Slap Bass Technique
Slap bass is a popular technique often used in funk music, but in reality, it’s just a different way to hit the string. In this article, we’ll give you a few pointers on getting started with slap bass technique, and finish with a more advanced exercise to demonstrate what it sounds like in a musical context. Often just called slap, this style of bass playing involves ‘slapping’ the strings with the right thumb and ‘popping’ with the right hand fingers, giving a percussive characteristic to a note’s sound.
Thumb Slapping Technique
The best way to begin playing this style is to practice slapping the open strings with the knuckle joint on the side of the right thumb, as demonstrated in the following example and shown in the photographs above. The best place to strike the string is right at the end of the fretboard. This allows for a bit of “give” in the string and also forces the string down onto the frets, thus producing the distinctive slap sound. Make sure you strike the string clearly and then let your thumb rebound up off the string like a drum stick rebounding off a drum. If you leave your thumb in contact with the string, it will deaden the sound and none of the notes will be clear. Notes slapped with the thumb are indicated by the letter T (meaning thumb) written above or below the note. Try the following exercises, which can all be found in Beginner Slap Bass.
Left Hand Damping
As you strike each string with the thumb, be sure to damp the other strings with your left hand by laying your fingers lightly across the strings. In slap playing, damping out the sounds you don’t want is as important as sounding the notes you do want.
Listen carefully to your playing to make sure there are no unwanted notes ringing. If you do hear any, analyze which strings they are coming from and practice damping them out with your left hand. A good way to get used to left hand damping is to play a quarter note on the first and third beats of the bar and damp the string on the second and fourth beats (indicated by quarter rests) as shown in the following example.
Apart from thumb slapping, the other essential part of the slap bass style is the use of the finger popping technique. This technique is usually done with the index finger (i) but the middle finger (m) is also sometimes used. The technique is performed by putting the end of the finger slightly under the string and then pulling it upwards and away, allowing the string to snap back against the fretboard, thus producing the popping sound. A combination of arm and wrist rotation is used to achieve this technique.
Study the photos and practice this technique in the following exercises. The popping technique is indicated in the notation by the letter F written above or below the note. To begin with, try popping the open G and D strings, as shown.
The next step is to combine the slapping and popping techniques. Take this slowly at first and use a metronome to make sure you are keeping good time.
And finally, here is a more advanced example of slap bass, to give you a taste of where you can go with this style. If you’re keen to pursue slap bass playing, have a look at Beginner Slap Bass.
You can watch the video for the exercise below, to see and hear how it should sound.
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