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Right Hand Tapping Basics

Note: If you're left handed, just replace the word "right" with the word "left" while reading this article.

Right hand tapping was popularized in the late 70's by Edward Van Halen when he literally turned the guitar-playing world upside down with his miraculous fretwork. I highly recommend getting a copy of "Van Halen", the first album. This is how he created that compelling sound on "Eruption" which has gone down in history as the most famous rock guitar solo of all time.

Today, I want to give you a solid understanding of Ed's basic technique. Once you see what's going on here, I'll introduce you to many other variations and possibilities in more detail later.

The term "tapping" is slightly misleading. It's a generic term for fretting notes with your right hand. What actually occurs is that you use your right hand fingers to either really "tap" on a note or to do hammer-ons and pull-offs with them.

Let's do some right hand tapping with hammer-ons and pull-offs with an E minor triad, (E, G, and B) on the 3rd string. Here's the tab:

   B       E       G       B       E       G     
R2 po L1 ho L4 ho R2 po L1 ho L4 ho
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---16------9-------12------16------9-------12-----
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B E G B E G B
R2 po L1 ho L4 ho R2 po L1 ho L4 ho R2
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---16------9-------12------16------9-------12------16-
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  • The actual note names are at the top of the diagrams
  • The "R2, L1 and L4" are right-hand 2nd finger, left-hand 1st finger, left-hand 4th finger respectively.
  • "po" = Pull-Off, "ho" = Hammer-On

    You can do pull-offs with your right hand two different ways.

    1. You can angle your hand parallel with the neck and pull-off in a downward motion.
    2. You can angle your hand perpendicular to the neck as if playing the piano and pulling-off in an upward motion.


    Once you can do one of these, you'll be able to do both. The feel is similar.

    If you are trying method #1, you may want to anchor your hand to the neck with your thumb and 2nd finger, using your 1st finger to do the tapping.

    Remember, just because you are hammering and pulling with your right hand doesn't mean it should sound any different than doing it with your left hand. Hammer-ons and pull-offs are just that, no matter which hand you use.

    Play the example continuously. You'll notice that it's just a circle of notes repeating over and over.

    Now you can begin experimenting with this technique. When I first learned of it, I was up till 4 in the morning trying all kinds of variations! In the example above, try alternating your left hand 3rd and 4th fingers! Also try bending a note up a whole step and then hammering-on a higher note with your right. The more you experiment, the more you will start seeing what can be done.

    I really exploited right hand tapping on my tune "Fill In The _____" from my new CD. For those of you who don't have a copy, you can hear some of it in the sample at WillLandrum.com. You'll find that I'll be referring to my CD a lot in these tips, only because it's loaded with different techniques and melodic ideas that I can personally relate right back to you. So if you don't have a copy yet, please get one. Consider it "educational" material. Plus, it'll make my mom happy that I'm selling discs! :)

    Finally, don't forget your timing! Set your metronome to a slow speed like 60 beats per minute and do the above exercise in time with triplets. When you get comfortable with that speed, increase gradually. When you hit your limit, pound it out for a few days and you will probably be able to play it even faster!

    Check out Will's new CD, Will Landrum, produced by Will and Michael Fath, at WillLandrum.com.

  • Will Landrum is a guitarist, recording artist, and teacher. You can learn more about him at www.willlandrum.com.