You’ve seen the outrageous videos, you know, the ones where guitar players are tapping on their fretboards at lightspeed, as if they were furiously typing out a midterm essay for school. Well, you too can learn how to tap like Eddie Van Halen, but it takes a bit of time.
First, in order to tap, you’ll have to at least be proficient in hammer-ons and pull-offs. Tapping is like an extension to hammer-ons and pull-offs. You can also think of it this way: a tap is more like a hammer-on, but with your strumming or picking hand.
Start with One String
The easiest way to tap is to start with a single string. Perform a simple hammer-on with your fretting hand and then hammer-on again with your other hand. Most folks like to play a triad on a single string. It’s super helpful if you can visualize a scale pattern too, that usually helps when deciding on which notes and frets you want to play.
You can use the Scale Finder to map out a few notes to tap. For this example, let’s take a look at this A pentatonic minor scale:
Let’s start with the high E string. If you start by performing a hammer-on and pull-off from the 5th fret to the 8th fret, you can follow that movement with a tap on the 12th fret. It’s nice to practice tapping with the help of actually looking at a scale pattern so you can remember where the notes are, plus, it’s just another great way to also practice memorizing scales.
Use a Metronome and Your Pick
When you start tapping, you want each note to ring out evenly so it’s best to practice with a metronome.
For the longest time, I was tapping exclusively with my bare fingers, and this is the traditional way of doing it, but sometimes there isn’t as much volume when tapping with your fingers, unless you cranked up the gain and volume all the way up. But if you want to tap something out without all the distortion and your fingers aren’t super strong yet, another great way to tap, is to tap with a pick. Hold the pick normally and strike the note you want with it. This creates a sound that's a bit more powerful and could help really bring the tapping to life.
Other Tapping Tricks
Another small thing is when you tap with your strumming fingers, you can also add a pull-off to that tap, or even slide with your finger or pick. Try it and see how it goes!
For more tips on tapping, check out this lesson on tapping by Dave Celentano below, or get a four-part lesson on the technique here.