You want to play Eruption by Van Halen or Midnight By Joe Satriani? Those are famous examples of songs where guitar tapping technique is used.
Guitar tapping can be quite challenging to master. There are two main signs your guitar tapping technique needs an improvement. It’s either a lot of noise you get when you tap, or it’s just that your guitar tapping is too quiet.
Here are the following 10 essential tips on guitar tapping. These should help you significantly if you stick to them.
1. Pull Off
A proper pull off of the right hand finger (if you’re right handed) is perhaps the most important thing when it comes to proper guitar tapping.
You can use index finger or a middle finger to perform a pull off. Either way, it is important to pull the finger you use downwards in order to get the sound from the string you play.
That way the string you tap on, itself, will be bent downwards which will cause the strong ring.
Here, below, is the short GIF showing that pull of the index finger.
As you can see, the index finger is performing the downward pull which bend the string in the same direction.
Beginners often struggle with this. You may naturally just tap the string without moving your finger in any direction. That way the string you tap on won’t ring as loud as you want it to ring. That’s because the string you just plucked won’t move in any direction.
String has to be moved in order to vibrate. Vibration is causing the sound. When there’s no enough vibration, there’s not going to be enough sound, consequently.
Of course, you’ll need to practice the technique of pull off first to be able to perform tapping properly.
Nevertheless, this is the easiest, and perhaps the only way, to make your tapping sound loud enough.
2. Work On Your Legato
Legato is the second part of the puzzle. While the proper pull off is needed for right hand, legato is needed for left hand. (Again, if you’re right handed. If you’re left handed, it’s the opposite.)
In order to master a legato technique, you must practice hammer-on’s and pull off’s. The key is to strengthen your fingers.
Here, below, in another short GIF, you can see one of the most fundamental exercise for strengthening your fingers.
As you can see, this is the exercise. It’s simple. Just pluck the string once with your pick and then do the hammer on’s and pull off’s with your finger.
In this example, the index finger is positioned on the 5th fret of the G string. Pluck the string to get the sound of it, and then try to hammer on the string with your middle finger.
After that, you need to pull off the string with your middle finger. Then you hammer it on with your ring (4th) finger. Then pull it off.
Hammer the string with your little finger, and pull it off, after.
Repeat that as long as you’re getting the sound from the string. Of course, in the beginning, you won’t be able to make the sound loud enough. That’s expectable. After all, your fingers are not strong enough to maintain the sound.
Repeat the same pattern on every string. Repeat it on different frets also. You shouldn’t do this exercise more than 10 to 15 minutes a day.
Be careful, you don’t want your fingers hurt. Patience is the key here.
Accuracy is another important factor. In general, you have to play accurately. I know it’s tempting to play faster and faster, but if you’re not accurate enough, your playing won’t improve.
Start slow. It doesn’t matter how slow. Use the metronome. Pick the BPM (beats per minute) speed you feel comfortable playing on.
After a short period of time, you’ll notice that your fingers naturally tend to move faster. That’s the sign of mastering the technique you’re practicing on that speed.
Step by step, you’ll increase the speed. Again, it’s tempting to move fast too fast. But keep in mind that this method is the fastest one!
When you play slow first, you’re giving your brain the time to recognize the pattern. You’re giving your muscles the time to memorize the proper moves. Our brain loves patterns. By starting slow, you’re giving it time to catch on.
When you play too fast your brain and your finger muscles will get confused. You will not know what you’re doing. Yes, slow exercising can often get boring, but that’s the reality.
It’s the only way to develop accuracy! And accuracy is something crucial for playing any instrument, in general.
4. Play Clean Or Unplugged First
Distortion sound cool. That’s obvious. Otherwise you wouldn’t be interested in playing an electric guitar in the first place.
However, distortion is also deceptive. When you turn on the gain on your amp to the maximum, you get that hard distorted sound everyone like.
Still, distortion can mask all of the mistakes you make. I remember myself in the early days when I was beginner. I used to crank up the gain and play. But if I were to switch the sound settings to clean, it would sound terrible.
It’s important to learn to play anything on the clean first. Or unplugged (even better).
When you master the technique on unplugged guitar, you’ll surely play it perfect when it’s plugged in. The other way around doesn’t work.
Your tapping can sound somehow good when you tap on a gain. However, if you were to switch it to clean, it’s highly possible you’ll sound terrible.
Make sure you practice tapping unplugged first. I know, again, it’s boring to do so, but that’s just how the reality works.
You have to crawl first in order to walk later – as the old saying goes.
5. Use Lighter Strings
Lighter strings require less pressure to be played. Heavier strings, on the other hand, require harder pressure.
If your fingers are still not strong enough, you may consider the option of putting the lighter gauge strings on your guitar.
No, it will not affect the tone of your guitar significantly. A lot of guitar players use light strings. For example, Tommy Iommi of Black Sabbath (and yet, he still sounds heavy!)
It certainly is easier to perform guitar tapping with lighter gauge strings. It’s not something of huge importance and impact, but it can help in the beginning. Later, when you become a more experienced guitar player, it won’t matter to you that much.
IMO, Elixir strings are great in this context. This particular pack is light (.009 – .042), but that’s not the only thing that’s worth mentioning. Elixir strings are coated with ultra thin material (optiweb coating), which makes them more durable and more resistant to corrosion and dirt.
I have medium gauge Elixir’s on one of my electric guitars. They are great for the price, whichever gauge level you choose. Check them out on Amazon for more info.
It depends on what do you prefer, in the end.
Also, take a look at the article from this page where you can read detailed comparison and effect of string gauge. Check out how string gauge effect the tone, intonation, fret buzzing and much more, here.
6. Use Guitar Wrap
It’s been said at the beginning of this article that there are two main sings your tapping needs an improvement. First is the sound that’s too quiet.
Second is the noise you get when you perform tapping. Noise can be so irritating. Luckily, there’s a solution for that problem, too.
Guitar fret wraps. It’s simple. Mount the guitar wrap on your guitar neck, behind the nut (at the headstock).
Some guitars just tend to make more surrounding noise than others. There’s no perfect instrument, really.
Anyway, Gruv Guitar FretWrap is probably one of the best wraps you can find.
It fits all guitars, both electric and acoustic, and bass guitars as well. It can help particularly if you want to record your tapping.
Let’s say you want to record the audio (or video) of you performing guitar tapping technique.
All of a sudden, you realize that the recording you’ve just made sounds terrible because of the surrounding noise coming from strings you’re not tapping.
In that situation, it is crucial to eliminate any excessive noise. As no musical instrument is perfect, there will always be some noise going out of your guitar.
Especially if it’s an electric one, since pickups catch all of those irritating sounds coming out.
Fret Wraps effectively remove that noise. Anyway, if you want to know more about the echoing noise coming from your guitar, check out the article from this page about that issue, here.
7. Adjust Amp Settings
Often, there are situations where you find that your guitar tapping just doesn’t sound that good. Even if you mastered the technique already.
Adjusting settings on your guitar amp can help a little bit. It can improve the sound significantly.
Guitar amps have their three main knobs. Treble (or high – in some cases), mid (middle) and bass. There’s this thing called frequency spectrum. Every sound (or tone) has it’s frequency spectrum. Higher notes have more volume in the higher frequency range.
Bass notes, on the other hand, have more volume in the lower part of the frequency spectrum.
Either way, when you tap on the string, you want clarity in the sound that’s coming from your amp.
Play with those three knobs and see what differences in sound does it make.
Usually, when you tap on your first three strings (high E, B and G), you’ll want to turn the volume up on the treble (high) knob.
That’s because those are the high strings with high pitch. (frequency). Turning the treble knob up will make them sound more clearer. Again, every situation is different.
Play with those knobs and soon you’ll find the tone that will improve the sound of your tapping.
8. Adjust Pickup Height
Pickups are necessary, as they catch the vibration from your guitar strings. When strings vibrate, the disturbance in magnetic field is caused. Pickups then catch the signal and transfer it to the amp where the sound is output.
Sometimes, adjusting pickups height can have an effect to the sound your guitar is producing. In certain cases, pickups can sunk a little bit. They can get too far from the string.
That can cause the pickup’s inability to catch the vibration of the string. Adjusting the pickup height, so that the pickup is closer to the string you tap on, can help. That can make the sound of your tapping louder.
However, you don’t want to play with it, unless you have a certain amount of experience. If you’re not experienced enough, you better take the guitar to some guitar expert. There, the adjustment of your pickups will be done in a proper way.
Check out the related article on this site.
9. Adjust Action Height
Action height have a tremendous impact on a playability of a guitar. What is action height? It’s the space between the bottom of a string and the top of the fret on your guitar neck.
If the action is too high, fretting the string can get too complicated. If the action is too low, there can be a fret buzz. You get that sitar sound from your guitar in that situation.
Action height depends on a lot of factors. For example, the gauge of the string can impact the tension on the neck, which can cause a neck to bent more or less. That, consequently, impacts the action height.
Also, the nut can impact the action height. Bridge, also. Having that in mind, it is clear that you don’t want to mess with the action height on your guitar alone.
Again, the best choice is to take your guitar to some guitar expert to make the proper adjustments.
10. Watch Professional Guitar Players
If you want to learn particular song or a musical passage that includes guitar tapping, you better watch the video to see how it’s done.
You can slow down the video to see better and clearer how professional guitar players perform tapping. That way you’ll learn, by your eyes, how it needs to be done.
Often, just hearing the song is not enough. You may wonder how the heck this guitar player does that guitar tapping!?
Seeing professionals performing can give you a clue of what needs to be done.
This Course Helped Me
I want to share something with you. It is the JamPlay tapping course. This is the course that helped me develop my tapping technique even further. Of course, I knew basic tapping before, but I learned how to MAKE tapping parts and apply it to chords. It really spiced up my playing.
It is the course by Sarah Longfield. acclaimed polyrhythmic tapping technician. It has 30 high quality video lessons. In the course, you’ll learn..
- How to apply tapping techniques to chords, legato runs, and more
- Specific exercises you can practice to build and hone your tapping vocabulary
Final Thoughts On Guitar Tapping
Guitar tapping can sound beautiful and breathtaking if it’s done correctly. I hope this article gave you some valuable insight on how to improve your guitar tapping technique.
If it helped you, I’m more than happy about it. It is always a pleasure to help my fellow guitar brothers on their journey of becoming a great guitar player.
Don’t forget to check out some other interesting articles I wrote on this site!
Cheers, and rock on!