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Adam Nitti Technique Series: Basic Tapping, Part 2: Adding The Plucking Hand

Meet Adam Nitti –

Welcome back, everyone!

In this installment, I want to continue where we left off with my “Tapping 101” column from the December/January 08 issue. If you haven’t gone through that lesson yet, be sure to review the exercises covered in it before continuing with this latest lesson. In “Tapping 101”, we introduced the basic tapping concept and worked on some exercises that focused on the fretting hand. In this lesson, we will present some new fingerings and also add the fretting hand into the mix.


Exercises 1a-1e in “Tapping 101” were based on one finger per fret fingering permutations. There are actually 24 total fingering combinations that can be played if you examine all the possibilities:

1 2 3 4
1 2 4 3
1 3 2 4
1 3 4 2
1 4 2 3
1 4 3 2

2 1 3 4
2 1 4 3
2 3 1 4
2 3 4 1
2 4 1 3
2 4 3 1

3 1 2 4
3 1 4 2
3 2 1 4
3 2 4 1
3 4 1 2
3 4 2 1

4 1 2 3
4 1 3 2
4 2 1 3
4 2 3 1
4 3 1 2
4 3 2 1

Exercise 1-Fretting Hand Focus

For our first exercise, we are going to play through all 24 combinations in a single position on the fingerboard. If you are still new to this technique, a good place to start is in 5th position on the bass. (5th position means that you line up your fretting hand first finger with the 5th fret of the lowest-pitched string on the fingerboard. This means fingers 1, 2, 3, and 4 will be lined up with frets 5, 6, 7, and 8, respectively.) This is generally a comfortable position to start for most bass players because you can maintain a relaxed hand position without having to contend with stretches or sharper wrist angles.

For each permutation, you will be playing across all of your strings, in both ascending and descending directions. Obviously, it is going to take a little bit of time to work through all 24, so I recommend focusing on a single grouping of 6 per practice session. (For each starting finger, there are 6 total combinations.) In other words, you could work on permutations:

1 2 3 4, 1 2 4 3, 1 3 2 4, 1 3 4 2, 1 4 2 3, and 1 4 3 2 on Monday,

and then: 2 1 3 4, 2 1 4 3, 2 3 1 4, 2 3 4 1, 2 4 1 3, and 2 4 3 1 on Tuesday,

etc, etc… This way, you will not get overwhelmed with the challenge of tackling them all at once.

As with all of our exercises, make sure to hold yourself accountable to an external clock source, like a metronome or drum machine, starting out with VERY slow tempos to force cleanliness and accuracy. Check out my video examples of a couple of these permutations to see how they should be practiced:

I would strongly recommend recording yourself practicing these so that you can listen back and check your accuracy and tonal quality. Getting a good tone when tapping is a bit of a challenge, because you are trying to marry the concept of aggressively striking the string to the idea of playing clean and smooth… It takes a well-seasoned touch to really get this technique sounding consistent, so work very hard at getting things as uniform as possible.

The Plucking Hand

Now we want to follow suit with our plucking hands. Yup, that means playing through the permutations with them in the same way we did with the fretting hands. If you are brand new to 2-handed tapping, this might feel a little awkward. You will be bringing your plucking hand over the fingerboard to tap out the notes of each permutation, and this is not a position we typically cover when playing bass in a more supportive role, of course.

Exercise 2-Plucking Hand Focus

For this exercise, we will play through all 24 permutations again, but this time we will use the plucking hand to do so. To mirror what we were doing with the fretting hand by playing the same notes, we are going to put our plucking hand in 17th position (line up the 1st finger of your plucking hand with the 17th fret of the lowest-pitched string on the fingerboard. Fingers 1, 2, 3, and 4 will be lined up with frets 17, 18, 19, and 20, respectively.) Once again, refer to my video examples to see how they should be played.

Take notice of my hand positions in each of these videos, paying close attention to angle and placement. You will need to experiment with different angles to see what position will be most comfortable for you, but in all cases it will be beneficial for you to anchor your thumb on the neck in a way that will offer you some stability and comfort.

Exercise 3-The Copycat Drill

This exercise is designed to introduce the concept of basic right and left hand independence, and it is simply a combination of exercises 1 and 2. What you are going to do is simply copy each permutation note for note, from fretting hand to plucking hand. In other words, each note played by the fretting hand will be duplicated an octave higher by the plucking hand, in a ‘copycat’ type of manner. Refer to my exercise 3 video example to see how this is done.

Exercise 3 really adds a whole new layer of challenges, because now you are having to divide your attention between both hands. Similarly, you have the responsibility of making sure that the execution of each permutation is accurate and smooth between the low and high octaves. You will find that practicing at slow tempos is really going to be of value here!

…And Beyond…

Obviously, your 2-handed tapping practice routine doesn’t have to stop at permutation work… Any components that you have been playing on the bass, such as scales, arpeggios, or phrases, can be applied to these techniques, and you should definitely experiment with different shapes and combinations. In the next tapping installment, we will explore more musical applications of these basic techniques, but in the meantime, work on mastering your hand independence through the use of permutations and other musical examples. Before you know it, tapping on the fingerboard with both hands will feel very natural, but be patient with yourself if you are just starting out. If you practice methodically and deliberately, I promise you will see results come quickly.

Until next time, keep holdin’ it down!

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