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  • Guitar Tap Technique for Beginners

    By Team HC |

    Guitar Tap Technique for Beginners

    Incorporate this legato technique into your playing 


    by Kathy Dickson, GuitarTricks.com (adapted by Team HC)




    You've probably noticed by now that if you strike a string hard enough against the fretboard with the fingers of your fretting hand, you can sound notes without having to pick them. But did you know you can create the same effect using the fingers of your picking hand? It's called tapping, and if you want to seriously amp up the speed and coolness factor of your sound, then you need to try it.


    Tapping is a legato technique, meaning it incorporates hammer-ons and pull-offs to produce tone. Tap technique involves using the tips of your picking hand fingers on the fingerboard to hammer on and pull off strings in the same way you do with your fretting hand. By using both hands on the neck instead of having one hand fret notes while the other hand picks them, you can play two independent parts at the same time, much like playing a piano.




    Tapping on various stringed instruments has existed in some form or another for centuries. Jimmie Webster is often credited for having invented the technique. Webster recorded in the 1950s using a two-handed tapping method he described in a book called Touch System, which was published in 1952. Webster, however, credited electric pickup designer Harry DeArmond, Webster's teacher, for having developed the two-handed method as a way of demonstrating the sensitivity of his pickups.


    Guitarists such as Emmett Chapman, Randy Resnick, Chet Atkins, Stanley Jordan, Randy Rhoads, Steve Vai, Joe Satriani and others have pioneered two-handed tapping, but it was Eddie Van Halen who created a tapping craze in the late 1970s when he turned the guitar playing world on its tail with his dazzling fretwork on "Eruption." The song became a big part of Eddie's early sound and has gone down in music history as one of the most famous rock guitar solos of all time.




    Learning to tap is easy enough to do. In fact, if you know how to execute a hammer-on and a pull-off, you already know the basics of tapping. Just like it is with your fretting hand, if you're hammering on a note with your picking hand, the force of your hammering dictates its volume: the harder you tap, the louder the note. If you're pulling off a note with your picking hand, how far you flick the string will determine its volume. To get the best sound with tap technique, it's important that your picking hand attack be accurate and done with force. Volume needs to be near that of a picked note, and all notes must sound even in volume and clarity.


    Tapping is most often done on electric guitar. It can also be performed on an acoustic or almost any stringed instrument, though it'll require a little more effort to get your hammer-ons and pull-offs to sound.


    The single most important factor for ease of tapping is the guitar's action. You want it low. Normal action can result in a weak, dull tone because a large portion of the attack will be the sound of your finger hitting the string. With low action, a very light tap will produce a crisp tone.


    Tapping is more effective on new strings as older ones weaken your sound. As for string gauge, lighter strings make it easier to tap, but the sound is less full and the dynamic range is reduced. Use your own discretion when choosing string gauge. And don't forget to trim your fingernails before playing so they don't get in the way.




    You can use any finger of your picking hand to tap, though most guitarists use either the index or middle finger, depending on whether or not they're holding a pick. If you're using a pick, an easy way to get into and out of tapping phrases is to hold the pick between your thumb and index finger and tap with the middle finger, which would be the closest available finger. Then, when it's time to resume normal picking, the plectrum will already be in position and ready to go.


    Some players will momentarily tuck the pick into their palm or cradle it in the crook of one of their knuckles when they go to tap and maneuver it back into its normal position (typically between the thumb and index finger) when they go to pick again. This might take some practice to pull off fluently. Eddie Van Halen holds his pick between his thumb and middle finger and taps with his index finger, while Randy Rhoads tapped with the edge of his pick. Experiment to see what technique works best for you.


    Tap speed and proficiency will increase if you minimize your movements and keep all relevant fingertips close to the strings when not in use so that they never have far to go at any given time. You may find that resting, or "anchoring," the thumb of your picking hand to the top side of the fretboard helps stabilize and steady the hand and increases the accuracy of your tapping movements. For added support, you can also hold on to the bottom of the neck with your ring and pinky fingers. Some players rest the heel of their hand on the guitar to tap, while others tap with their fingers completely unmoored and floating above the strings. Again, play around to see what feels right for you.




    To learn to tap, begin by first practicing to sound notes with just your picking hand. Sound the note by hitting your finger straight down between the frets, tapping the string against the fret and holding it there for as long as you want the note to last. To cut off the note, lightly pull your finger straight off the string with as little side-to-side motion as possible.


    Sticking with your picking hand, now add in some hammer-ons and pull-offs. Generally, the fingers of your picking hand pull off upward toward the sixth string, while the fingers of your fretting hand pull off downward toward the first string. Be careful not to hit adjacent strings. When you're comfortable tapping with your picking hand, it's time to add in your fretting hand.


    When you're first learning to tap, start off nice and slow. Keep your tapping rhythm constant and focus on getting the technique down right. Only then concern yourself with speed. As with every technique you've learned to perform on the guitar, speed will come with mastery. And do tap on strings other than just the high E and B strings. Don't limit yourself. Try tapping on all six strings to see what you come up with.


    Tapping may make your fingers sore at first, so if you're brand new to the technique, don't practice too long at first. Give the fingertips of your picking hand time to adapt to their new task. You'll need to build up callouses on them in the same way you did your fretting hand fingers when you learned notes and chords as a beginner. Once you notice the fingertips becoming less and less tender, you can steadily increase the time spent on tap practice.


    This is an introduction into the world of tap technique. Use it as a springboard to find out more about tapping and how you can incorporate it into your playing. Know that it takes time and perseverance to be able to tap with both hands synchronized, so don't give in to frustration and give up. Remember back when you couldn't fret a single note without it buzzing. A breakthrough is always just around the next bend.


    Published with expressed permission - Guitar Tricks






    Kathy Dickson is a highly published and respected guitarists. She is a writer for Guitar Tricks and is from Pittsburgh.

    Guitar Tricks has the best and easiest method to learn to play guitar.

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