Are you a bass player who wants to add some funk and groove to your playing? Look no further than slap bass!
Slap technique, popularized by legends like Larry Graham and Louis Johnson, involves hitting the strings with your thumb or popping them with your fingers to create a percussive sound.
Learning how to play slap bass can take your skills to the next level and make you stand out in any band. In this step-by-step guide, we’ll cover everything from the basics of hand positioning to advanced techniques like double-thumbing. So grab your bass and let’s get to work!
Different Slap Techniques
A common mistake many people make is thinking that slap bass technique is just one single thing.
In reality, there are several slap bass techniques.
There’s double thumb technique, double slap strokes, regular slap bass technique as well as unique variations that famous bass players throughout history like Flea, Marcus Miller, Les Claypool and Victor Wooten have developed.
We’ll start with basic slap technique which involves slapping, pulling and popping. We’ll look first at each single individual stroke, how to combine them and then how to work them into the more advanced techniques like double thumbing.
Basic Slap Bass Technique
Before you can incorporate all the fancy things like a great fill, hit, lick or run into your playing, you need develop and maintain a good level of technique. And that requires breaking this technique down into its individual movements and motions, learning them carefully and then combining them into one great technique.
Let’s get started on each individual movement.
Slap Technique Hand Position
Playing bass with slap technique requires mastery of two strokes. A pop stroke and a slap or thumb stroke.
To perform the thumb stroke you first need to get your hand in the right-hand position which I call the “parallel thumb position” as shown below.
Take your slapping hand and put in into a partially clenched fist shape with your thumb running parallel to the low E string.
Your slapping hand should be relaxed and comfortably resting on the bass. For a demonstration of this, you can watch this YouTube video.
Once you’ve mastered this hand position, you’re ready for a thumb stroke.
Thumb Slapping Technique (Thumb Stroke)
To perform a thumb stroke, rotate your forearm with a motion that is similar to turning a key in a door lock. The rotation should start from your elbow.
As you rotate in, use the boney joint of the knuckle of your thumb to strike through the string you’d like to slap at the end of the fretboard as shown in the image below.
This type of bass playing should produce a generally aggressive and percussive sound with plenty of attack that you’ll likely recognize from rock songs by Sly & The Family Stone, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and, yes, Davie504 if you’re that young!
The key to the pop stroke is all about using your index finger correctly to create the aggressive snapping sound that’s part of the pop stroke.
To do this, try to hook the outside edge of your index finger underneath and slightly behind the string you want to pop and then pull your hand away from the strings to create the sound. As you let go of the string, it will snap back towards the neck, bounce off the frets, and producing a popped note.
This hand position is shown below.
One of the biggest problems of this slap style of playing is muting.
When bass strings are played, we will often hear notes from the strings we didn’t play ring out in sympathetic vibration causing unwanted notes to sound with the note(s) we do want.
The act of stopping these unwanted notes is known as muting.
The tricky thing about muting when playing slap bass is that the fretting hand (commonly the left hand) has to do all the work. When playing fingerstyle technique, we can use both the services of the left hand and right hand. However, the right hand (commonly the slapping hand) isn’t able to mute when playing slap bass so all the work must be done by the fretting hand.
The technique is just the same as normal. You’ll just have to do much more of it.
Slap bass exercises can be incredibly beneficial when learning slap bass. Here are a few reasons why:
Slap bass exercises help to build and strengthen the muscles in your hands, wrists, and fingers that are essential for producing clean and crisp slapping and popping sounds.
Many slap bass exercises focus on rhythm and timing, for example, which can help you develop a better sense of groove and improve your overall timing as a musician.
Developing muscle memory
The more you practice slap bass exercises, the more your hands will become accustomed to the techniques involved in slapping and popping. This will eventually lead to muscle memory, making it easier to execute these techniques without thinking about them too much.
Expanding your repertoire
Slap bass exercises can introduce you to new techniques and styles that you may not have tried otherwise. By incorporating these into your playing, you can expand your repertoire and become a more versatile musician.
Free Slap Exercise PDF
Overall, practicing slap exercises is an excellent way to develop the skills necessary for playing slap bass effectively while also expanding your musical horizons.
Enter your email address and comment down below and we’ll send you some free exercises to hone your slapping skills!
Advanced Slap Bass Techniques
Now we’ve covered the basics, it’s time to look at the really fun stuff. Let’s dive into some advanced techniques!
Double Slap Stroke
A double slap stroke is a technique that takes advantage of the tension in the strings to facilitate faster slapping.
In many ways, it’s very simple to play. You have to play a normal thumb or slap stroke but rather than striking through the string, you should strike into contact with the string and let the tension of the string rebound your thumb away. Then, quickly rotate your forearm back in towards the strings for a second slap stroke.
This kind of slapping is a huge part of the style used by players like Mark King and Marcus Miller. You’ll also hear it on many older funk records because it’s great for syncopated right hand patterns.
Double thumbing is a slap bass technique where the player uses their thumb to strike the string and then immediately follows up with another downward stroke using the same thumb. This technique allows for a faster and more rhythmic sound than traditional slapping techniques.
It can also create a percussive effect similar to that of a drum, adding depth and complexity to the bassline. Double thumbing takes practice to master, but once learned it can be an impressive addition to any bassist’s repertoire.
You can also combine slapping and popping into a single movement with this technique by learning to develop a pop stroke that follows the upward thumb stroke as you rotate away.
Getting a good quality movement can be tricky as this style of bass playing is very tricky.
For this reason, it’s best to watch this YouTube tutorial on how to perform the technique.
One-Chord Slap Grooves
“Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)” by Sly & the Family Stone is a great one chord slap groove for several reasons.
Firstly, the song’s bassline is built around a single chord, which allows the bassist to focus on creating a deep and funky groove rather than worrying about complex chord changes. This simplicity also makes it an excellent song for beginners who are just starting to learn slap.
Secondly, the song’s tempo and rhythm are perfect for slapping and popping techniques. The track’ steady beat and syncopated rhythms allow the bassist to really dig into each note and create a driving, danceable groove.
Finally, “Thank You” features some iconic slap bass fills that have become legendary in their own right. These fills are not only fun to play but also add flavor and complexity to the overall groove of the song.
What is slap in bass guitar?
Slap in bass guitar is a technique where the player hits the strings with their thumb or pops them with their fingers to create a percussive sound.
Is slap bass hard?
Slap can be challenging at first, but with practice and patience, it becomes easier over time.
What is a slap bass in music?
A slap bass in music is when the bassist uses the slap technique to add rhythm and groove to a song.
Does slapping a bass hurt?
Slapping a bass shouldn’t hurt if done correctly. However, improper technique or playing too aggressively can cause discomfort or even injury.
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