An Introduction to Tapping

Glenn Sutton teaches guitar, electric bass, keyboard, theory and improvisation for over 30 years, he specializes in rock, blues, jazz, Latin, Brazilian, classical, country, and folk.

How to Use Tapping to Expand Your Guitar Playing

A very popular method of guitar playing in multiple genres involves the use of tapping. It enables notes to be played at very rapid speeds. Many rock players such as George Lynch and Eddie Van Halen use this method of playing extensively. Jazz great Stanley Jordan uses the method exclusively. In this article, we will review tapping and its use in different genres.

What is Tapping?

Tapping can be done with one or two hands. It is similar to the technique of using hammer-ons and pull-offs. It is done by tapping the fretboard with the fingers, producing legato notes (notes that progress with no intervening silence).

Although it is primarily used on electric guitar, it has in actuality been used in various forms for centuries. It was used on violin by Niccolo Paganini in the 1800s. Throughout the 20th century, it was used on numerous acoustic string instruments. Roy Smeck tapped a ukulele in a film released on 1932. Other films of the time demonstrated tapping being done on the banjo.

Jimmie Webster was one of the first known guitar tappers; he released several recordings in the 1950s showcasing his technique. Barney Kessel was an early jazz tapper. Jazz player Emmett Chapman pioneered a new two handed tapping technique. He used both hands held perpendicular to the neck from opposite sides, thus enabling equal counterpoint capabilities for each hand for the first time. In 1969 he invented a nine string long-scale electric guitar to maximize this type of playing called the Chapman Stick.

Rock guitarists began employing this method of playing in the late 1960s. Canned Heat guitarist Harvey Mandel was one of the first prominent guitarists to use this method. Carlos Santana used tapping on his band’s album ABRAXAS. During his stint with Genesis, Steve Hackett used two-handed tapping frequently. Other noted guitarists who have used tapping include Frank Zappa, Eddie Van Halen, George Lynch of Dokken, Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top, Lee Ritenour, Ace Frehley, Chet Atkins, and Duane Allman

One-Handed vs Two-Handed Tapping

One-handed tapping is used in conjunction with the normal fingering of the fretting hand. It makes possible the construction of note intervals that would not be playable with one hand alone. There are multiple ways of tapping, though it is often played in rapidly repeating triplets employing sixteenth notes. The passages that can be played using this technique are virtually limitless.

Two-handed tapping can be used for polyphonic and counterpoint melodies. For example, one hand can play the melody; the other can play an accompaniment. This allows you to play, for example, a piece written for keyboards.

This is the method employed by Eddie Van Halen on the song “Eruption” from his band’s debut album, VAN HALEN. Here is a recent live rendition which serves as a fine example of one-and two-handed tapping.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RXKuefqMu4E

Eddie’s playing influenced a multitude of guitarists including Joe Satriani and Steve Vai.

Learning to Tap

As tapping is an advanced technique, it is something to learn after you have mastered the basics of guitar. It will take time, effort, and patience, but once you begin learning tapping, you will find your ability to create new sounds will increase considerably.

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