Guitar Tapping Basics

Two handed tapping, tap guitar, fretboard tapping, or the “Van Halen thing”. These are all names for the same guitar technique.

Whether you want to play some electric guitar licks in the style of Van Halen, Allan Holdsworth or Kirk Hammett …or expand your acoustic guitar playing in the style of Michael Hedges, Andy McKee or Jon Gomm. This guitar lesson will get you started with basics of guitar tapping.

How to Tap on Guitar

(Video Guitar Lesson)


The “Tap” in Two Handed Tapping

The “tap” in right hand tapping is really just a hammer-on with a right hand finger, usually the 1st or 2nd. After tapping a note, the next step is to do a pull-off to another lower note fretted by a left hand finger.

Here are a few basic ways that you might tap on guitar. It can vary from guitar player to guitar player how they approach the guitar tapping technique.

1. Use your 2nd finger of your right hand for the tap. This lets you continue to hold your pick with your thumb and 1st finger normally. Doing this helps you move from picking to tapping smoothly.

Two Handed Tapping With 2nd Finger

2. Tap with your 1st finger on your right hand, and hold your pick with your 2nd finger and thumb. This still allows you to pick, and gives you the power of your first finger when hammering on to the fretboard. You can also hold on to the bottom of the neck of the guitar with your 3rd and 4th fingers for more support.

Two Handed Tapping - 2nd Finger Holding Pick

3. Tap with your 1st finger on your right hand, but tuck the pick into your 2nd finger. This can be a little tricky at first, but Eddie Van Halen does this a lot. You can also hold on to the bottom of the neck of the guitar with your 3rd and 4th fingers as well as use your thumb on the top of the neck for more support.

Two Handed Tapping - Pick Tucked in 2nd Finger - 1

Two Handed Tapping - Pick Tucked in 2nd Finger - 2


Guitar Tapping Notation

Internet Tablature

For text tablature found on the Internet the hammer-on or “tap” with your right hand is indicated with a “t” before the fret number. Pull-offs from your right hand are indicated with a “p”, like a normal pull-offs. A normal hammer-on with your left hand is indicated with an “h”.

Another way that you may see right hand tapping notated, is with a “+” above the tapped note, and ^ indicates a slur mark for the hammer-on and pull-off notation.

Two Handed Tapping in Internet Tablature

There could be other ways you might see tapping indicated when Reading Internet Guitar Tablature, but those are a couple of common ways.

Published Guitar Tablature

Published tablature found in magazines and books usually uses a “T” above the tapped note. (See the next examples in this guitar lesson)

Basic Ideas For Tapping Guitar

Here is probably the easiest and most common guitar tapping idea. You are going to tap the first note with your right hand 1st or 2nd finger. Then pull-off from that note to your left hand 1st finger, then hammer on your 3rd (or 4th) finger to the next note. This will give you a 3 note combination.

Since there are 3 different notes, this idea tends to be played as an 8th note triplet or a 16th note triplet. In a nutshell an 8th note triplet is when you play 3 notes for every beat, a 16th note triplet is 6 notes for every beat.

Basic Two Handed Tapping Idea


Fretboard Tapping in a Minor Pentatonic Scale

The minor pentatonic scale is a staple of rock improvisation. So when first learning to use two handed tapping in your guitar solos, the minor pentatonic is a good starting point.

Here is a basic minor pentatonic scale on the guitar.

Minor Pentatonic Scale - Guitar Scale Chart

Here is the minor pentatonic scale again. This time the dots in red represent some additional notes that you can use for tapping with your right hand. These are definitely not the only options, but these notes are all in the minor pentatonic scale. Try playing the basic 3 note tapping combination you learned above on every string. Tap the highest note, pull off to the lowest note, then hammer-on to the middle note.

Minor Pentatonic Scale With Guitar Tapping Notes

Guitar Tapping Lick

Here is a basic two handed tapping lick that comes right out of the minor pentatonic scale above.

Guitar Tapping Lick Tablature

There are definitely many more things that you can do with guitar tapping, but this should at least get you started with this technique.