Getting started with guitar tapping is actually a lot easier than you might have thought.
As with all other guitar styles and techniques, to learn tapping on guitar, you need only begin at the beginning. Start small and you’ll surprise yourself with how fast you can pick this technique up. This article will describe just how you can go about doing that, starting with the basic mechanics of the technique itself.
The Mechanics of Tapping
Tapping is Tapping
When we drill down to the very core of this technique, we find it to be exactly as advertised – tapping is all about, well, tapping.
Especially in the beginning, most of the notes you play will literally be ‘tapped’ into sounding. This means you’ll be performing hammer-ons and lots of them.
What Your Hands Do
Your normal fretting hand works as usual, but compensates for a lack of plucking from your other hand by substituting additional force to fret individual notes.
You don’t have to lay into notes with all your might to make solid sounds; you just have to press down in the right places. This comes easily with practice. Be sure to aim just above each fret as you practice to get clear tones.
As for your plucking hand, it moves up to the fretboard to do the same, with your thumb resting gently behind the guitar’s neck.
Right at Your Fingertips
To get nice, crystal clear sounds, you’ll need to practice tapping out notes with just your fingertips. This becomes easier over time, so don’t worry if it feels unnatural at first.
How to Practice Tapping
Keep it Simple
Although launching into a full-blown 8-fingered solo is every aspiring tapper’s dream, the most helpful practice sessions involve scales.
The major pentatonic scale should be your starting point for the basic stuff, then the major scale for practicing with all eight available fingers.
There are also chromatic exercises that can be done that work quite well to build dexterity and independence in your fingers. Make all of the above your foundation and you’ll be well on your way to tapping lead guitar licks to rival Van Halen’s “Eruption”.
Try this Pattern for Starters
This simple pattern requires the use of only your index fingers to fret notes on each hand and moves across the fretboard as opposed to up or down it.
You should find this to be a very comfortable starting point if you are entirely new to this technique. If you’ve got this down pat, you can move on to the variations below, but for now, here is the tab.
The ‘L’ and ‘R’ in the tab above indicate which hand you ought to use for each note, ‘L’ being left and ‘R’ being right. If you are left-handed, then reverse their meaning to play it properly.
Practice playing this pattern slowly until you can comfortably complete it, then do a quick ‘sprint’ run to see how accurately you can manage it at speed. Regress to slow repetition until comfortable again and then repeat.
Try this Variation to expand on What You’ve Learned
Here, you’ll take the previous tab that you played with only your index fingers and progress to the use of three fingers total by adding the ring and pinky fingers on your normal fretting hand.
We’ll stick to hammer-ons for now to keep things relatively simple – the pattern is the same in both directions (low E string to High e and back again). The ‘h’ stands for hammer-on.
Try this Variation for a Bit More of a Challenge
This version of our practice pattern recruits your index, ring and pinky fingers on both hands as it moves across the fretboard and back again.
Tips for Practicing Tapping
Relax Your Fingers
Try practicing as quietly as you can at first. Doing so will help you to fully relax your hands and fingers, preventing strain from becoming a habit down the line.
Although it may feel counterintuitive to relax when you’re trying to apply force to the strings properly, it pays off quickly and makes learning this technique significantly easier. In fact, this tip works well as an addition to any practice routine for that very reason.
Don’t worry about pull-offs or muting unintended notes when you first start.
Use a Dampener
To help keep your tone clean in the beginning as you get up to speed on the finger movements of this technique, you can use what is called a ‘dampener’.
Dampeners keep open strings from ringing out whenever you move from one to another, which can be useful for staying focused on your practice before you get the hang of more advanced facets of tapping.
Refining Your Tapping Technique
Hone Your Legato
Legato as a musical term refers to sustained notes played in succession. As the term pertains to guitarists, it refers to the act of playing multiple notes with your fretting hand in between plucks. When you tap on guitar, you technically end up fretting certain notes with both hands, and this can really shake up your legato possibilities.
Once you’ve gotten comfortable actually hitting notes with consistent accuracy while tapping, you can take the technique further through the use of the standard legato staples: hammer-ons and pull-offs.
Mute the Stragglers
When you first begin practicing this technique, it helps to avoid focusing on muting as it complicates matters, but once you’ve grown more accustomed to tapping, effectively muting stragglers in between the notes you are playing can greatly enhance your sound.
Tap Chords Too
You don’t have to focus all of your energy on one finger at a time per hand when you tap. You can also tap out entire chords by hammering on their shapes.
Hopefully, you’re feeling a bit more confident about learning to tap on guitar now that you’ve read this article. Remember to start with the simplest pattern and gradually work your way up to the 3rd variation. Also, keep in mind that you don’t have to stop there.
With a little creativity, the practice patterns in this tutorial can be modified to include all 8 available fingers and even incorporate more advanced techniques like tapped pull-offs. Experiment and have fun with it to learn even faster.