How to play guitar like... Tosin Abasi

Nail the techniques as we go all about Abasi

How to play guitar like Tosin Abasi
(Image: © Chris Schwegler/Retna Ltd./Corbis)

We look at Tosin Abasi's approaches to picking, slapping, riffing and two-handed tapping techniques.

Tosin uses many unorthodox techniques to produce unusual sounds. His heavy Meshuggah-style single-note rhythmic riffs can be heard in tracks such as Tempting Time and Waves Of Babies.

"He is perhaps best known for his Victor Wooten-inspired slapping and popping"

He is perhaps best known for his Victor Wooten-inspired slapping and popping, as heard in An Infinite Regression and The Woven Web. Check out CAFO or Isolated Incidents to hear Tosin's tapping technique.

We've assumed you'll be playing a six-string guitar, so our examples are shown in standard EADGBE tuning or down tuned to EBEADG (for Slapping And Popping, and Rhythmic Displacement). The down-tuning mirrors the lowest six strings on Tosin's eight-string (EBEADGBE).

Alternate picking

This is an example of how Tosin keeps a steady, intricate groove in odd time. Use 'down-up' style picking and keep the strings muted with your pick hand.

Alternate picking tab (right-click to download)
Alternate picking audio (right-click to download)

Chords with tapping

Fret the Cadd9#11 chord and keep it held down. Pick the first four notes, then, as they sustain, tap the notes shown in circles and pull off to the fretted notes.

Chords with tapping tab (right-click to download)
Chords with tapping audio (right-click to download)

Slapping and popping

Slap bass is one of Tosin's signature eight-string techniques. Keeping your thumb in line with the string, slap it against the highest fret for a trebly, metallic tone. For the 'pops', use your first finger to pull the string away from the pickups and let it quickly snap back. In the tab, 'S' denotes a slap and 'P' denotes a pop.

Slapping and popping tab (right-click to download)
Slapping and popping audio (right-click to download)

Doublestop tapping

Tosin generally taps with his first and second fingers; perfect for the two-note chord idea tabbed here. Make sure to tap both strings at the same time.

Doublestop tapping tab (right-click to download)
Doublestop tapping audio (right-click to download)

Left- and right-hand tapping

The repeating A note throughout this riff alternates between 12th fret fifth string and 7th fret fourth string. Use short, sharp taps to produce a staccato sound.

Left- and right-hand tapping tab (right-click to download)
Left- and right-hand tapping audio (right-click to download)

Rhythmic displacement

This riff features a repeating phrase that is nine 16th notes long. Of course, nine into 16 doesn't go, so the phrase nearly always repeats on an offbeat.

The easiest way to feel the rhythm is to count '1 2 3 - 1 2 3 4 -'. The third and eighth notes of the phrase are quavers, so each of these lasts for two 16th notes.

Rhythmic displacement tab (right-click to download)
Rhythmic displacement audio (right-click to download)

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