Slap Bass - The Basics

A bass lesson explaining the basic slapping and popping of the slap bass technique.

Ultimate Guitar
Most bass players obviously either play with a plectrum, slapping and popping or their index and middle finger. There are three finger techniques and double thumbing but in most cases most bass lines are played with these three methods. 

In my opinion the main influences in my slap bass technique is Marcus Miller, Larry Graham (creator of the slap bass style), Anthony Wellington and Victor Wooten

This series is designed to take you through the necessary steps to be able to play slap bass. This series also highlights the use of using slap bass for fills or phrases in an otherwise finger style song. This will give you the ability to switch mid song and not stay rooted in one or the other the entire track.

Slapping technique

The actual technique is achieved by striking the string with the hard part of the side of your thumb.

There are two different approaches to this technique. One is to keep your hand in the same position as you would when playing with your fingers so your hand is perpendicular to the strings and then rotate your wrist to achieve the strike against the string.

Due to playing a 5 string (normally) I found this technique extremely awkward in slapping higher strings, as I would cause other strings to ring in sympathy to my wrist attack.

To counteract this, I use the other approach. For this, you have to rotate your wrist so it’s like your hitchhiking. Your hand is diagonal to the strings and then rotating the wrist to strike the string.

This in my opinion gives more clarity, definition and accuracy for my playing style.

Popping technique

The technique involved for popping is similar to playing with your fingers except you bend your fingers under the strings.

To achieve the "popping" sound, you simply pull up against the string. As the string bounces off the frets and fretboard, it creates that bright pop tone. 

When popping you can use both your middle and index fingers to give versatility and speed to your slap playing. The best way to achieve an even tone and volume between the index and middle fingers is to slowly practice with each finger individually and then together once you build confidence.

Putting both together

Once you can perform the accurate popping technique and one of the two thumb techniques, you can put both of them together to create an effective way to practice.

For this example we will be creating a percussive rhythm of 8th notes in an octave pattern (string skipping) on the E and D strings then on the A and G strings. If you have a 5 or 6 string bass, make sure to practice on all of them (B to A string, E to D string, A to G string, D to C string).

8th note octave exercise

To start this exercise should be practiced with muted strings to concentrate solely on the right hand movement. For the tab version of this exercise, the strings are marked with X's to show they are muted.


G ---------------------|---X---X---X---X--|
D ------X---X---X---X-|-------------------|
A ---------------------|-X---X---X---X----|
E ----X---X---X---X---|-------------------|

T = Slap (Thumb)
P = Pop

Practice both exercises slowly with a metronome. Increase the tempo slowly to get confident with the technique quickly and properly. Cutting corners during your practice (by going fast straight away, or without a metronome) can lead to sloppy technique and inconsistent rhythm/timing.

For 5 and 6 string basses (bassists), or even guitarists practice this exercise on all strings.

4 comments sorted by best / new / date

    This would go better with a video at the end. I'm having a hard time translating the text to practice. A video with examples would helped me a lot. I realize there's a lot of them on YouTube, but they are not related to this article and might use a little different technique then explained here.
    what i guess they are saying with the diagonal hand technique is to have your hand positioned so that your thumb is in line with the strings instead of spread across all of them.
    This lesson and 15 others will be available via my website with notation, tab and video soon. Like already stated, the video will really help to explain a few visual concepts that won't be apparent through text. That's random. Why would you want to make a video of someone else's lesson?