Slapping On Bass Guitar. Part 1 - Basics

author: UG Team date: 07/31/2003 category: bass lessons

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Slapping on Bass Guitar Lesson #1 ================================ This is the first in a series of lessons on slapping and popping on the bass guitar. It was inspired by discussion on the Usenet News group rec. music. makers. bass and will be distributed there and on The Bottom Line. Ian Stephenson ( started with a lesson on tapping, and I am going to continue in his style, which means using ascii tab and notation. If anyone has better suggestions for presentation, please write to me at the above address. Like Ian, I would like to get some feedback as to how you like this lesson and its format. We'll start with some real basics, and progress from there. The first thing to decide is how to hold the bass for slapping. There are two extremes. The first, which I call the Tony Oppenheim style, uses a low positioning of the bass. This results in the arm being straighter and the fingers of the slapping hand being perpendicular to the strings. The other extreme, practiced by Stu Hamm, is to have the bass higher which results in the forearm being perpendicular to the strings and the elbow resting almost directly above the bridge. I suggest that you try both styles and see which one is more comfortable. If you hang your bass low, try the Oppenheim method. If you are more of a "jazzer" and have your bass up high, then the Stu Hamm method will be easier. I think I'm a jazzer, so I wear my bass up as high as my strap will go.: -) One of the most important things in slapping is developing good speed. The best way to be fast is to learn to relax as much as possible. It is especially important to relax the slapping hand. Let your hand hang down naturally by your side. Now, without changing the position of your fingers, bend your arm and hold your hand over the strings right at the end of the fretboard. This is very close to the position you want your hand to remain in. Mute the strings with your fretting hand. Keep your thumb down behind the neck, with the contact point about half way down. Your thumb should be pointing almost straight up. Rest your fingers lightly on the fretboard, just enough to keep the strings quiet. Try to keep your fingers as straight as possible. Keep your slapping hand at the end of the fretboard, with your thumb hanging over the last frets and your first finger between the end of the fretboard and your pickup. Now, twist your slapping arm so that your thumb moves away from the bass. The arm itself should remain stationary and just rotate. You only have to twist enough so that your thumb is at most 3 inches (75 mm) away from the strings. Rotate the arm back towards the bass, let your thumb hit the E string, then bounce back. Do this almost as lightly as possible, just enough to hear a "click". Repeat this motion several times, always hitting the E string. Once you feel comfortable with this, move to the A string and continue until you feel comfortable with that. Then alternate slaps on the E and A strings. Now for some noise! Lift your fretting fingers off of the strings, and try some slaps. Slap once and then lightly mute the strings again. Repeat this until you get a nice consistant sound and can dampen the strings quietly. (We'll get into left hand slaps in a future lesson. ) If you have a metronome, set it to somewhere between 40 and 50 beats per minute, and slap and mute one note per beat. Start slow and strive for consistancy. You want a nice steady beat and a smooth mute. OK, OK, I know you guys are itching to go on, so I'll give you one more tidbit before signing off until the next lesson. Another important element of slapping is hammer ons. A hammer on is when you play a note with your fretting hand, usually right after you have played one with your picking hand. To demonstrate, place the first finger of your fretting hand on the fifth fret of the A string, and slap the A string. Now firmly place your pinky finger of your fretting hand down onto the seventh fret, sounding a higher note. Cool, huh? Start up the metronome again, and setting it to between 40 and 50, practice this slap and hammer on until it is smooth. Don't bother muting this, let the notes ring. Slap the note on the beat, and then hammer on half way in between the beats. Go for smooth and steady!
|-----------------||  \   | .
|-----------------||      / .   O
   S    H|-----/-------O------------
|    /
Once you get that down, let's combine a slap and hammer on with a slap and mute. Start with your first finger on the fifth fret of the A string. Slap the A string, then hammer on to the seventh fret. Now slap the open E string, then mute. Release enough pressure on the A string to stop the note just as you slap the E string. Keep the muting as noiseless as possible. TAB for this looks like:
   q  q  q  q
   S  H  S  M
Work this up by starting slowly (40-50 beats per minute) and then moving up. Make it smooth and relaxed now and it will be lightning fast later. So, work on this and we'll add to it next time.
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