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The Beef with Slap

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by Ezmar, Mar 31, 2013.

  1. Ezmar


    Jul 8, 2010
    So, a lot of people dislike slap, and if it's simply not your thing, that's fine. I'm not here to talk about that. I'm also not here to talk about the general feeling that slap is "so freakin' cool" and the "paragon" of playing. I feel that many dislike slap style for some wrong reasons.

    This is just a sort of thought on my part, but I feel like some of the negativity towards slap technique comes from the fundamental nature of the technique. The techniques themselves are not difficult, and there are a variety of different ways to do it, and they all work. But the other element is harder to see, especially for beginners, and that is the fact that ultimately, it's a rhythmical technique. You need to be a drummer and have a groove to really use the technique effectively, as it's characterized by a very strong attack that is diminished by a percussive strike on some part of the bass. The initial attack IS the note. I feel like many people use it as a tonal technique, simply utilizing its different timbre. Due to its nature, this becomes grating and boring, because the sound itself is nothing but a harsh attack. Thus, it requires repetition and speed to be effective.

    Another problem is that people sometimes stop there. It's not simply speed that makes the technique effective, it's RHYTHM. The line has to work both as a bass part and a drum part, separately. If it would sound boring if played on a drum, it will sound boring when played with tone. Another aspect to this is that it's effective to use syncopation, as it provides rhythmical interest. HOWEVER, if the drums are already providing a lot of syncopation, it can easily get cluttered. For this reason, slap is best used over a simple, driving beat, and not when the drums are getting into the busy territory.

    Speaking of business, the only time when the bass should get busy when slapping is during a solo, and then only at the peaks. Otherwise, keep it subtler, and if not soloing, repetitive and groove oriented. Rhythm always trumps tone. This is starting to get into general soloing/playing mentality, so I'll cut it short here.

    This sort of became a little personal guidebook as to when and how slap technique works. Maybe it will be useful. I often use slap when I'm playing alone, but rarely when playing with others. Most of the time, if there's a drummer, slapping is unnecessary and detrimental. If you learn to be an ensemble listener, you'll know when it works and when it doesn't.

    So that's why I think many people look down on the technique. It's flashy, and easy to pick up, but requires a great deal of musicianship to actually use effectively. I would never discourage use of the technique, but would advise anyone to make sure they can do anything MUSICALLY if they are going to do it at all. And again, it's perfectly okay to not like the sound at all, and this isn't directed at people who just don't jive with it. But I'd consider thinking about why you dislike the technique before you really decide to hate it.

    Discuss. :D
  2. Jazz Ad

    Jazz Ad Mi la ré sol Supporting Member

    Bass is a rhythm instrument. A drummer isn't supposed to be more competent about it than a bassist.
    The main issue I see with slap is that people tend to lose all imagination and get stuck in the 3-4 licks on which they worked, which usually consist of a 2 bar root-octave alternance in an open string position, with fills taken from the minor pentatonic.
  3. Gab124

    Gab124 The path is greater than the destination

    Dec 30, 2006
    I by far DON'T hate slap. But it is very rare I hear any I like. As you said, to do it tastefully is a very difficult process taking both technique and musical ear; an ear focused on the complete mix. And for all these reasons it is something I cannot do and will not attempt when asked. I hate when someone asks me to "just put a slap line in that spot it will be cool" - no,,, not that easy - at least for me. I also dislike the fact that so many people, bassists included, think it is some sort of pinnacle of bass playing prowess. I hope many take you advice and use it wisely. Good stuff.
  4. Bassist4Eris

    Bassist4Eris Frat-Pack Sympathizer

    I slap. But I've noticed something. I never slap on a tune that someone else in the band wrote. I have in the past, but I don't any more. The only time I slap is when I'm actually doing the songwriting on the bass. I think the reason is that it's a rather obtrusive sound. It's a sound that puts the bass part front and center. Not for supportive playing. When I write a tune from the bass parts up, the other stuff has to support the bass idea. So the guitarist and drummer have to play simpler and leave me the space to let my parts breathe. We're an instrumental band, so supporting the vocal isn't a factor.

    Whenever I try to write a slap part for someone else's tune, it sounds forced and egotistical to me. So I don't do it. YMMV and all that.
  5. Ezmar


    Jul 8, 2010
    When I said that one has to be a drummer, I meant that in the sense that every musician needs to be a drummer. Exactly as you say, the other instruments require no less rhythmical sense to be effective.
  6. Joe Nerve

    Joe Nerve

    Oct 7, 2000
    New York City
    Endorsing artist: Musicman basses
    Given the OPs definition, I'd love to hear opinions and thoughts regarding my slap fest in the video below.
  7. Swakey


    Nov 26, 2012
    Nice post.
    I can't say i like or dislike slapping. I think it is what it is. Its a useful weapon to have in your arsenal but you got to know WHEN to use it. What i don't like about it has nothing to do with tone or technique, rather that many players simply don't know when to use it and so over-use it.
  8. JTE

    JTE Supporting Member

    Mar 12, 2008
    Central Illinois, USA
    Uh, the guitar was primarily a rhythm instrument too at one time. Nothing wrong with people taking the instrument to different places. There are only 12 notes anyway, and it really doesn't matter who plays them.

    I'm a big proponent of Jack Bruce's philosophy. He once said (in a Guitar Player Magazine interview in the mid '70s) "Just because the bass has a traditional role to fill, doesn't mean one has to fulfill it in the traditional manner."

  9. JimmyM


    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    When someone tells me that I can't or shouldn't do something on a bass a certain way, the very first thing I do is do it that way. Never let anyone dictate to you how you should "do things as a bassist." It's OK to form your own belief sets about how you think it should be played...just don't impose them on me or others. People always talk about the role of bass...the role of bass is whatever the heck I feel like doing with it at any given time.
  10. Ezmar


    Jul 8, 2010
    Precisely why I didn't say anything about the role of the bass in my original post. There's nothing about Slap that goes against what "bass" should be. Only what goes against what sounds good. It's obviously subjective, but it's not a completely subjective issue. The point is, there are lots of ways to use slap incorrectly, and it's not about playing the "wrong way", it's about not understanding the musical consequences.

    I sort of wrote this to sort of show people that there's a side to slap that's harder to see. It's flashy, and it seems like if it's not working, it's because it's hard and you're simply not good enough at the technique, when most of the time it's just more about how it's used musically.
  11. 77 StingRayBass

    77 StingRayBass

    Sep 15, 2011
    Just listen to just about ANY Marcus Miller tune...especially when he's 'Thumpin'" behind a vocalist, or during a Sax or keys solo. He definitely knows how to vamp, play for the song, and make you notice his great Thumpin' and poppin' technique.

    JAUQO III-X Banned

    Jan 4, 2002
    Endorsing artist:see profile.
    Applying the slap technique is no different than applying a groove, if it works it works and if it doesn't it doesn't.

    Most of the time people don't know if any technique is working because they're blinded by their own prejudice towards a certain technique.
  13. aprod


    Mar 11, 2008
    Tasteful playing is the goal using any technique. You should be in command of the technique and not let it play you.
  14. bassbully

    bassbully Endorsed by The PHALEX CORN BASS..mmm...corn!

    Sep 7, 2006
    Blimp City USA
    Nothing wrong with it when used in the right music and in the right way. The problem is allot of young bass players try to start out and focus on it more than say learning to play in the pocket, lock in and groove.

    Many bass players feel Slap is the only way they can stick out as a bass player, go to GC and you will see that everyday.
  15. I like this.

    It all comes down to taste for me no matter the technique. I love slap but I rarely do it.

    I think to a non-musician it's more impressive than it is to us and some other bass players know this and they like to impress people and feel all warm and gooey inside but a lot of us see though that. I think that is partially why some of us look down on it.

    All my opinion.
  16. kevteop


    Feb 12, 2008
    York, UK
    I think the main reason a lot of people don't like it is because most of what they hear is bass players trying to impress other bass players. That's not music, it's noise. I imagine we all like music, but not many people like noise.

    When a slapped bass part is a well considered part of a song I can like it, but that's rare. Usually it's used to show off in solos. Personally I think the purpose of a solo is to allow an instrumentalist to show some of his/her character and their own interpretation of the mood of the tune, but too many players treat it as an opportunity to show everybody what a badass they are.

    Those people are bores, and their slapping is garbage.
  17. In the last 20+ years of playing numerous styles, I've had to slap something like 10 songs...that's it. To live by slap alone, which WAY TOO MANY players do is such a waste. I love slap; but I've been asked to tap chord changes more often than slap a bass line.
  18. Rob Lewis

    Rob Lewis

    Feb 23, 2006
    Definition of a gentleman: Someone who can play the bagpipes but never does.
    The same rule applies...
  19. Mike M.

    Mike M.

    Feb 14, 2010
    I fully admit that I suck at the slap technique to the point of giving up trying....and that's okay. That also doesn't mean that because I can't do it, that I hate it. Not so because I think it's a pretty cool technique when used right and not just for "hey, look what I can do. Beat that!!"

    Which leads me to something else. The only time I hate hearing someone slapping on the bass is during a product review when all they do is slap. No fingerstyle, no playing with a pick, just slapping away.
  20. phillybass101


    Jan 12, 2011
    Artist, Trickfish Amplification Bartolini Emerging Artist, MTD Kingston Emerging Artist. Artist, Tsunami Cables
    I could explain it but I'd be banned from TB for life. In a nutshell the technique has been bastardized by many players. Therefore it's worth or significance has been downplayed. The technique again IMO has a Father therefore is not a 'Bastard'. That man my friends is Larry Graham. For any one in MD/DC/NOVA area that would really like to learn how to, I am giving a clinic for the Virginia Bass Forum on Sunday June 2nd 2013 at Forte' Music Studios. My clinic is specifically targeted for folks who cannot slap but would like to see it broken down and explained to where they can start to slap and will be before they leave the clinic. It will be a hands on thing where I will painstakenly slow everything down and get folks slapping that day. I have no need to wow folks with my slap style and play at 100 MPH. This will be very much, groove and funk oriented with each thing taught being backed up by a case study (songs) employing the basics. A teaching and learning event.

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