An Introduction to Tapping – How to Get Started
Blazing quick scale runs with no pick noise. Intervals so far apart, that stretching to them seems impossible. Sequences that would tie your fingers in knots. We’ve all heard them.
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What’s tapping all about?
When people think of this technique the first example that pops up is often Eddie Van Halen’s ‘Eruption’. While Eddie’s warm up-turned-showpiece is a great example, and he certainly helped to popularise the technique, its origins date further back. In the context of guitar, the technique has been in use since at least the early 1950’s. Jimmie Webster described the technique in his 1952 book ‘The Touch System for Electric and Amplified Spanish Guitar’.
Since then the technique has been expanded on by players the world over finding more and more uses for the ideas that lie at its base.
As this is an ‘introduction to’ lesson, I’ve kept the licks pretty simple so you can get to grips with the technique. I’m using a Jackson Slat 8, EMG808(n) through a mattfig.com Salvation Humble clean profile on my Kemper.
A great starting point when getting to grips with tapping is to examine your fretting hand. What we’re looking to achieve here is a smooth and consistent hammer-on/pull-off style attack, so before we add any notes from the picking hand let’s get to work on some one-handed tapping.
Here we have a pretty simple one string, 3 note approach, going between fretted and tapped notes utilising a legato technique. The trick to this lick is that we’re starting on the fretted note here. This means that we have to deal with the concept of a hammer-on from nowhere. All this really means is that we‘re relying on our initial hammered note to be consistent with the volume of a picked note. Work on this element slowly and build to the right amount of pressure to get the tone you desire.
Time to introduce the picking hand. Building on the pattern from lick one, we’re going to replace the open ‘e’ note with its octave on fret twelve instead. This extends the intervallic gap and gives the lick a more interesting, less linear sound while keeping everything on the same string. Be sure to practice this with your middle finger for now, as it will allow you to hold your plectrum normally and allow you extra versatility.
As with the fretting hand, hammer-on with confidence. Be sure to flick your picking hand finger slightly to perform the pull-off motion. This should give you enough momentum to clearly hear the next note.
Now that we’re comfortable with two-handed tapping on one string, it’s time to make things a little more complicated. This sort of tapping sequence can be applied in many ways. The stand out use for me comes from examples like Joe Satriani’s ‘Midnight’ and Funeral for a Friends ‘Roses for the Dead’.
The key to this type of pattern is to start slow. Concentrate on muting to avoid any overtones from blurring the smooth clean sound you’re working to achieve.
As always, try to experiment a little with the examples I’ve given here, as this will help you to work these tapping ideas into your existing set of licks. See part two of our tapping series for more intermediate tips and examples.
Here are a few suggestions of players for you to check out, that have made tapping a defining part of their sound.