Tapping is a guitar technique which is popular in many forms of rock and metal music, and even acoustic music these days. It means when you take your picking/strumming hand and fret a note on the fretboard of the guitar hard enough to make it sound without picking it. Or you can think of it as a “pick hand hammer-on”.
This technique was made very popular by Eddie Van Halen, but is now utilized in so many ways by so many different players that there is now a whole new flood of great songs using the tapping technique.
Basic tapping is a lot of fun and it is not very hard to get it down. What I want to cover in this article is how to develop control and power when tapping. This is often a problem the further you get into it, especially if you are tapping on an acoustic.
Tapping requires speed, not Eddie Van Halen shred speed, but the individual tap motion must be quick, just like every note you play on guitar. If your finger moves slowly onto the string the sound will be way too quiet if it makes a sound at all. Practice just playing one note very fast by moving your finger as swiftly as possible onto the note you are trying to tap. Keep doing this until you can get it to ring out nice and loud every time.
Next you will need solid calluses. Make sure to practice tapping everyday for the next few weeks to build up your pick hand calluses. This will harden the skin and make it much easier to tap loudly, not to mention it will also make it hurt less.
If you think that tapping is hard, just remember that if you type regularly, it is the same motion. I’d recommend tapping a simple pattern with 3 fingers so you can build up calluses on all of them at once.
I have included some tapping exercise patterns to get you going. Pattern 1 is right hand only. This is all tapping and nothing else so you can focus completely on the tapping hand only. Use your index to tap the 12th fret, the middle to tap the 14th fret, and ring to tap the 15th fret. Pattern 2 is the same pattern, but now you will pull off with the tapping finger to play the note beneath it on the string. Hold down the 5, 4, and 3 on strings D, G, and B like a chord. This is a G chord and will sound great when you play these together.
The final piece is what most people miss which is practicing this in time with a metronome. This is a vital piece. Since most people use their picking hand to play rhythm in a strumming or picking fashion and not tapping, the tapping rhythm is often a little off for most people. Make sure to practice this with a metronome to develop a deeper sense of control and awareness. I highly recommend recording yourself doing this and listening back to see how accurate you are. This will make a huge difference in your playing and tapping. Have fun with it!
About the author: Ryan Duke teaches guitar lessons seattle.