Take Your Tapping to the Next Level – 7 Deceptively Easy Tricks

  • by Tom Boddison
  • 25 Jan, 2017

Introduction

7 Deceptively Easy Tricks to Stand Out from the Crowd and Take Your Tapping to the Stratosphere

Two-handed tapping is one of the most iconic and striking lead guitar techniques. First popularised on the incredible 1978 debut album from Van Halen, it can be used to play lightning fast arpeggios and scale runs that would be much more difficult to play with other techniques. It looks very exciting to both guitarists and non-guitarists alike, and if you’ve tried it before you’ll know that it’s much easier than it looks; if you already know some basic tapping but want to go further with it then this is the article for you!

Most people who learn tapping start off with some basic arpeggio shapes on one string (often the lick from Eddie Van Halen’s “Eruption” guitar solo) and never go any further. This is a shame, because tapping can be applied to so many more musical styles and phrases to create unique sounds and effects. From creating wild sci-fi sound effects to amazing shred scale runs across all of the strings, the applications of this simple technique are almost unlimited.

And it’s not just for shred, either. You can use tapping to play bass notes and a melody together on entirely different parts of the neck, creating classical-influenced songs on the fly. You can also use it to play fast and smooth jazz guitar lines, and even add extra spice to your blues playing by enhancing your bends and playing interesting arpeggios and soft-sounding pentatonic licks.

If you’ve ever struggled with an alternate picking or sweep picking lick, try playing it with tapping instead. Rearrange the notes onto one or two strings and see how much easier it is (and how much cooler it looks to audiences) when you use tapping to play it instead – the lack of pick strokes also results in a smoother, more flow-y sound that is very pleasing to the ear and adds a nice element of variety to your solos.

Expand Your Arpeggios

We’re going to start this lesson by seeing how much further we can go with conventional tapped arpeggios. Everyone who’s done tapping has probably come across this basic A-minor arpeggio shape:

E|-t12p5h8t12p5h8-|


It’s a very common pattern on the high E string, but very few people ever actually use it! It’s because it’s a rather difficult thing to apply to a solo or a song, because it’s a single idea without any context. In order to fix this we’ll need to expand it into something more usable, and something that sounds even cooler.

How about starting by playing the same notes, but in a different configuration? We could play them in a different order. An arpeggio is made up of the 1st, 3rd and 5th scale notes, so we could say that in this example the 1 is A, the 3 is C and the 5 is E. That means that the example above goes 5,1,3,5,1,3. Instead, we could try playing them 5,3,1,5,3,1:

E|-t12p8p5t12p8p5-|


And then we could combine them into 5,1,3,5,3,1:

E|-t12p5h8t12p8p5-|


How about a different pattern:

E|-h5t12p8t12p5t12p8t12-|


And another:

E|-t12p8p5h8t12p8p5h8-|


As you can see, just rearranging the notes gives us a huge number of new possibilities. Next we’re going to create a nice arpeggio sequence. Notice how the highest note moves up first, and then the other notes follow to create the next arpeggio in the key.

E|-t12p5h8t12p5h8t13p5h8t13p5h8t13p7h10t13p7h10t15p7h10t15p7h10t15p8h12t15p8h12t17-|


Try applying that same concept to the other patterns in the key to create a cool sequence. You could even take it all the way up the neck to the 24th fret if you like – try it out!


Next we’re going to lay out some other arpeggios in the key of A-harmonic minor. Some are inversions, which means that the notes aren’t in order of low to high 1,3,5. You’ll see what I mean in the next couple of examples.

This is Ab-diminished:

E|-t10p4h7t10p4h7-|


This is an F-major arpeggio, but this time the 1 (F) is the highest note (it’s in the next octave), the 3 (A) is the lowest and the 5 (C) is in the middle. This means that the order of the notes low to high is 3,5,1 – also known as “first inversion”. In this example, however, we don’t play them low to high – we play A,C,F,A,C,F, or 1 (octave higher), 3,5, 1 (octave higher), 3,5.

E|-t13p5h8t13p5h8-|


The next one is an E-major arpeggio which is also in first inversion.

E|-t12p4h7t12p4h7-|


Now we could combine these to make a progression that goes A-minor, Ab-diminished, F-major, and E-major. First I’ll show you the bass notes of the chords so you can get an idea of what is going on music theory wise:

E|-5-4-1-0-|


See how it works down the A-harmonic minor scale from A (the root) to E (the fifth)? When we play the arpeggios, however, the inversions help us to stay in one position while still playing the same sequence, so we don’t have to shift position which makes the lick easier.

      A-minor                 Ab-diminished   F-major                 E-major

E|- t12p5h8t12p5h8t10p4h7t10p4h7t13p5h8t13p5h8t12p4h7t12p4h7-|


Now, try playing all of those arpeggios with the other patterns that we covered earlier to create some new and interesting sounds. You could also try making up your own arpeggio sequences! You can see how much more exciting tapping gets when you experiment with arpeggios in this way.

Lightning Fast Scale Sequences

Now that you’ve got a handle on some cool arpeggios, we’re going to move on to scale sequences. Not many people use tapping to play scale sequences which is a shame because there’s so much you can do.

We’ll start off by applying a basic sequence to the E minor scale:

E|-t15p12h14t15p14p12-|


Now, we could take this pattern up or down the neck:

E|-t15p12h14t15p14p12t17p14h15t17p15p14t19p15h17t19p17p15t19-|


You could even use it across the strings. Make sure to mute the strings you aren’t playing using your right hand palm and your left hand index finger (lying flat) to prevent unwanted string noise. This is a much easier way of playing cross-string patterns that would take a lot of practice if you picked every note.

E|-t15p12h14t15p14p12----------------------------------------------------------------------|

B|------------------------------------t15p12h13t15p13p12---------------------------------------|

G|-----------------------------------------------------------------------t14p11h12t14p12p11--------|

D|----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------t14-|


Next time you come across a difficult picking run, play it with tapping instead to make it much easier than before. This next lick shows a different pattern being taken across the strings, this time in D minor:

E|-t13p12t13p10----------------------------------------------|

B|-------------------------t13p11t13p10--------------------------|

G|--------------------------------------------------t12p10t12p9-------|

D|-------------------------------------------------------------------------t12-|


Notice how in these examples we can play lots of notes without actually moving each hand very fast at all – this makes them great fun to play! Try making up some of your own sequences like this, and see how fast you can get them!

Crazy Cross-Hand Tapping Licks

In this section you’re gonna learn about another cool tapping method: crossing the hands over. This allows you to play some different licks that would otherwise require a much more developed right hand – it also looks really cool!

I’ll give you this first lick as a basic example. Fret the lower note on the fifth fret using one of the fingers of your right hand, and keep it pressed down. Then, place your left hand in front of your right hand finger and use your left hand fingers to hammer-on and pull-off the other notes on the 8th and 10th frets.

G|-h10p5h8p5h10p5h8p5-|


Now we’ll see how this can be used to create phrases that would otherwise be more difficult. In this example there’s a wide gap between the lower right hand note and the higher left hand notes, making quite a nice sound effect.

B|-h12p5h15p5h12p5h15p5-|


Don’t think you’re limited to one position with this, either – the next lick shows how the right and left hands can both be moved down the fretboard to create some cool-sounding sequences. I’ve omitted the usual legato symbols from the tab to make it clearer to read – the first note is played by the left hand, and then you alternate between the left hand and right hand notes. Remember to keep your right hand finger pressed down at all times.

 

      L R L R L R L R L R L R L R L R L R L R L R L R L R L R L R L R L R L R L R L R

G|-9-5-7-5-9-5-7-5-9-4-7-4-9-4-7-4-7-4-5-4-7-4-5-4-7-2-5-2-7-2-5-2-5-2-4-2-5-2-4-2-|


You could even try switching between cross-hand and normal tapping mid-lick. This is much easier than it looks, and is a great way to add an exciting end to a song or solo. Try combining some of the licks from this section with others from the previous sections to create some really nice sounds.

Playing Two Things at Once

Now we’re going to explore how to play bass notes with your right hand and melody notes with your left – it’s an awesome way to spice up a song and add extra depth to your songs if you are playing alone. It can even be done on an acoustic if you work on your technique so that it’s sufficiently loud.

I’ll just give you one example of this technique because it is less applicable to conventional music than the others, but once you’ve got a hold on the basic movements it shouldn’t be a problem for you to make up your own ideas!

E|-h8p7p5h8p7p5h8p7p5h8p7p5-|

B|------------------------------------------|

G|------------------------------------------|

D|------------------------------------------|

A|------------------------------------------|

E|-t5-------t3---------t8------t5--------|

Awesome Sound Effects (Tricks 5,6 and 7)

Next we move on to the fifth trick – creating cool sound effects using tapping. These are great for adding a unique edge to your playing, or creating an outside-the-box sound to grab the attention of the listener (perhaps at the end of a song section, or the beginning of a solo).

You may have come across this first one before – it’s called a tap slide. It’s where you tap onto a note and then quickly slide it up the neck before going back to tapping. I’ll use the symbol // to indicate this slide, as it doesn’t have a definite end point.

E|-t12p5h8t12p5h8t12//-t12p5h8t12p5h8t12//-|


The next cool sound effect is a tap bend. This is where you bend a note up with your left hand, then while holding the bend you tap a higher note with your right hand. You could also tap first then bend with your left hand, or release the bend while still holding the tapped note. Any changes in pitch that occur due to the left hand bend will also be applied to the right hand tapped note, so if you bend up by two frets, for example, the tapped note above the bend will sound two frets higher.

The tapped note in this example will sound like the 14th fret, for instance (as indicated in the brackets)

G|-7b9t12(14)p9b7-|


And here we release the left hand bend while still holding the tapped note, creating an interesting sound effect.

G|-7b9t12(14)r12p7-|


This final trick is another cool one that really impresses audiences. First you play a normal lick, and then tap a note much higher up the fretboard using your right hand. Then, reach your left hand over and use it to dive-bomb the whammy bar. The sudden rise in pitch followed by a dive-bomb back down is a great way to catch a listeners attention, while the crossing of the left hand over to use the whammy bar looks very striking. In this tab I’ve used the letter “d” to signify the dive-bomb.

E|-8-5-8-8-----t17d-|

This is Just the Beginning…

Hopefully by now you’ve realised that there’s so much more you can do with tapping than the conventional shapes. You’ve learned how to create your own interesting arpeggio sequences, play fast scale runs using tapping, impress audiences and play unusual-sounding phrases with cross-hand techniques, use tapping to play multiple parts at the same time and also create some great sound effects with your guitar.

It doesn’t stop here – there are loads more applications for this hugely useful technique, so see what you can come up with! Tapped harmonics, tapping classical sequences, using multiple right hand fingers… it really is one of the most versatile guitar techniques around. After all, you’ve got another four fingers on the fretboard to play with – use them!

Have fun, and keep your eyes peeled for more exciting lessons coming soon!

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