Do you want to play gospel, funk, or fusion music? Slap bass is a technique you must know for certain rhythmic styles of music.
In this bass lesson, I’ll show you essential slap bass technique for getting an authentic percussive sound that’s found in many syncopated bass grooves. Learn these techniques and you’ll be able to play slap bass in no time.
Bass players like Victor Wooten, Flea, Gary Grainger, Oteil Burbridge, Marcus Miller, and Brian Bromberg often use thumb slap techniques in their music. I’ll show you how to do these techniques and start thinking like a drummer.
What you’ll learn:
- essential slap technique on the bass guitar
- how to get percussive ghost notes and that authentic slap sound
- different approaches for slapping the bass
- how to think like a drummer
- the best scale for slap bass fills
- and more!
Pick up your bass guitar. Let’s dive in.
If you’re short on time, watch my video that breaks down my approach to slap bass technique and the process on how I ended up slapping bass the way I do today.
Essential slap bass techniques (aka Thump bass, Thumping, Slap and Pop)
Slapping the bass (aka thump bass or slap and pop) is a great way of adding a percussive element to your bass playing. The technique used to slap the bass can vary depending on what style you want to play.
There are a variety of techniques to slap the bass. The most common way is to strike the string with your thumb, and follow the strike with a pop (pulling the string with either your pointer or middle finger until the string snaps back in place against the fretboard).
More advanced techniques incorporate hammer-ons with your fretting hand while you pluck or pop a fretted or open string. This allows you to play notes (muted or sounded) with your fretting hand, which frees up your slapping hand. When the left and right hand to work together you’re able to create some really cool rhythms and bass lines.
In this bass lesson video, I’ll show you the basics of slap bass, tips for getting your ghost notes to sound more percussive, and ways to approach thinking like a drummer. If you’re getting started with slap, watch this video lesson.
Ways To Approach Your Slap Technique
One of the best things you can do to understand how to approach this technique is to listen and watch a lot of bass players that already do it and have a sound that you like.
You’ll notice right away, that every bassist approaches this technique differently. There really isn’t a wrong way to do it if you get the sound that you’re after and you’re not injuring yourself.
If you’re having trouble learning basic slap, I encourage you to try many ways until you find a way that works for you.
Basic slap bass technique
Learn how to play slap by watching other slap bass players do it. Pay attention to their thumb technique, wether they’re using index or middle finger for popping the strings, and the amount of force being used to create the slapping and popping sounds, etc…
Hard Touch versus Light Touch
You don’t have to hit the strings very hard in order to get a good slap bass sound. Having that said, a lot of bass players still slap the bass hard. Check out the difference between a hard feel versus a light feel. A heavy or light touch will affect the sound when the string hits the end of the fretboard.
Bassist: Louis Johnson
Louis Johnson is a monster at slapping the bass. Check out his aggressive approach.
Bassist: Larry Graham
Larry Graham (Sly and the Family Stone) is known and often accepted as the originator of the iconic slap bass technique. Both Larry Graham and Louis Johnson use a hard touch with their playing technique, which results in a percussive effect.
Bassist: Brian Bromberg
Brian Bromberg looks like he’s not even moving his hand. You’ll often hear him create a muted note with his fretting hand in order to get a percussive sound. In addition, his contact with the string is a very light touch. Check out the economy of motion with his approach.
Bounce Off the String versus Striking Through
Some bass players will bounce their thumb off the string, and others will strike through the string until the thumb rests on the next string.
The difference in the sound that you get is subtle.
Bassist: Mark King
Mark King (Level 42) bounces his thumb off of the string when he slaps. Take a look at this way of slapping the bass.
Bassist: Bill “The Buddha” Dickens
Bill “The Buddha” Dickens mostly seems to push his thumb into the string or strike through. And then sometimes he seems to bounce off the string. And other times, his technique involves that you rotate your hand from the wrist, while keeping your forearm still. Wrist rotation is a small movement that is efficient and allows you to learn how to slap at a fast speed. See his technique.
Parallel Thumb versus Angled or Perpendicular Thumb
I’ve seen bass players that have their thumb parallel to the string, while others will have their thumb 45 degrees to perpendicular.
Flea often slaps the strings with his thumb at a 45 degree angle. Check out his energetic approach.
Bassist: Reggie Parker
Reggie Parker keeps his thumb parallel to the strings when he slaps. He’s got a great slap bass tone.
Pop with Pointer Finger versus Popping with the Middle Finger
Some bassists will use their pointer finger (index finger) to pull the string for their pops, and others will use their middle finger.
Bassist: Oteil Burbridge
Oteil Burbridge uses his pointer finger to the pop the strings. He gets a really aggressive snap for his pops.
Bassist: Victor Wooten
Victor Wooten uses both the pointer finger and middle finger to get double pops. He also incorporates a lot of other techniques, like double thump with his right thumb. Double thumping is when the thumb strikes through the string, makes contact with the fretboard, then picks the string again on the way up.
Think Like A Drummer
A lot of bass players that use slap and pop technique will approach their rhythms by thinking like a drummer.
An easy way to begin with is to treat your slaps as a bass drum and the pops as the snare drum.
Start out with simple rhythms at first.
Another way to think like a drummer is to alternate your slaps with hammer-ons.
By using both of your hands together, you can play faster rhythms and insert ghost notes into your playing, thus producing a syncopated groove.
In order to get good sounding ghost notes, practice damping your strings keeping the fingers of your fretting hand flat.
Bassist: Les Claypool
Les Claypool often creates slap bass riffs that are very much like something you’d hear a drummer play. Check out how he uses both of his hands to create this effect for the Primus tune “My Name Is Mud.” This was the song that got me interested in playing the bass!
Is slapping bass hard?
Slap bass technique isn’t hard. At first the movement may feel clumsy. Your thumb might miss your target string often, but that’s totally normal.
Just like with anything new, it takes time and practice. I recommend that you practice techniques with a metronome. That way you’ll quickly reveal any inaccuracies in your playing.
You have to try many ways of slap bass playing and find what works for you.
I like to keep my thumb parallel to the strings, strike through the string (not bounce) with a very light touch, and pop the string with my middle finger.
Can you slap on any bass?
You can slap on any bass guitar. However, not all bass guitars are optimally setup for a slap-style approach.
If the string action is too high, you’ll find it harder to get the sound out.
If the strings are flat wounds, you’ll find it hard to get the slap tone you want.
If the bass guitar is fretless, the percussive sound will be different. A lot of the percussive sound is created from the string hitting the frets.
Best Scale for Slap Bass Fills
The best scale for slap bass fills is the minor pentatonic scale. It’s a 5-note scale that is structured: 1, b3, 4, 5, b7.
The scale has a familiar sound and the shapes from this scale lends itself well to this approach because your hand and fingers can remain in a closed position.
Hammer-ons are also very easy with this scale. A lot of bass players that incorporate advanced slap bass technique will use hammer-ons.
Now It’s Your Turn
The best way to learn and develop your slap bass technique is to just do it. And, do it a lot.
The technique is tricky to get at first. But, once you get the feel of how to strike the string with your thumb, you won’t forget it.
Also, listen to a lot of bass players that use this technique. Listen to the rhythms that they play and their tone.
You’ll be slapping the bass like a pro in no time.
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