Tapping is an exciting guitar technique that allows players to play faster and shred along the fretboard using both hands. Eddie Van Halen is credited for pioneering and mastering the method, and since the early 80s, tapping has become a baseline skill for most metal and hard rock guitarists.
How does tapping work? And is it a difficult technique? I will answer these questions as well as go over some of my favorite exercises below in my ultimate guide to guitar tapping.
What is tapping?
Tapping allows guitarists to ramp up the speed of their solos exponentially. In the most basic terms, to tap on a guitar, you use both your picking hand and your fretting hand to play individual notes on the fretboard. This gives you a much wider range of notes since you can use both hands, and it allows you to play much faster. The technique uses hammer-ons and pull-offs to sound the strings rather than picking or plucking them with your picking hand.
Listen to this guitar solo, in which Van Halen shows the world the power of tapping. He starts using the shredding method at around 1 minute and 50 seconds.
Is tapping difficult?
Tapping may look super impressive, but it is easier than it looks. The technique is a twist on basic pull-offs and hammer-ons, so you can quickly learn tapping with some practice. However, while you can easily learn how to tap on a guitar, actually implementing it into your solos is much more difficult.
How to tap on a guitar
The basic way to tap on a guitar is relatively simple.
- Choose which finger your want to use to tap. Most guitarists use their index or middle finger, but it is ultimately up to you.
- Cradle your guitar pick in your other fingers or hold it in your mouth.
- Rest your thumb on the edge of the guitar’s neck.
- Slide your hand around the neck to reach your desired fret.
- Use your tapping finger to hammer-on or pull-off in conjunction with your fretting hand.
That’s it! Pretty simple right? Well, those are the basics, but let’s dive a bit deeper into how to incorporate tapping into solos.
How to incorporate tapping in solos
Using tapping riffs successfully in a solo is easier said than done. First, you’ll need to learn the technique by itself, and once you can smoothly play some tapping drills, you can move on to spicing up your solos.
I don’t think tapping should be used for the sake of showing off the fact that you can use the technique. Van Halen pioneered guitar tapping to play faster and acquire more range of the guitar’s neck, so when incorporating it into solos, you should focus primarily on the melodies and harmonies of your playing and use tapping as an embellishment. As you get more comfortable with tapping in general, you will start to be able to incorporate tapping slides, bends, and other more complex techniques into your tapping riffs.
Of course, showing off is always fun, so no judgment if you just want to shred from time to time!
Top tips for guitar tapping
Here are some of my top tips for guitar tapping.
Avoid tapping the strings too hard
While you should tap the string with your picking hand hard enough to get the same volume you would with pull-offs from your fretting hand, you don’t want to tap too hard. Tapping the string too hard will result in the vibration cutting off and the sound not resonating well. The string resonation can also be affected by your guitar’s action.
Practice with a metronome
As with any strenuous exercise, you should start slow and simple and work your way up. “Practice makes permanent,” not “perfect,” so it is important to practice and learn the skill properly and correctly.
Don’t discourage yourself
It may be tempting to try and learn a heavy metal tapping solo immediately, but you won’t have great results and may discourage yourself from learning the technique. So instead, take it slow and practice with a metronome. Once you do, you’ll be shredding in no time.
Best guitar tapping exercises
Tap and pull-off
This is a simple exercise that is perfect to practice when you are first learning how to tap on a guitar.
Place your tap finger on the 12th fret of the high E string, the 1st finger of your fretting hand on the 5th fret of the E string, and your 3rd finger on the 7th fret of the E string. Tap down on the 12th fret, release, and then pull off with your 3rd finger at the 7th fret. Repeat this drill in a triplet rhythm, progressively getting faster.
Tapping and shifting practice
Once you have mastered the basics of tapping, you can move on to more complex exercises. Learning to tap and shift both your picking hand and your fretting hand is a great skill that will come in handy when you start incorporating the skill into your solos.
You can use the same exercise as above, but after every 2 triplets, shift both hands down 2 frets. Continue this until your tapping gets to the 15th fret, then move back down to the original position.
Tapping is an awesome playing method that can add a lot to your riffs and solos. It may sound like a complex and difficult technique, but it is not too hard and can easily be learned with some dedicated practice.
If you have more questions about learning guitar tapping or anything related to your music career, feel free to reach out, I am always happy to help!