, it demonstrates the use of arpeggios in tapping riffs, so that you can experiment with arpeggios to create your own tapped riffs! Start with a chord progression, break the chords down into arpeggios, and tap away!


In this last paragraph, I will give you a couple of examples of well known songs, passages from songs, or solos, that contain tapping. That way, hopefully you'll be inspired to take on this technique yourself, and practice, practice and practice more!

Here's a collection of some well known songs or parts of songs using tapping:
  • An easy example of a tapping sequence can be found in Joe Satriani's "Always With Me, Always With You". You can listen to the song here... the short and relatively easy tapping run starts at 1:53, check it out!
  • Another example of a relatively easy tapping sequence is the solo from "Invincible" by Muse... Check it out here at 3:23! Keep in mind that Matt Bellamy uses a whammy pedal in this solo, but even without one it's a very fun solo to play!
  • If you want an example of a two handed tapping song, another awesome Satch song comes to mind: "Midnight"! I covered this song a long time ago and recorded in on video, but to accompany this chapter I re-recorded it with much better audio quality for your enjoyment! Check it out here!
  • And finally, if you really want to see tapping in its full glory, I can only recommend you the one and only Steve Vai... The two-handed tapping intro to "Building The Church" is very impressive, and although it's not a very difficult sequence once you get the pattern down, it will still not be the easiest thing to learn for the beginning tapper! Watch it here... and if that's not enough for you, you'll hardly find a more impressive solo than this one, ever! At least I know I won't...


Et voil! You now know how to tap, you know in which situations it can be advantageous, you have a nice set of exercises you can use to practice your technique with, and you have a list of songs that can inspire you to try and achieve the same skill level! So, now it's your turn to make an effort, and practice as much as you can!

Next week, I'll be back with more technique instructions... so stay with me, and enjoy playing meanwhile!


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