3 Ways To Slap Bass Like Oteil Burbridge (My Personal Take)

April 28, 2024
Slap bass like Oteil Burbridge - Image of Posido Vega slapping on the bass guitar with Ghosts

If you wanna’ take your slap bass technique to the next level and unlock a whole new realm of groove, check out these 3 incredibly effective percussive slap bass techniques that’ll make your grooves come alive!

The techniques I’m about to show you come from my personal take on how to slap bass like Oteil Burbridge. While Oteil may be known for singing along to his solos or his crazy bass chords, his approach to slap bass is unique and a total favorite of mine!

Whether you’re a seasoned bassist or just starting your musical journey, these techniques will inject a subtle energy into your playing that’ll have heads bobbing and bodies moving.

So, grab your bass and get ready to slap your way into the groove, Oteil Burbridge style!

Let’s get started.

TL;DR

If you’re short on time, watch my video “Slap Bass Like Oteil Burbridge (My Personal Take)”. In this video, I’ll breakdown 3 percussive slap bass techniques that I think Oteil uses. This is just my own personal interpretation on what I think Oteil is doing, based on trying to emulate things I’ve transcribed and lifted from his playing.

YouTube video
Slap Bass Like Oteil Burbridge (My Personal Take)

Common Approach To Slap Bass Technique

Many bass players start out slapping the bass by alternating their slap and pop.

There is nothing wrong with this approach. It’s a common technique that’s easy to do and has a certain sound to it.

However, this approach (if you’re not doing it right) can lead to a busy sounding groove that feels stiff. Which can also be challenging for drummers to play along to.

If you’re new to slapping the bass, I recommend checking out how other bass players do it. That way, you can find an approach that resonates most with your style of playing.

Up next, we’ll explore an alternate “drummer-like” approach, one that often uses both hands interchangeably. This is how I interpret Oteil Burbridge’s approach to slapping the bass.

By thinking like a drummer, your grooves:

  • will be more percussive
  • are sure to stand apart
  • become easier to play along to
  • open up the possibilities to play notes other than octaves
  • will be more dynamic

Percussive Slap Bass Techniques In The Style Of Oteil Burbridge

Now, there are no videos that I’m aware of where Oteil teaches his unique approach to slapping the bass. So, here’s my personal take that I’ve developed from listening to him play the bass with The Aquarium Rescue Unit back in 1995.

And, there are 3 things that it sounds like he’s doing in order to get a percussive sound:

  1. Frethand Ghost Notes: Ghost notes create an underlying rhythmic current. Adding a few ghost notes time-to-time can give your groove rhythmic propulsion. Keep in mind, ghost notes, should be less heard and more felt. So try to keep the dynamics of your ghost notes lower in volume most of the time. Using your fretting hand to play these ghost notes frees up your other hand to play other stuff.
  2. Backbeat Pops: You don’t always have to play a backbeat. But, throwing in a backbeat to your groove once in a while can make things start to bump. Oteil will often play a muted pop (meaning the pop will not have a discernible pitch). This is an effective way to ground your groove, no matter how rhythmic things start to get.
  3. Frethand Leading: Start your grooves with a hammer-on with your fretting hand. Doing this allows your slapping and popping hand to play something else on a different string. This also leads to independence with your hands, opening up the doors for more drummer-like bass grooves.

Note: It’s fine to throw these techniques into your grooves every now-and-then to propel your groove. But, always use your ears when it comes to playing ghost notes to avoid stepping on the drummers toes.

Frequently Asked Questions

Lingo used in different contexts can sometimes have different meanings. So, let’s clear a few things up with some of the terminology in this bass lesson so that we’re all on the same page.

What is a backbeat?

The term “backbeat” refers to a specific rhythmic accentuation that you’ll often find in popular music, particularly in rock, blues, and jazz. A backbeat is characterized by emphasizing beats 2 and 4 of a four-beat measure. Placing emphasis on these offbeats, creates a syncopated or “groovy” feel.

In the video bass lesson above, I maintain a backbeat on 2 & 4 with my slap and pop groove. Pops can be very percussive and similar to that of a snare drum. When you’re popping your string on the electric bass, be sure to keep your fretting hand from pressing down on any note too hard. The idea is that you’re popped note should not be discernible, making a more snap like sound.

What are ghost notes?

Ghost notes, also known as dead notes or muted notes, are used in nearly all styles of music. It’s basically a percussive, muted sound, that doesn’t have a discernible pitch.

Now, you’re probably wondering what’s the point of playing a ghost note, a note that doesn’t have a discernible pitch. The reason is that ghost notes add rhythm to your grooves.

The first time I saw Oteil Burbridge live, back in 1995, opened up my mind, particularly with the rhythmic placement of ghost notes. From what it seems, Oteil often places ghost notes prior to a target note, creating rhythmic gravity toward that target note.

On the bass guitar, ghost notes are typically created by lightly pressing down on a string with the fretting hand, causing the note to be muted or dampened. When there’s just enough pressure to prevent the string from producing a clear pitch, but still allow it to vibrate slightly, then that string is plucked, you’re able to get a “thud” or “click” sound. There other ways to do this, but this is the most common way.

In the introduction to the bass lesson video above, I insert ghost notes in the spaces of the bass groove, mostly from hammer-ons.

Mastering ghost notes requires precision and control, as it involves striking a delicate balance between applying enough pressure to mute the string and allowing it to vibrate slightly. So, practice this technique with a metronome.

Now, It’s Your Turn

Frethand Ghost Notes, Backbeat Pops and Frethand Leading, can take your groove to the next level and unlock a world of rhythmic possibilities. I got these ideas from my own transcriptions and personal interpretation of how to slap bass like Oteil Burbridge. Then, I adapted these ideas to my own playing.

It’ll take time to master these techniques on your instrument, and you’ll probably feel awkward and clumsy at first. But, the effort and reward will be well worth it. With dedication and perseverance, you’ll unlock a world of groove that’ll leave a lasting impact on your bass playing. Keep pushing boundaries, exploring your creativity, and always apply it to the songs you’re learning.

Keep reading for more bass guitar lessons, like this.

PosidoVega

Hi! I’m Posido Vega, a multi-passionate creative. I’m an artist, bass player, jazz theory enthusiast, children’s book author and illustrator, and SEO 😅.

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