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Tapping is a guitar playing technique where a string is fretted and set into vibration as part of a single motion of being tapped onto the fretboard, with either hand, as opposed to the standard technique of fretting with one hand and picking with the other.

Guitar picking is a group of hand and finger techniques a guitarist uses to set guitar strings in motion to produce audible notes. These techniques involve plucking, strumming, brushing, etc. Picking can be done with:


Tapped passages incorporate the techniques of hammer-on and pull-off, but with both hands freed to produce notes. Some players (such as Stanley Jordan) rely extensively or exclusively on tapping.

A hammer-on is a playing technique performed on a stringed instrument by sharply bringing a fretting-hand finger down on the fingerboard behind a fret, causing a note to sound. This technique is the opposite of the pull-off.

A pull-off is a stringed instrument plucking technique performed by "pulling" the finger off a string off the fingerboard of either a fretted or unfretted instrument.

Stanley Jordan guitarist

Stanley Jordan is an American jazz guitarist whose technique involves tapping his fingers on the fretboard of the guitar with both hands.

Tapping is also called tap style (tapstyle), touch-style , and two-handed tapping.

Touch guitar

The Touch Guitar is a stringed instrument of the guitar family which has been designed to use a fretboard-tapping playing style. Touch Guitars are meant to be touched or tapped, not strummed. Australian Stu box conceived a 12 string single neck guitar in 1986, with a patent granted in 1988, with a single 12 string single neck design with independent whammy's being produced in the USA in 1990, with production moving back to Australia in 1992

Tapping is the primary technique intended for some instruments such as the Chapman Stick, and is the alternative method for the Warr Guitar and others.

Tap guitar is a class of guitar that is played primarily by tapping on the strings. Any guitar can be played this way, but there are various specialty brands of instruments that are designed specifically for this technique.

Chapman Stick

The Chapman Stick is an electric musical instrument devised by Emmett Chapman in the early 1970s. A member of the guitar family, the Chapman Stick usually has ten or twelve individually tuned strings and has been used on music recordings to play bass lines, melody lines, chords, or textures. Designed as a fully polyphonic chordal instrument, it can also cover several of these musical parts simultaneously.

Warr Guitar

The Warr Guitar is an American-made "touch" guitar, a type of instrument that combines both bass and melodic strings on a single fretboard. It is related to the Chapman Stick, another two-handed tapping instrument. The Warr Guitar is designed for either two-handed tapping or strumming. Warr Guitars have between seven and 14 strings.


Tapping is an extended technique, executed by using either hand to 'tap' the strings against the fingerboard, thus producing legato notes. Tapping generally incorporates pull-offs or hammer-ons. For example, a right-handed guitarist might press down abruptly ("hammer") onto fret twelve with the index finger of the right hand and, in the motion of removing that finger, pluck ("pull") the same string already fretted at the eighth fret by the little finger of their left hand. This finger would be removed in the same way, pulling off to the fifth fret. Thus the three notes (E, C and A) are played in quick succession at relative ease to the player.

Extended technique

In music, extended technique is unconventional, unorthodox, or non-traditional methods of singing or of playing musical instruments employed to obtain unusual sounds or timbres.

The fingerboard is an important component of most stringed instruments. It is a thin, long strip of material, usually wood, that is laminated to the front of the neck of an instrument. The strings run over the fingerboard, between the nut and bridge. To play the instrument, a musician presses strings down to the fingerboard to change the vibrating length, changing the pitch. This is called stopping the strings. Depending on the instrument and the style of music, the musician may pluck, strum or bow one or more strings with the hand that is not fretting the notes. On some instruments, notes can be sounded by the fretting hand alone, such as with hammer ons, an electric guitar technique.

In music performance and notation, legato indicates that musical notes are played or sung smoothly and connected. That is, the player makes a transition from note to note with no intervening silence. Legato technique is required for slurred performance, but unlike slurring, legato does not forbid rearticulation.

While tapping is most commonly observed on electric guitar, it may apply to almost any string instrument, and several instruments have been created specifically to use the method. The Bunker Touch-Guitar (developed by Dave Bunker in 1958) is designed for the technique, but with an elbow rest to hold the right arm in the conventional guitar position. The Chapman Stick (developed in the early 1970s by Emmett Chapman) is an instrument designed primarily for tapping, and is based on the Free Hands two-handed tapping method invented by Chapman in 1969 where each hand approaches the fretboard with the fingers aligned parallel to the frets. The Hamatar, Mobius Megatar, Box Guitar, and Solene instruments were designed for the same method. The NS/Stick and Warr Guitar are also built for tapping, though not exclusively. The harpejji is a tapping instrument which is played on a stand, like a keyboard, with fingers typically parallel to the strings rather than perpendicular. All of these instruments use string tensions less than a standard guitar, and low action to increase the strings' sensitivity to lighter tapping.

Electric guitar electrified guitar; fretted stringed instrument with a neck and body that uses a pickup to convert the vibration of its strings into electrical signals

An electric guitar is a guitar that uses one or more pickups to convert the vibration of its strings into electrical signals. The vibration occurs when a guitar player strums, plucks, fingerpicks, slaps or taps the strings. The pickup generally uses electromagnetic induction to create this signal, which being relatively weak is fed into a guitar amplifier before being sent to the speaker(s), which converts it into audible sound.

String instrument musical instrument that generates tones by one or more strings stretched between two points

String instruments, stringed instruments, or chordophones are musical instruments that produce sound from vibrating strings when the performer plays or sounds the strings in some manner.

Emmett Chapman American musician

Emmett Chapman is an American jazz musician best known as the inventor of the Chapman Stick and maker of the Chapman Stick family of instruments.

Some guitarists may choose to tap using the sharp edge of their pick instead of fingers to produce a faster, more rigid flurry of notes closer to that of trilling, with a technique known as pick tapping. Guitarist John "5" Lowery has been known to use it, and has nicknamed it a "Spider-Tap".

Niccolo Paganini, the 19th century violin master, one of the first innovators of musical instrument tapping. Nicolo Paganini by Richard James Lane.jpg
Niccolò Paganini, the 19th century violin master, one of the first innovators of musical instrument tapping.


Jazz guitarist Roy Smeck, seen here in the 1926 short film His Pastimes, was one an early popularizer of tap playing. HisPastimes.jpg
Jazz guitarist Roy Smeck, seen here in the 1926 short film His Pastimes, was one an early popularizer of tap playing.

Tapping has existed in some form or another for centuries. Niccolò Paganini (1782-1840) used similar techniques on the violin, striking the string with a bouncing bow articulated by left-hand pizzicato. Paganini considered himself a better guitarist than violinist, and in fact wrote several compositions for guitar, most famously the "Grand Sonata for Violin and Guitar." His guitar compositions are rarely performed in modern times, though his violin compositions enjoy multiple performances. Some musicologists believe he wrote his 37 violin sonatas on guitar and then transcribed them for violin. Well known to frequent taverns, Paganini was likely exposed to gypsy guitar techniques from Romani, "gypsies." He preferred playing his guitar for tavern customers instead of audiences. [1]

Similar to two-hand tapping, selpe technique is used in Turkish folk music on the instrument called the bağlama . [2]

Tapping techniques and solos on various stringed acoustic instruments such as the banjo have been documented in film, records, and performances throughout the early 20th century. Various musicians have been suggested as the originators of modern two-hand tapping. While one of the earliest players known to use the technique was Roy Smeck (who used a tapping style on a ukulele in the 1932 film Club House Party), electric pickup designer Harry DeArmond developed a two-handed method as a way of demonstrating the sensitivity of his pickups. His friend Jimmie Webster, a designer and demonstrator for Gretsch Guitars, made recordings in the 1950s using DeArmond's technique, which he described in the instructional book Touch Method for Electric and Amplified Spanish Guitar, published in 1952.

Enver Izmailov, a strictly tapping Russian folk and jazz guitar player in 2009. Enver-izmailov-2009-hofheim-003.jpg
Enver Izmailov, a strictly tapping Russian folk and jazz guitar player in 2009.
Stanley Jordan, a jazz guitarist, in 2017 relies extensively on tapping. Stanley Jordan 01 (cropped).jpg
Stanley Jordan, a jazz guitarist, in 2017 relies extensively on tapping.

Vittorio Camardese developed his own two-handed tapping in the early 1960s, and demonstrated it in 1965 during an Italian television show. [3]

Tapping was occasionally employed by many 1950s and 1960s jazz guitarists such as Barney Kessel, who was an early supporter of Emmett Chapman.

In August 1969, Chapman developed a new way of two-handed tapping with both hands held perpendicular to the neck from opposite sides, thus enabling equal counterpoint capabilities for each hand. To maximize the technique, Chapman designed a 9-string long-scale electric guitar which he called "the Electric Stick" (and later refined as the Chapman Stick), the most popular dedicated tapping instrument. Chapman's style aligns the right-hand fingers parallel to the frets, as on the left hand, but from the opposite side of the neck. His discovery led to complete counterpoint capability, and a new instrument, the Chapman Stick, and to his "Free Hands" method. Chapman influenced several tapping guitarists, including Steve Lynch of the band Autograph, and Jennifer Batten.

The tapping technique began to be taken up by rock and blues guitarists in the late 1960s. One of the earliest such players was Canned Heat guitarist Harvey Mandel, whom Ritchie Blackmore claims to have seen using tapping onstage as early as 1968 at the Whisky a Go Go. [4] George Lynch has corroborated this, mentioning that both he and Edward Van Halen saw Mandel employ "a neo-classic tapping thing" at the Starwood in West Hollywood during the 1970s. [5] Mandel would use extensive two-handed tapping techniques on his 1973 album Shangrenade.

Randy Resnick (of the band Pure Food and Drug Act, which at one time also featured Mandel) used two-handed tapping techniques extensively in his performances and recordings between 1969 and 1974. Resnick was mentioned in the Eddie Van Halen biography [6] for his contribution to the two-handed tapping technique. In reference to Resnick's playing with Richard Greene And Zone at the Whisky a Go-Go in 1974, Lee Ritenour mentioned in Guitar Player magazine January 1980 that "Randy was the first guitarist I ever saw who based his whole style on tapping."[ citation needed ] Resnick also recorded using the technique in 1974 on the John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers album Latest Edition and has said that he was attempting to duplicate the legato of John Coltrane's "Sheets of Sound".

Steve Hackett of Genesis also claims to be an inventor of tapping as early as 1971. [7] [8]

Some players such as Stanley Jordan, Paul Gilbert, and Steve Vai were notably gifted in the use of both hands in an almost piano-like attack on the fretboard.

In the late 1970s, Eddie Van Halen popularized the two-handed tapping technique. Van Halen claims that his own inspiration came from Jimmy Page: "I think I got the idea of tapping watching (Page) do his "Heartbreaker" solo back in 1971… He was doing a pull-off to an open string and I thought… I can do that, but what if I use my finger as the nut and move it around?" [9]

Steve Vai, a rock guitarist, uses tapping to perform precise and complex arpeggiations. Steve Vai Zepparella 2017.jpg
Steve Vai, a rock guitarist, uses tapping to perform precise and complex arpeggiations.


Two-handed tapping

Emmett Chapman, jazz guitarist and inventor of the Chapman Stick guitar, using the Free Hands tapping method in 1969. Emmett chapman 1969.jpg
Emmett Chapman, jazz guitarist and inventor of the Chapman Stick guitar, using the Free Hands tapping method in 1969.

Tapping can be used to play polyphonic and counterpoint music on a guitar, making available eight (and even nine) fingers as stops. For example, the right hand may fret the treble melody while the left hand plays an accompaniment. Therefore, it is possible to produce music written for a keyboard instrument, such as J.S. Bach's Two-part Inventions.

The main disadvantage to tapping is reduced range of timbre, and in fact it is common to use a compressor effect to make notes more similar in volume. As tapping produces a "clean tone" effect, and since the first note usually sounds the loudest (unwanted in some music like jazz), dynamics are a main concern with this technique, though Stanley Jordan and many Stick players are successful in this genre.

Depending on the orientation of the player's right hand, this method can produce varying degrees of success at shaping dynamics. Early experimenters with this idea, like Harry DeArmond, his student Jimmie Webster, and Dave Bunker, held their right hand in a conventional orientation, with the fingers parallel with the strings. This limits the kind of musical lines the right hand can play. The Chapman method puts the fingers parallel to the frets.

One-handed tapping

One-handed tapping, performed in conjunction with normal fingering by the fretting hand, facilitates the construction of note intervals that would otherwise be impossible using one hand alone. It is often used as a special effect during a shredding solo. With the electric guitar, in this situation the output tone itself is usually overdriven — although it is possible to tap acoustically — with drive serving as a boost to further amplify the non-picked (and thus naturally weaker) legato notes being played.

The overall aim is to maintain fluidity and synchronization between all the notes, especially when played at speed, which can take extensive practice to master.

Tapped harmonics

Tapped harmonics are produced by holding a note with a player's fretting hand, and tapping twelve frets down from that note with the player's tapping hand (i.e. the note on the 4th fret of the A string is tapped on the 16th fret of the A string). Rather than hammering-on and pulling-off with the right hand, harmonics are produced by hitting the fret with a finger. This method of tapping can be heard in Van Halen's songs "Women In Love" and "Dance the Night Away". Late Metallica bassist Cliff Burton also utilized tapped harmonics on his noted instrumental piece (Anesthesia) Pulling Teeth .

See also

Related Research Articles

Bass guitar Electric bass instrument

The bass guitar is a stringed instrument similar in appearance and construction to an electric guitar, except with a longer neck and scale length, and four to six strings or courses.

Pizzicato Playing technique for string instruments

Pizzicato is a playing technique that involves plucking the strings of a string instrument. The exact technique varies somewhat depending on the type of instrument:

Fret musical instrument part

A fret is a raised element on the neck of a stringed instrument. Frets usually extend across the full width of the neck. On most modern western fretted instruments, frets are metal strips inserted into the fingerboard. On some historical instruments and non-European instruments, frets are made of pieces of string tied around the neck.

Slapping (music) musical technique

Slapping and popping are ways to produce percussive sounds on a double bass or bass guitar by bouncing strings against the fretboard.

Shred guitar

Shred guitar or shredding is a virtuoso lead guitar solo playing style for the guitar, based on various advanced and complex playing techniques, particularly rapid passages and advanced performance effects. Music critics have stated that shred guitar is associated with "fast alternate picking, sweep-picked arpeggios, diminished and harmonic scales, finger-tapping and whammy-bar abuse", while others contend that it is a fairly subjective cultural term used by guitarists and enthusiasts of guitar music. It is commonly used with reference to heavy metal guitar playing, where it is associated with rapid tapping solos, fast scale and arpeggio runs and special effects such as whammy bar "dive bombs". Metal guitarists playing in a "shred" style use the electric guitar with a guitar amplifier and a range of electronic effects such as distortion, which create a more sustained guitar tone and facilitate guitar feedback effects.

Finger vibrato is vibrato produced on a string instrument by cyclic hand movements. Despite the name, normally the entire hand moves, and sometimes the entire upper arm. It can also refer to vibrato on some woodwind instruments, achieved by lowering one or more fingers over one of the uncovered holes in a trill-like manner. This flattens the note periodically creating the vibrato.

In classical guitar, the right hand is developed in such a way that it can sustain two, three, and four voice harmonies while also paying special attention to tone production. The index (i), middle (m), and ring (a) fingers are generally used to play the melody, while the thumb (p) accompanies in the bass register adding harmony, and produces a comparable texture and effect to that of the piano. The classical guitar is one of the very few solo polyphonic instruments, and is notoriously difficult to master.

Flamenco guitar acoustic guitar

A flamenco guitar is a guitar similar to a classical guitar but with thinner tops and less internal bracing. It is used in toque, the guitar-playing part of the art of flamenco.

Randy Resnick Guitarist, Internet Services

Randy Resnick is an American guitarist who has played with many blues and jazz luminaries, such as Don "Sugarcane" Harris, John Lee Hooker, John Mayall and Freddie King. He was developing both one- and two-handed tapping style in the early 1970s. He published a CD of his own music in 1995, "To Love" under the name Randy Rare. There is an example of his tapping work in the recording from that CD below.

String harmonic

A string harmonic is a string instrument technique which uses the nodes of natural harmonics of a musical string to produce high pitched tones of varying timbre and loudness. String harmonics are "high pitched tones, like a whistle's, are produced when the musician lightly touches certain points on a string." "A flute-like sound produced on a string instrument by lightly touching the string with the finger instead of pressing it down," against the fingerboard.

Free Hands

Free Hands is the name of Emmett Chapman's two-handed tapping method of parallel hands used on his Chapman Stick instrument, and on several other Stick-inspired instruments. Chapman first published his tapping lessons in book form in 1976, and called his method book Free Hands: A New Discipline of Fingers on Strings

Eddie Van Halen Dutch-American rock musician

Edward Lodewijk Van Halen is a Dutch-American musician, songwriter, and producer. He is the main songwriter and founder — with brother and drummer Alex Van Halen, bassist Mark Stone, and singer David Lee Roth — of the American hard rock band Van Halen. In 2012, he was voted number one in a Guitar World magazine reader's poll for "The 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time".

Open chord guitar chord that includes one or more strings that are not fingered; an open string vibrates with more resonance than a string which is pressed down

In music for stringed instruments, especially guitar, an open chord is a chord that includes one or more strings that are not fingered. An open string vibrates freely, whereas a fingered string will be partially damped unless fingered with considerable pressure, which is difficult for beginner players. In an open chord the unfingered strings are undamped, and the player is able to exert maximum pressure on the fretted strings, to avoid unwanted damping. On a regular six-string guitar, an open chord can have from one to six open strings sounding. In contrast, all of the strings are fingered for a barre chord, which requires greater technique to be allowed to ring freely. To damp a barre chord, a player simply needs to relax the fingers. Fully damping an open chord requires the player to roll the fingers of the left hand over the open strings, or else damp with the right hand.


  1. P.J. Bone: The Guitar and Mandolin. Schotts, UK 1954; Encyclopædia Britannica (1911), Vol. XX, p. 459, "Paganini, Nicolo".; J. J. Sugden: Paganini, his Life and Work, p.17. UK 1980; by Stephen S. Stratton, London: "THE STRAD" Office, 3, Green Terrace, Rosebery Avenue, E.C. J. LENG & CO., 186, Fleet Street, E.C..
  2. subutayarikan (2006-09-15), Erdal Erzincan & Erol Parlak -- KAYTAGI , retrieved 2018-08-11
  3. Roberto Angelini Official Page (2013-07-02), Vittorio Camardese ospite a "Chitarra Amore Mio" (RAI-1965) LA NASCITA DEL TAPPING , retrieved 2018-08-11
  4. "Ritchie Blackmore, Interviews". www.thehighwaystar.com. Retrieved 2018-08-11.
  5. Cody, Randy (15 March 2009). "ROCKET Interviews George Lynch". The Metal Den. Retrieved 2018-08-11.
  6. Sanchez, Abel. Van Halen 101.
  7. https://www.musicradar.com/news/guitars/steve-hackett-how-i-invented-finger-tapping-542029
  8. https://www.guitarworld.com/artists/15-prog-rocks-best-guitarists-through-years
  9. Eddie Van Halen quoted from Bosso, Joe. “VH1.” In Guitar World Presents Van Halen, ed. Jeff Kitts, Brad Tolinski, and Chris Scapelliti, 14-25. New York: Backbeat Books, 2010. Originally published in Guitar World, April 2008.