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Guitar Tapping - What Is It?

One of the most popular forms of advanced guitar playing is tapping. It has been used extensively by rock guitarists such as Edward Van Halen, Steve Vai, and Jimmy Page, as well as jazz virtuoso Stanley Jordan (who uses tapping exclusively). What exactly is this method, and how can you use it to add to your playing style? This article reviews the definition of tapping, its use in various music genres, and how you can use the method to enhance your playing.

The Definition

Tapping is a process where a string is fretted and set into vibration as part of a single motion of being pushed onto the fretboard, as opposed to the standard technique being fretted with one hand and picked with the other. It is similar to the hammer-on and pull-off techniques, but is used more extensively in comparison. In hammer-ons and pull-offs, the fretting is done with just one hand while picking at the string with the other. In tapping, both hands are used on the fretboard at the same time. For a demonstration and lesson, go to this link:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vG2lukUMXKs
Tapping can be done with one hand or two, and within each type of tapping, there are multiple techniques.

A History

Stringed instrument tapping has existed in various forms for centuries. Niccolo Paganini played in this fashion on the violin, striking the string with a bouncing bow articulated by a left hand pizzicato. Banjos have occasionally been played in this fashion since the early 20th century. In the 40s and 50s, guitar tapping became more popular. Jimmie Webster published a book on a two-handed tapping technique in 1952.  Jazz guitarists such as Barney Kessel began using the technique.

In 1969, guitarist Emmett Chapman developed a new type of two-handed tapping with both hands held perpendicular to the neck from opposite sides, thus enabling equal counterpoint capabilities for each hand for the first time. In order to make full use of this technique, he created a 9-string long scale guitar called the Chapman Stick. Perhaps the best-known user of the Stick is progressive musician Tony Levin, who has played with Peter Gabriel, King Crimson, Pink Floyd, and Yes.

Examples of tapping in rock music are included in HOPE YOU’RE FEELING BETTER by Santana, ERUPTION by Van Halen, and MR. SCARY by Dokken (essentially an instrumental by guitarist George Lynch).

Guitar legend Chet Atkins used tapping in his version of the country standard ORANGE BLOSSOM SPECIAL.

Jazz guitarist Stanley Jordan hit the ground running in 1985 with his album MAGIC TOUCH on the newly-relaunched Blue Note label. This acclaimed work was number one on the jazz charts for an astounding 51 weeks. He uses tapping exclusively.

Expand Your Horizons

By employing tapping methods in your playing, you can add speed and agility to your technique. It is, of course, going to take a lot of time, patience, and practice to learn to tap properly, decide which tapping method to use, and perfecting that method. Mastering a tapping technique, whether you use it a little or a lot, will increase your musical vocabulary.

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