Slap bass: how the hell's it done?

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by Rockin John, Jan 15, 2001.

  1. OK. So I'm getting back into playing bass ofter a 25 year lay-off. It's coming along quite nicely, too.

    But I've watched these guys with flailing fingers and thumbs getting the most amazing sounds. Now, I've no real thoughts of playing slap but I'd really like to give a little go. You know, just to have a shot at it.

    But I can't even get the merest hint of anything musical to crawl from the speakers.

    Just where does one start with this slap business?

  2. dytakeda


    Jul 18, 2000
    I'm no Guitar Center showoff, but I can offer some advice.

    The "slap" sound is genererated by the string striking the frets. Your thumb is actually used to strike the string, which then hits the frets. To facilitate slapping, roundwound strings should be used, and a fairly low action would also be recommended.

    I've seen two ways to slap. In the first, the thumb is held roughly parallel to the string. The pinky finger is pointing straight down to the floor. The top of the thumb(if the thumb is parallel to the strings, by top, I refer to the edge of thumb that is closest to your face.) strikes downward on the strings (into the frets) but slips by it. Kind of like a side-swipe. The swipe is important, because the string has to be allowed to bounce off of the frets.

    The second thumbslap requires holding the thumb more perpendicular to the strings. It's more like at a 30 degree angle from perpindicular. The index finger is pointed at the floor. In this method, the thumb is bounced off the string. This allows the string to sound when it rebounds off of the fret.

    The "popping" is basically pulling the string away from the fretboard, usually done only with the higher strings (D and G, assuming 4 string) and allowing it to snap back into the frets. Usually this is done with the pinky. I like to use the ring finger on the D string and the pinky on G. I've heard some players pop both strings at once using this method, but I can't do it... yet.

    That's really it for technique. There's one other sound that you hear with this style, and that's muting either or both. Essentially, you don't fret a note, but hold your left hand finger on the string without depressing it. It results in a percussive "thunk", which by itself doesn't mean anything, but combined with slapped and popped notes, adds some flavor.

    One more thing about technique is that this style will need you to build up the muscles in your right arm that is used to rotate the forearm and hand. Your hand rotates on the wrist, and that's something that's new to most players who have been playing for awhile, but are new to this style.

    Soundwise, most players "scoop" the midrange out of their EQ. It eliminates the ringy overtones you get from the strings hitting the frets. If you have a graphic EQ, players call this the "Smiley face", because the resulting setting looks like a smile.

    I'd also recommend a book like "Slap Bass Essentials". It comes with a CD, so you'll be able to listen, and that's good. Textwise, it doens't explain the technique much better than I've done here. What it is good for is giving you patterns to practice.

    AND... you need to practice like a 14 year old kid who has picked up the instrument for the very first time. This technique has almost nothing in common with two finger plucking or pick playing.

    Good luck.
    ProfFrink likes this.
  3. hey john click on the globe at the top of the page and do a search on slap, there is a ton of info already here, you find a lot of stuff.
  4. Good afternoon to you both. And thanks for taking the trouble.

    I'm flattered that you took so much trouble with your reply, Dytakeda. Have tried but it still eludes me. Loads more practice required!!!


  5. Although he's no slap expert, you can check Go to "Ask Willis" > "May 2000", there's a short animation on how it's done. I believe the first way to slap that Dytakeda described is a better technique because it allows to pull the string with your thumb.

    I've never seen anyone popping their pinky. While it's possible, you're much better popping with the other three fingers. And remember, you never have to "build muscles". The muscles are there, you only have to get them a movement they are not used to.
  6. rickbass

    rickbass Supporting Member

    "The Slap Bass Program" with Alex Sklarevski video did it for me, since I don't have any good teachers locally. It's hard to explain. SEEING it gives you a much better idea. Bass Player has said it's the best for years.
  7. Oysterman


    Mar 30, 2000
    Not THIS thread, Rick! :D
  8. rickbass

    rickbass Supporting Member

    My PC went into some Egyptian-geometric warp mode when that other message was being posted. It looked like I'd deleted it. The "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies" note should be out now. You run a clean thread, marshall!