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Tapping With Modes

Tapping With Modes


Two-handed tapping is a fun technique that allows you to grab ahold of notes generally outside of your reach and often leaves audiences dazzled by its flashiness. While you shouldn’t learn tapping purely because it’s flashy, most guitarists would be lying if they told you that it wasn’t at least part of the appeal. But for all the awesome things a solid tapping technique has to offer, a surprising amount of people seem unsure what to do with the technique once they develop it. 

This article is written assuming that you already have at least a basic understanding of tapping. If you’re looking to learn to start tapping, check out THIS ARTICLE

I found that a great way to start tapping with taste is to view the technique through the lens of your typical scales. If you have experience improvising already, chances are you can come up with a decently tasty solo based off of a favorite scale shape or two. I’ve found that it’s best to view the technique of tapping as merely an extension to what you’re already doing with your improvising. The point shouldn’t be tapping in and of itself, but rather to use tapping to explore options otherwise unavailable without the technique. 

To start, pick a minor scale shape that you feel comfortable with. It should preferably be a scale shape lower on the guitar neck, particularly one that starts below the 12th fret, but we’re about to do isn’t impossible if you start a little higher. For the purposes of this example, I’m going to pick an A-minor scale starting on the 5th fret. If you are unsure how that scale goes off the top of your head, you can see it tabbed out here: 

A-Minor Scale


Whatever scale you picked will be what I like to think of as your “bass scale”. When throwing tapping into an improvised solo, your bass scale is the scale you primarily play out of. It’s the scale from which your licks that don’t involve tapping are based and the scale to which the notes you tap are contrasted. I think of it as a bass scale partially because it tends to sit lower on the guitar than the other scales we’re going to introduce, and partially because it’ll serve as the foundation for everything else we’re about to do.

Warm-up by playing through your chosen bass scale a couple of times and possibly even jamming on it for a little bit. Once you feel ready to move on, find the root note of your scale. In most cases, the root note is going to be the very lowest pitched note in your scale shape and the one you play first. It will in all cases share the same letter name as the scale it’s in. While it’s true that most scales contain multiple versions of that root note in different octaves, right now I’m referring to the lowest-pitched version of that note. In the A-minor scale tabbed out above, the root note is the A on the 5th fret of the 6th string. 

Once you’ve found your root note, count up five frets from your root note and play the note you arrive on.  As my root note was the A on the 5th fret of the 6th string, the note I’d be arriving on is the D on the 10th fret of the 6th string. We’re going to use this new note as the root note in a Dorian scale. A Dorian scale is a scale that uses the same notes as its relative major and minor scales, but it uses the second note of the major scale (or the fourth note of the minor scale) as its root. Scales that use the same set of notes but vary which one is the root note are commonly referred to as modes

A D-Dorian scale, starting on the 10th fret is tabbed out below. If you used a scale other than an A-minor for your bass scale, then the below pattern is still applicable but you will have to adjust the frets to accommodate which scale you did choose. For example, if your bass scale was a G-minor starting on the 3rd fret, then play the exact Dorian shape below, except two frets lower. 


D-Dorian Scale


If this Dorian scale is new to you, then try playing through it a few times until it becomes comfortable. Once you feel solid on the Dorian scale, go back to the minor scale you chose to be your bass scale. Try jamming on your bass scale, but use tapping to pepper in notes from the Dorian scale. This can be as little as adding only one tapped note at a time or even adding phrases that are entirely tapped, but whatever you do the fact that you are tapping should take a backseat to whatever musical ideas you explore. 

For the sake of this exercise, try not to stray from the minor or Dorian shapes at this time. Incorporating other spots on the fretboard can be a great way to expand upon this concept later on, but for right now try keeping it simple. 

Once you feel comfortable incorporating the Dorian scale into your tapping, find the root note of your Dorian scale the same way you found the root note of your minor scale. Once you’ve done that, count up another five frets and play the note you arrive on. In my example, the root note of the Dorian scale was the D on the 10th fret of the 6th string, so I’m going to arrive at the G on the 15th fret of the 6th string. We’re now going to use this new note as the root note of a Mixolydian scale. A Mixolydian scale is a mode in the exact same way as the Dorian, except that it is built upon the fifth note of the major scale rather than the second. 

In my example, I would then be playing a G-Mixolydian scale. You can see that scale shape tabbed out below. Just as with the example given for the D-Dorian scale, the shape of the below Mixolydian scale can be applied to any root note, as long as the exact frets are adjusted accordingly. 

G-Mixolydian Scale


Play through the Mixolydian scale a couple of times if it’s new to you. Once it feels comfortable, go back to your bass scale. Try jamming on your bass scale again, except now add tapped notes culled from the Mixolydian scale shape than from the Dorian. Once you feel like you’ve gotten the hang of that, we’re going to try reintroducing the Dorian scale shape. Solo with your bass scale, and pepper in tapped notes from either the Dorian or Mixolydian shapes, or preferably from both. 

It might feel like a lot at first, but once you get the hang of it you’ll have two whole additional scales to tap with!


I hope you learned something from this article! If you have any questions, comments, corrections (I have been known to commit the more than occasional type or notation mistake), or requests for future articles like this one, please feel free to reach out to me at

Ben Fitts is a musician, writer, and instructor at New York City Guitar School. He is the guitarist of the indie rock band War Honey, the author of numerous works including the short story collection My Birth And Other Regrets, and a former NYC Guitar School student himself.


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