Guitar tapping is an impressive-sounding technique that is easy to learn but challenging to master.
In this lesson, you will learn:
- What makes a good tapping technique
- What to do if your tapping isn’t loud enough
- How to get a good tapping tone
- Guitar tapping FAQs
After you read through this lesson, check out these 13 tapping exercises to work on your tapping technique.
Then you can try learning these 6 impressive tapping solos (TAB included).
Guitar Tapping Technique
Here are the main things you need to think about when learning proper tapping technique:
- Choose which finger to use to tap
- Think about where to position your picking hand over the fretboard
- How to hit and release the string
- How to keep the other strings muted
If you keep all four of the above points in mind, you’ll avoid a lot of the mistakes and problems other guitarists encounter when learning tapping.
Let’s go through all of the above four points so you can learn proper tapping technique.
Choosing a Tapping Finger
You need to decide which finger from your picking hand you want to use when tapping. There is no rule on which finger you should use and different guitarists use different fingers.
Some guitarists like to use their middle or ring fingers to tap notes so they can continue to hold the pick between their thumb and first finger.
Other guitarists will move the pick to one of their other fingers and tap the strings with their index finger.
Notice in the above photo that the pick is being cradled by the middle and ring fingers. This completely frees up the first finger to tap the strings. Some people like using their first finger to tap the notes as you have more dexterity and accuracy in your index finger compared to your other fingers.
With practice, you’ll find that you can effortlessly move your pick back and forth between your fingers to play any tapping solos with your index finger.
Or if you want to free up your entire hand, you can put the pick in your mouth:
This can be useful if you will be tapping with multiple fingers or you want to use the rest of your picking hand to help keep the other strings muted.
The downside of placing the pick in your mouth is that it slows you down from switching back to regular guitar playing. If you regularly switch between picking and tapping, you might want to use one of the other methods such as cradling the pick in your palm.
Some songs tap with more than one finger at a time as shown below:
Depending on how many fingers you need to use, you can either cradle the pick in your palm or put it in your mouth.
Another option is to use the side of your pick to tap the notes as shown below:
Using a pick to tap gives a very different sound compared to using your finger, so I suggest learning both methods to see which you prefer.
Important: Notice that most of the above photos show the same guitarist tapping in different ways. Sometimes Joe Satriani taps with his index finger, sometimes with his pick, sometimes with multiple fingers. This should highlight that you don’t need to stick to one method of tapping. You can and should change the finger you use to tap depending on the song you’re playing.
Play around with all of the above methods to figure out which is best for you.
Positioning Your Tapping Hand
There are a few different ways you can position your tapping hand. The way you position your tapping hand will make a difference in how comfortable you feel while tapping and how easily you can keep the other strings muted.
If you watch ten different guitarists tapping, you’ll likely see ten different ways of positioning the tapping hand. This means there is no one right way to do this and you need to figure out what feels best for you.
Here are some examples of different ways you can position your tapping hand over the fretboard:
Take a look at the different hand positions in the above photos and think about why each guitarist is holding their hand like that.
With each position, think about how easily you can use your hand to mute the other strings, how quickly you can slide up or down the fretboard, and how stable your hand will be over the fretboard.
Here are some hand positions to consider:
- Rest your thumb on the side of the fretboard to anchor your hand in position
- Rest your palm on some of the strings to keep them muted or against the guitar body
- Hover your hand over the fretboard and rest your arm on the guitar body to stay steady
- Wrap your pinky or ring finger around the fretboard to hold your hand in place
I suggest trying a few different positions to see what feels comfortable to you. Pay close attention to any unwanted noise and make sure your hand or fingers aren’t accidentally causing other strings to ring out.
Tapping and Releasing the String
Once you decide which finger to use to tap and how you will position your hand over the fretboard, you can focus your attention on how you will hit and release the string during a tap.
If you know how to play hammer-ons and pull-offs, you will find tapping easy to learn as the techniques are very similar.
Here are the main things to keep in mind with your tapping technique:
- Aim to accurately hit the string to avoid touching other strings or fret buzzing
- Position your tapping hand so your finger can tap straight down to the string
- Hit the string fast to help it vibrate
- Give the string a slight flick when lifting off to keep it vibrating
Keep the above points in mind as you work on the tapping exercises covered later in this lesson.
Keeping Strings Quiet
With any type of legato (eg: tapping, hammer-ons, pull-offs, slides), keeping the other strings quiet will help the notes ring out clearly.
There are two ways you can mute the other strings when tapping. You can use any free fingers from your fretting hand to rest against the unused strings. Or you can use your tapping hand to keep the other strings quiet.
You can use either hand or both at the same time, the important point is that you do something to make sure the other strings are always muted and quiet.
An open string ringing out can completely ruin your tapping, so keep everything quiet.
Is Your Guitar Tapping Not Loud Enough?
The most common problem you might have when tapping is when the tapped notes are too quiet or the string dies down as you play a tapping lick.
If your tapping is too quiet, it is because the string isn’t vibrating enough to keep the notes ringing out. You need to change your tapping technique to help the string continue to vibrate.
It’s not a problem with your guitar amp if the tapping notes aren’t loud enough, it’s all about your technique.
There are two things to keep in mind to try and get your tapped notes to ring out louder:
1. Hit the String Faster (Not Harder)
When you tap a note, you need to do it quickly to prevent the string’s vibration from dying out.
Try this: pick any open string, then slowly lower a finger from your picking hand onto a note. If you do it slow enough, you’ll hear that the string completely stops vibrating as you touch it.
Now do the same thing, but tap the note fast. By hitting the string faster, there is less chance that your finger will reduce the string’s vibration.
An important point is that you don’t need to hit the string harder. Hitting the string harder can help keep it vibrating, but it isn’t necessary. If you pay close attention to expert guitarists tapping, you’ll notice how effortlessly they tap the strings.
Key point: a fast and smooth tapping motion will help the string continue to vibrate properly. You don’t need to hit the string hard for the tapped note to ring out louder.
2. Flick the String After a Tap
This is the most important way you can keep the string vibrating during tapping parts.
The idea here is that when you remove your tapped finger from the string, you give it a little flick to the side to help keep the string vibrating.
If you lift your finger straight off of the string, you may find that the string’s vibration dies off slightly. By lifting your finger off with a slight sideways motion, you’ll hear the string vibrate slightly stronger.
Practice flicking the string at a very slow tempo. As you increase the tempo, you’ll find that you don’t need to flick the string as hard to keep it vibrating. At a high enough tempo, you’ll find that you don’t need to flick the string at all.
The way you flick the string after a tap is very similar to what you might do to play a good pull-off using your fretting hand.
Basic Guitar Tapping Exercise
If you want to learn or improve your tapping technique, work through these 13 tapping exercises.
Here is a simple exercise for beginners to learn the basics of tapping.
In Guitar TAB, a ‘T’ symbol above a note means to tap it with your picking hand. Learn more about Guitar TAB symbols in this guide.
Here is a step-by-step breakdown of how to play the above exercise:
- Tap the 12th fret with a finger on your picking hand
- Lift off that tapped finger and give it a slight flick to the side for the open string to ring out
- Hammer-on to the 7th fret with your fretting hand (any finger you want)
- Pull-off the 7th fret to the open string
- Repeat steps 1-4
The idea of this exercise is to teach you that tapping is very similar to hammer-ons and pull-offs. The way you tap the 12th fret is very similar to how you will play the hammer-on and pull-off on the 7th fret.
With the above exercise, you’re basically playing hammer-ons and pull-offs with both hands. Every note should ring out for the exact same length, so practice this exercise slow at first.
Keep in mind that in the above exercise, you do not pick the string at all. You start by tapping the string, then you keep the string vibrating with good tapping and hammer-on/pull-off technique.
Check out this lesson for 13 guitar tapping exercises to work on your tapping technique.
Building Up Speed
Once you can play the above exercise with ease and without any mistakes, you might want to try and build up your speed using a metronome.
Start with a metronome at any tempo you can easily play along with. The 12th and 7th frets should be played in time with the click of the metronome and the open strings are in-between the beat.
If you can play the above exercise 10 times in a row without any mistakes, increase the tempo of the metronome by 5 bpm.
Practice it for a while and try to play it 10 times in a row perfectly before you increase the tempo again.
If you start making mistakes or have trouble keeping up with the metronome, don’t push yourself further. Try it again the next day and you will find that you can gradually push the tempo higher and higher without any mistakes.
Guitar Tapping Common Mistakes
Here are a few common mistakes guitarists often make when learning how to tap. If you can avoid these mistakes, you’ll find it easier to learn proper tapping technique.
Too Much Gain
You do not need high gain (or any gain) at all when tapping on guitar. Learning how to tap with high gain can lead to poor technique as the gain will hide sloppy technique or mistakes.
Yes, many tapping solos you hear will use a high-gain amp setting, but those guitarists would be able to play just as effectively with a low gain setting. Don’t rely on the gain on your amp to fix bad tapping technique.
Keep in mind that there are many guitarists (acoustic and electric) who use tapping with clean guitar tones. So high gain is not needed at all.
Good tapping is all about technique.
When learning how to tap, I recommend using lower gain than what you are used to. That way, you can focus on using perfect tapping technique without your gain hiding your mistakes.
Don’t Use Delay When Learning Tapping
Adding some delay can make a tapping solo sound incredible, but don’t learn how to tapp with delay.
When you are learning how to tap or practicing your tapping technique, delay will hide your mistakes and make it harder for you to improve.
You can use delay when performing or recording your tapping solos, but don’t practice with delay.
Poor Tapping Accuracy
If you tap the string so your finger hangs over the edge of the fret, the string won’t ring out clearly. If you tap the string and accidentally touch an adjacent string, you’ll hear noise.
Focus on accuracy before you try to build up your speed when tapping. If you can’t play a tapping lick accurately at a slow tempo, don’t expect to be able to play it correctly at a high tempo.
Trying to Play Too Fast
A lot of tapping solos are incredibly fast, so you might be tempted to try and play tapping fast from the very beginning.
Trying to play too fast leads to sloppy technique. It’s really hard to undo bad habits after they have formed, so stay patient when learning to tap.
Start out slow and only increase the tempo if you can play without any mistakes consistently. Don’t rush and gradually increase the tempo over time. If you do this properly, you’ll end up with a solid tapping technique.
If you rush, your tapping will be messy and your tone will suffer. So take your time. You’ll get there!
Getting a Good Tapping Tone
Yes, we all know the cliché “tone is in the fingers”. Everything in this lesson so far has focused on your technique, so it should be obvious how important your technique is.
Now let’s have a quick look at how to get a good tone when tapping from a gear and effects point of view.
The type of pickups you use can either make it easier to get a good tapping tone, or it can make it harder.
You might notice that some pickups seem to work better with tapping than others. Some pickups seem to have trouble hearing the tapped notes, while others let those notes ring out crystal clear.
On one of my guitars, I know if I play tapping using the bridge pickup, the notes don’t ring out as clear compared to the neck pickup.
When you practice the earlier tapping exercise, try playing around with every pickup position and listen to how it changes your tone. You may find that you can use any pickup without any problems, or you may find that your tapping sounds best on a specific pickup setting.
A simple way of thinking about a compressor is that it takes your guitar signal and evens it out. It takes the quieter playing and raises it to be closer in volume to the louder parts you play.
Some guitarists who regularly play two-hand tapping with a clean tone use a compressor to help keep everything consistent.
You’re less likely to see any benefit to using a compressor if you usually play using a high-gain tone. But if you want to play tapping with a clean tone or low-gain tone, you might want to play around with adding in a compressor.
As mentioned earlier, high gain can make a tapping solo sound great. While you shouldn’t learn and practice your tapping technique with high gain, you might enjoy performing with high gain.
There are many tapping solos that sound best with a cranked amp, so it’s worth playing around with your amp settings to see how gain changes your tone for better or worse.
You might even want to experiment with turning your gain off and trying tapping on a clean tone. There are plenty of acoustic guitar songs that make great use of tapping.
Guitar effects can be used to give your tapping tone a different quality. Delay is a popular choice as it can help make your tone seem thicker and wider.
Delay can turn a basic tapping pattern into an impressive-sounding flurry of notes when used properly.
But you might want to experiment with other effects as well. Try using some phaser, reverb, chorus, pitch-shifting, tremolo, or fuzz to take your tone in different directions.
Learn more about the different types of effects you could potentially use in my Guitar Effects Course.
Guitar Tapping FAQ
Here are some common questions you might have about tapping:
How Do I Get Better at Tapping My Guitar?
The best way to get better at tapping your guitar is to work on basic tapping exercises at a slow tempo. Working at a slow tempo forces you to focus on proper technique. Playing a tapping solo perfect at a slow tempo will help you play it better at high tempo.
Is Guitar Tapping Difficult?
Guitar tapping is not difficult and anybody can learn good tapping technique. What makes tapping difficult is the complex tapping patterns and solos many guitarists write.
Learning tapping is easy if you follow the above exercises, but learning popular tapping solos and songs can be very difficult and will take practice to learn.
How Do You Practice Two-Handed Tapping?
The best way to practice two-handed tapping is to start with simple tapping patterns and practice them over and over with a metronome. Once you perfect your technique, you can gradually raise the tempo. Practice more complex patterns as you feel comfortable with two-handed tapping and keep focusing on your technique.
How Do You Tap Guitar Faster?
The best way to tap guitar faster is to gradually build up your speed over time using a metronome. Pick a lick or exercise and practice it at a slow tempo until you can play it perfectly. Use a metronome and gradually increase the tempo. Only increase the tempo if you can play without any mistakes.
If you focus on accuracy, speed will naturally follow.
Read this guide on how to play guitar fast for a full lesson on increasing your speed on guitar.
Why Is My Tapping So Quiet?
If your tapping is quiet, it is because the string isn’t vibrating enough to keep the notes ringing out. Focus on your tapping technique and how you hit and release the string. Try to keep the string vibrating with quick and accurate tapping and flicking the string as you release the note.
See the section earlier to learn how to avoid your tapping sounding quiet.
Is Tapping Just Hammer-ons?
Tapping can be thought of in the same way as hammer-ons and pull-offs. With tapping, you’re taking a finger from your picking hand and hammering-on to a note over the fretboard. When you release the note, it’s very similar to a typical pull-off.
Tapping may feel very different than hammer-ons and pull-offs, but they’re essentially the same techniques.
What String Gauge is Best for Tapping?
Lighter string gauges tend to make tapping feel easier as you don’t need to apply much pressure for the tapped note to ring out clearly. But there is no best string gauge for tapping. You can use any string gauge you prefer and be able to play tapping effectively.
Can You Tap Without Distortion?
Yes, you can tap guitar without distortion. There are many guitarists who use tapping without any distortion or with a clean tone. Many acoustic guitarists also use tapping with no effects at all.
What is the Best Tuning for Tapping?
You can use tapping in any guitar tuning. There is no best tuning for tapping. Many tapping solos and songs use standard tuning, while other tapping songs use alternate tunings. Use whatever tuning you prefer.