Ever hear someone taking a solo and then suddenly, in the middle of a phrase, it sounds like, “Pause, remove plectrum, insert tapped lick, pause, retrieve plectrum, resume picking”? I hate that sound. That’s why you’ll very rarely hear me tap with just one finger. It’s not because I have anything against classic “Eddie Van Halen-style” tapped riffs. It’s just that by tapping two or more notes per phrase, I can generate butter-smooth tapped riffs that are easy to slip into solos without that dreaded cut-and-paste sound. My goal is to have my tapped licks dovetail so seamlessly with everything else I do that if your eyes are closed, you can hardly tell when I’ve put my picking hand on the fretboard. You simply hear mind-boggling legato lines that sound like they’re being played by a dude who has eight fingers on his fretting hand.
First of all, if I am playing a traditional triplet-based tapped riff such as Ex. 1, I tap with the strongest finger that is not already in use. For me, that’s the middle finger, because like most players, I hold the pick between my index finger and thumb. (Never let go of the pick if you don’t have to—you’ll only have to fumble around for it later, and this will interrupt the flow of your line.) More often, I tap with both the middle and ring fingers, as demonstrated in Ex. 2. In this repeating phrase, the first note is tapped at the 20th fret by the middle finger. The next note is tapped two frets higher by the ring finger, which then pulls off to the original note (which is still being held by the middle finger). After a legato phrase played by the fretting hand, the riff starts over again—and it’s all done without ever letting go of the pick!
If this dual-tapping approach seems awkward or difficult to you, that’s probably because your fretting hand has a lot more experience on the fretboard than your picking hand. It will get easier once your tapping hand gets up to speed. Stick with it, and the technique will reveal an exciting world of two-handed legato riffs, including mind-melters like Ex. 3. Bouncing from string to string, this smooth and slippery descent races down the A natural minor scale. (Notice the position shifts on the third and fourth strings.) Before long, you may be inspired to get your pinky and index fingers involved in tapping too. Hey, they came with the package, and they’re just hanging there—why not use ’em? —As told to Jude Gold