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SLAP 101 – Introduction to Playing Slap on the Upright (Part I)

March 15, 2012

Slapping my bass was not a technique I had ever given much thought to, until I got a call about six months ago. A drummer friend of mine asked if I wanted to audition for a rockabilly group. Not my normal style, but a gig’s a gig, right? I got a CD of the set the next day and popped it in. 100% Slap bass. I had my work cut out for me. In searching around the online world, there really wasn’t too much out there, so I mostly just listened to the recordings and did what seemed natural. I’m certainly no expert in slap bass, but I thought I’d offer a few simple exercises that I cooked up over that week to get my own chops going. These focus more on the rhythms than actual right hand technique, as accepted opinions of what is “correct” vary so widely; you’ll have to experiment to find a technique that works for you.

Although a bassist is always striving to bridge the gap between rhythm and harmony, slapping certainly lends itself more towards the former. My initial thought was to break out one of my snare drum rudiment books, and this was indeed a good starting point; but with 25 variations on 8th notes — on just the first page — I felt the need to pare it down to just a few widely used variations that, in combination, can prove to be the most useful in many situations where slapping is called for.

(click on the graphic to open it larger in your browser)

The first exercise is a basic descending line that will be used as a basis for subsequent exercises. Play through first with regular pizz, to familiarize yourself a bit with the line. Once your left hand is accustomed to the pattern, we’ll add in the single slap. Instead of plucking the string, you will pull it up and release it, providing a lovely slap against the fingerboard; this is known as a single slap, also known in orchestral circles as a “Bartok Pizz.” Play the line enough times until you are comfortable doing this for every note.

Now we’ll change it up a bit, not every note needs to be a slap! Try the line again with regular Pizz on 1 & 3 and a single slap on 2 & 4, accenting like a drummer’s hi hat would. Play these three variations slowly, with a metronome, gradually adjusting speed as accuracy increases. Try going through the three variations one after another in 4 bar phrases.

Exercise number two is going to introduce the double slap; playing the note, and then hitting the string with your palm or fingertips afterwards to make a percussive sound. This will result in a string of eighth notes that is a common feel found in many early rockabilly recordings, and previous to that, in early jazz. We will implement the same line as the previous exercise, while adding an extra slapped eighth note between each articulated note. This is one of the most common patterns, and as such it has numerous variations. Take the time to familiarize yourself with each, as they all have their own specific use. Much like in example one, each note can be played standard pizz or Bartok pizz. Now that we have begun to work with eighth notes, we have the choice to play straight eighths or to swing our eighth notes — this is where it can get interesting, you now have 4 variations on a theme. It’s a simple concept that can be greatly expanded upon.

This is just barely scratching the surface of this technique, but a simple way to get a jump (jive?) start. Next up, Triple slaps!


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