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Tapping Part 1


Disclaimer 1: All video-files have been encoded with a recent DivX-Codec. All files are .avis, and if you do have trouble playing them back, you might wanna consider downloading and installing (it's free) the most recent DivX-codec at www.divx.com)

There it is...
Whew... did this one take a while or what?
It's been requested a lot in the forums, and some people who know me or are familiar with my playing may be a quite confused why I hadn't written anything up until now since tapping is an integral part of my style.

I don't know why I didn't get to it yet... maybe it's because, just like picking etc., tapping is actually a huge topic. I am sure some people think that there isn't much you can do with it other than playing "Eruption"-style stuff. But actually, the technique is very diverse and you can create a lot of sounds and cool effects with it. I'll get into that later on, as I assume this will turn into a small series.

This time, I'd like to focus on the basics, essential licks and exercises, and some different basic approaches. First, of course, it's disclaimer-time...

Disclaimer 2: The video clips
I'd like to point out that basically, the cam I used to shoot these video clips is not exactly high quality. Also, I am no wiz when it comes to editing videos, so I guess the quality is pretty sub-par. The frame rate ain't too great anyway, and in the process of turning the clips into smaller size AVIs (in order to keep the file size low), it might have lost a bit more detail still.

I saw some discussions about some video clips by players on their website which apparently were edited to make the player appear to be playing faster than he actually was able to. If you listen to the sound of the video, you'll notice that none of this stuff is face-burning speed or anything like that.

The licks are rather basic, and I added clips to hopefully make it easier to understand how to do them, and because of my webcam and my lack of skills regarding editing videos, they might not look too great.

Disclaimer 3: Difficulty
This article will probably be the start of a mini series. My intention is to introduce people to the technique, demonstrate how it's done and how to develop interesting licks etc.

So the exercises in this article will all be rather basic. Some of them might still be challenging, but of course, I'll begin with simple stuff. However, you might find some ideas that you can take and develop into something more sophisticated or difficult. That way, you can make it as hard as you want. So I hope this will be interesting to people who can already tap too.

With that outta the way, let's talk some history...

In the 80s (and without a doubt, in the 90s as well) there have been endless discussions about who invented the tapping technique etc. Some claim that guys like Billy Gibbons (ZZ Top), Brian May (Queen... check out the end of the "Bohemian Rhapsody" video) and Harvey Mandel have used it way before Eddie Van Halen did.

However, I am not sure whether it really matters, or whether we'll ever be able to tell. I think what DOES matter is that Mr. Van Halen was the player who really used it in a very reckless way and thereby made it that popular. I know for a fact that back then (late 70s), people were completely blown away and stunned when they first heard "Eruption" (a 2 min guitar solo from Van Halen's debut album). Some guy from GP magazine said that back then, they had no clue whatsoever how this was done... whether it was an overdub, a guitar, speed-editing or whatever. It took quite a while before people eventually figured it out.

I heard that Eddie used to turn around when doing tapping live, so people wouldn't see exactly what was going on. At some point, he agreed to do a very thorough interview and lesson with the GP magazine, and for the first time explained how he did it. I think Steve Vai added some transcriptions to that lesson... and of course, he later became rather popular and did some amazing tapping stuff as well.

Even though Eddie invented way more techniques (or made them popular) I think most people associate him with tapping, and he's been using it a lot. Once people had figured out how it was done, they started to integrate it into their playing. Some players went ahead and took the technique to whole new levels. Steve Lynch (Autograph) worked on using more than one finger of the right hand to tap, and did a very interesting video on that, which in turn inspired Jennifer Batten (who also had learned about tapping stuff by Dave Celentano).

She, in turn, went and did some truly amazing stuff herself, using the technique for some chordal things, or for her jaw-dropping version of the "Flight Of The Bumblebee".

Stanley Jordan has his guitars set up so that "normal" playing is pretty much impossible (the strings are REALLY low) and uses tapping for both melodies and chords.

Other players who did some very cool stuff with tapping were (among others) Joe Satriani ("Midnight", "A Day At The Beach", "New Blues", "Satch Boogie"...), Greg Howe (who incorporates tapped notes into his playing seamlessly... I'll get to that later. By the way, he learned how to play the end of Eruption withOUT tapping, almost up to speed. Then, he eventually saw Eddie live and figured out how tapping works), Nuno Bettencourt, George Lynch, Darren Housholder amo.

They took Eddie's influence and developed the technique even further, using it to get some very unusual sounds or play stuff that couldn't be played any other way You'll see that there's more to the technique than just playing "Eruption" style lines or fast runs.

My way of thinking

Now, in order to introduce my way of thinking regarding the use of tapping, I'd like to paraphrase Eddie. In an interview, he was asked how he actually came up with the technique. He said that he had been listening to the solo in "Heartbreaker" (by Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin) and had been fiddling with the legato-licks in that solo. Suddenly, he thought "What if I use my right hand as an extension of the left hand? I can play notes that I can't reach with the right hand that way". So basically, he started to do hammer-on's and pull-offs with his right hand, just like he was doing with the left hand, thereby simulating an incredibly big left hand).

And that is a neat approach to think of tapping, instead of considering it just a gimmick or a trick. And I do think that quite a few people actually do think it's nothing but a nerdy-looking gimmick. I do kinda understand this approach, as the tapping-type techniques were kinda over-exposed and over-used in the 80s. You'd watch some video, and suddenly the guitar player would start to tap, making it look like a "Hey, look here what I can do" type thing.

However, in my opinion it doesn't matter what a technique LOOKS like. If you have a certain sound in your mind and you can't get it any other way than with tapping, why limit yourself? Also, I think that a lot of people simply don't know what you can do with the technique, and since they probably think all you can do is play something that sounds like "Eruption", they decide to not get into using it.

Know what I mean? I once had a student and I asked him what techniques he knew. (He had taken lessons from another guy before). He told me, and I asked "How about tapping?" He said "Ah, I don't wanna tap. It looks stupid". So, I showed him not only the "obvious" cliche-type stuff, but also the melodic possibilities you have with it, and suddenly he wasn't so sure anymore that he didn't wanna learn it.

Sure, if you stand on a cliff with spandex pants, a leopard-skin tee, a pink Explorer with yellow pickups, a 30 inch wig, with explosions and stuff going on behind you in your video, you might look goofy or at least a tiny bit outdated, but in my opinion, the music is what matters, and if tapping is the technique you need to play a certain part, you should be above some "what is hip and what is not" type talk by people on the internet, but should go for what you wanna hear.

With that outta the way, let's get into it, shall we?

Getting started

As described above, tapping can be considered a way to expand the left hand. Basically, when we talk about tapping, we're talking about hammer-on's and pull-offs, just like the ones we do with the left hand. I hope that you're familiar with those left hand techniques (if you're not, you might wanna check out some of the legato-articles on the web, i.e. The one I wrote for this site)

Check out the first clip. That's hammering on and pulling off between D and E on the G-String, with the left hand. I pick the first note, and then hammer on to D and pull off to E.

Click HERE to see the video

Now, we're gonna start to tap.

Let's keep fretting the D (7th fret) with our left hand index-finger. Now, tap (same technique as a hammer on you do with the left hand) with your right hand index finger. Imagine you do the same thing you'd do with your left hand when you execute a hammer on.

Of course, doing it with the right hand means you have a different angle etc., but the approach is the same.

Check out this video:

Click HERE to see the video

It sounds as if I am hammering/pulling with the left hand only, while actually, I play the G (and the pull off back to D) with my right hand index finger.

The tough part is to move economically. You can get a pretty good speed doing this, but that requires some work. Try to find the right balance... you don't have to move your finger away from the fretboard too much, really.
Also, try to work on an equal volume for all notes. You want the tapped notes to be about as loud as the other ones.

QUESTION: Which finger should I tap with?

Well, this depends on what you prefer, and what you feel comfortable with. Eddie Van Halen for example seems to prefer tapping with his index finger (We're talking about licks utilizing one right hand-finger for now... later on we'll look into using more of them). When he does, he either puts the pick into his mouth or holds it like this:

I apologize for the poor quality. If you can't see exactly what's going on in the picture: I took the pick and held it with my middle finger. I curl up that finger and the pick is "wedged" in there. With some practice, you can do that with only one hand, moving your pick to the middle finger while tapping with the index finger, and then moving it back to continue playing the "regular way".

I used to do this when I started getting into tapping, but with time I moved onto tapping with the middle finger instead. This way, I can keep holding the pick in the normal way while tapping with the middle finger, and can easily switch back and forth between alternate picking and tapping.

QUESTION: It feels awkward putting the hand there to tap. Am I doing something wrong?

As you can hopefully see towards the end of this next clip is that I rest my right hand thumb on the edge of the neck. That way, I support the hand and have more control over tapping. I occasionally rest the palm of the hand on the lower strings. That works, but you have to be careful when you move the hand along the neck (for example, to tap in a lower or higher position) as you might get unwanted noise, similar to a "pickscratch"

OK, let's move on...

Here is the right hand

Based on the first example (the hammer on / pull offs between D and E), here's the next exercise: We HAMMER (tap) onto the G, 12th fret G-string, and then pull off to D, and hammer on to E (9th fret).

Click HERE to see the video

At first this will feel weird, as it's kind of an "odd pattern". You know, hammering on, pulling off to D, hammering on to E, and then, when you tap the G again, you have to take the ring finger away from the E so when you do the pull off from G, you get D (I hope this makes sense !!!). But believe me, I have taught this to many many students, and it was always the same: after some confusion and coordination problems, you get the hang of it and are able to work up to a decent speed. Keep at it and you will soon figure out that it's actually quite easy to get this up to speed once you have gotten used to the pattern.

When I got my first electric guitar, I still was pretty much a beginner. I had fiddled around on the acoustic guitar a bit, but I still wasn't really able to play most basic chords. However, since I was such a huge fan of Eddie Van Halen, and wanted to be able to play like him, it took me about 20 minutes after bringing home the guitar until I was trying to tap. And I think it was that same evening, or the next day, that I was able to do it, even though it wasn't all that accurate. If you know how to do hammer ons and pull off's, you should be able to get it down pretty quickly.

As you might have seen from the video clips, I do have my left hand thumb placed in a rather odd way. Fortunately, my hands are rather big, that's why I can do that. For example, when I tap on the G-String, I mute the E- and A-String with my left hand thumb AND a part of the right hand (see above... might cause extra noise when you move your right hand, so this needs some attention). The D-string is usually muted by the tip of my left hand index finger, which also mutes the upper 2 strings.

All this is not carved in stone, it really depends on what you wanna play and what feels comfortable. Tapping can of course be done with a clean sound, but it certainly sounds cool with a distorted one. And if you use such a sound, muting is essential, as it won't really that great if there's a lot of extra noise.

If you want your tapping-lick to start with any other note but the tapped one, you don't necessarily have to pick that note (which could make it difficult). You could instead utilize a "hammer on from nowhere". I have described those in my legato article.

Basically, you hammer on, say, the D on the G-String with your left hand index finger, without playing anything before it. Then you continue with the actual lick / sequence / figure.

Check out the TAB and the video:

Click HERE to see the video

Again, try to keep the notes at approximately equal volume.

Next steps

Tapping on two adjacent strings

You don't have to play your tapped lines on one string only. You can i.e. Create a cool repeating pattern with 4 (or even 5) notes per string, where the highest one is tapped, or you can also play some very interesting runs.

This is where tapping can become an actual musical tool, enabling you to play stuff you couldn't play any other way (or at least not as easily).

Check the next example. It's a basic thing, still, but it's a good starter on playing on adjacent strings. In the video, you see me play it with only one finger of the right hand at first (index finger.. for recording these clips I put away the pick, so I used the index finger. As explained above, I usually use the middle finger). Then, I use the middle finger to tap the note on the G-string, and the index finger for the one on the D-String.

Click HERE to see the video

Here's a variation on the previous lick, and a good example of creating several patterns out of the same set of notes. This time, the line is fully descending, instead of going G-D-E D-A-B, we have G-E-D D-B-A this time. Experiment with different patterns...

Click HERE to see the video


Let's leave the multi-string-type stuff for now (we'll get back to it later on)... let's talk about playing along a string again... a topic that often seems to be neglected.

Remember what a pedal point is? Or "pivoting" (same thing)? Basically, it's a technique that was first used in classical music. It means that you have one static note which keeps repeating (or a set of notes) and another note that keeps changing (or set of notes). Check out my article on neoclassical rock for some examples. I hope it is easy to understand when you check out the next few exercises.

This lick is in the key of G major. With the right hand, I keep tapping the G, while I move the left hand along the string, fretting different scale tones from that key. Of course, you could play this in other ways, as well, but tapping this line (no pun intended) gives it a sound unique to tapping.

Click HERE to see the video

Let's elaborate on that principle a bit, shall we?

You can for example throw in the open string as well. Simply pull off to it after tapping the G, and then hammering on a note with the left hand (and again, there are many possible variations you can try here).

The key, again, is G major. I tap onto the G, pull off to the open G-string, and then hammer on to A and B. Next, I tap the G-again, pull off to the open string and hammer on B and C (hope the sequence is obvious). In the video clip, I elaborate on that a bit, playing some notes that aren't in the TAB.

Click HERE to see the video

As usual, start out at a very slow tempo. Make sure it sounds good, and if you notice that there's something that isn't quite right, be honest with yourself, slow it down and see where the problem is. Once you get used to tapping, you don't have to think a lot anymore, but there are actually a lot of details involved in that technique, so you better get them right from the start.

One more pedalpoint (or pedaltone) example. This one is straight from Eddie Van Halen. I have heard him do it often in his unaccompanied live-solo, for example on the "Live: Right Here Right Now" live album. It sounds very classical (due especially to the D# at the end). You tap the B twice each time you fret a certain note, every time pulling off to that fretted note. Then you move your left hand to the next note, and again tap the B twice etc. That way you can play melodies like this one:

Click HERE to see the video

In the video, you can hopefully see that my right hand isn't moving all that much. That is because my thumb rests on top of the neck, thereby supporting the hand. Only the index finger is really moving.

Last example for this approach (and again, there are many more patterns and stuff you can play combining pivoting and tapping). This one is taken from a song by Extreme... "Lil Jack Horny". The guitar-player of Extreme was the amazing Nuno Bettencourt, and he plays this during the second verse.

Basically, it's a variation of the exercises above. This time, we keep hammering the E on the B-string with the left hand, and then pulling off to the open B-String. The right hand taps B (12th fret), A (10th fret), G# (9th fret) and F# (7th)

Click HERE to see the video


The infamous end of "Eruption" (the tapping bit) is based on arpeggios. You can easily play triad arpeggios along a string using tapping.

Check out this video. I am playing an A minor at first, and then an A major.

Click HERE to see the video

You can easily play for example a A minor- and an F major arp easily without moving all that much. Imagine you play the A minor from above (5th and 8th fret on the high e-string with the left hand while tapping the E on the 12th fret... A-C-E). Then, you move your tapping finger to F. You get the notes A-C-F, which is an inverted F major arpeggio.
If you i.e. check out the first few bars of the solo from Metallica's "One", you hear something like that.

I'll get into other arps later on, hopefully in the second part of this series. For now, experiment with playing different triad arps in different inversions, using tapping. It will help to understand those arps and the fretboard a bit better, as well.

Extra stuff

To conclude this article, I figured I'd give away three kinda more advanced licks, just to give you a preview of what's coming up next, or what you can do once you have grown used to the technique. The first one is very Van Halen-style (used i.e. In the solos of "Jump" and "Hot For Teacher" (the intro) if I remember correctly... at least the pattern was).

With the left hand, you play the notes A, B and C (5th, 7th and 8th fret on the high e-string, respectively). Then, you tap the E (12th fret), pull off back to C, to B and to A, then back up. This time you tap the F (13th fret) etc. You can tap all kinds of notes from the key you're in (this one is in A minor), or, to get some wacky sounds, even outside notes. Once you get this one rolling, it will sound pretty cool.

Click HERE to see the video

OK, the next example is by yours truly. I have posted TABs of this in the iBreathe forums before, as several people have inquired about it. It's a short piece called "Dreamer". I have enclosed a partial TAB showing you the first few patterns, a video of me playing those, and an MP3 off the full track (it's sort of an interlude on my "Hidden Creek" album and leads into "Canyon Of Spirits").

Before anyone screams "Hey, this sounds a LOT like "Midnight" by Joe Satriani"... yes, I know. After all, Satriani was a huge influence of mine. When I started out, learning "Midnight" was one of my goals.

"Dreamer" utilizes a similar technique, yet is a bit easier to play. And even though it sure was influenced by "Midnight" (since I used to listen to Satch on a daily base), it wasn't meant to be a rip off. It started as a little piece I wrote for a girl when I was about 16 or 17.

I recorded it with a crappy setup and never really played it, until I for some reason added it to my solo-spot for the band I was in. Both guys from the band and some people from the audience said they liked it, so I later recorded it again for "Hidden Creek". I still play it live occasionally. I hope this doesn't sound too much like an apology.

What I am doing here is: I hammer on ("from nowhere") the two low notes of each pattern (which essentially are a powerchord...root and fifth) and then I tap the highest note. The difficult part is that each note is on a different string, and also, the fact I am using a clean tone. Therefore, you might have to hammer on / tap a bit harder to make sure each note rings out loud enough.

Click HERE to see the video

Once you get this down, experiment with different patterns etc. And you might wanna consider looking at "Midnight" as well...

Closing time

The last one is by Nuno Bettencourt (don't think that Eddie and Nuno did only play simple stuff. I just used them as examples a few times in this article because some of their licks can be slowed down to get some great basic exercises. I'll get more into Nuno's playing pretty soon, and in the next tapping article we'll look at the tapping licks of some other players, too)

This is what I call "mirror tapping". I have also heard it referred to as "octave tapping". Basically, you fret a certain note, and then tap the octave of that note on the same string. Then you pull off to the note you fret. So you get 2 notes... first the tapped (high) one, then the fretted lower one.

In this final example, I ascend through a pattern of the A minor pentatonic, using that technique. Once I get to the highest note, I shift the left hand up and descend through the next pattern of that scale. Nuno used a similar lick in "Decadence Dance", in "Too Much Of A Good Thing" and during his live solo-spot with Extreme. It sounds pretty cool, and kinda unusual...

Click HERE to see the video

THAT'S IT for now.

I hope I was able to introduce you to the basics of tapping and got you started. All the tapping maniacs out there might be disappointed, but as I said, this article was meant to be an introduction.

I still hope though that even if you can tap already, you have learned something new here.

Sorry for taking so long before arriving at this topic, and my apologies again for the poor video-quality =)

Here are some listening recommendations for albums with some great use of tapping.

Van Halen Everything, especially the first 2 or 3 albums plus "Live: Right Here Right Now". Also check out the video or DVD "Live: Without a Net"
Nuno Bettencourt - (With Extreme) "Pornographitti" and the self-titled debut
Jennifer Batten - "Above Below And Beyond"
Steve Lynch (with Autograph): "Sign In Please" and "Loud And Clear"
Steve Stevens - "Top Gun Anthem" from the Top Gun OST
Steve Vai - "Passion & Warfare"
Joe Satriani - "Flying In A Blue Dream"
Randy Rhoads (with Ozzy Osbourne): "Blizzard Of Ozz"
more to be listed in Part II...

The Powertab-file of all exercises can be opened (or downloaded via right-click) HERE
For Mac-users or people who do not use Powertab, HERE is a PDF-version for Adobe Acrobat
HERE is the Powertab-file of "Dreamer". And HERE is the pdf.

This article can be read online at http://www.iBreatheMusic.com/article/185
Eric started playing the guitar at age 10. He attended GIT and studied with Scott Henderson, Brett Garsed, Dan Gilbert amo. Eric is involved in several bands and recording projects and his instrumental debut - Hidden Creek - plus his instructional book Talking Hands - A Guide To Contemporary Lead Guitar Techniques is available HERE
Visit his website at www.ericvandenberg.net

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