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Slap technique pointers

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Do I even dare?

I'm trying to learn to play slap. I've looked at Youtube until my brain hurts and am getting nowhere. The frustration is compounded by two factors; I'm  a reasonable (two) finger-style player (ear and technique > theory) an injury to my middle finger on my right (plucking) hand has turned me into James Jamerson- index or nothing.

Online videos and tuition do precisely nothing to address useful basic questions to which I have no answers, so here goes... I hope also that this may give others a starting point or at least a basis for comparison.

Instrument choice- 4 or 5? Active or passive? Single or twin pickups? String spacing- narrow or wide?

Strings- Age, condition, material, gauge, design... does it even matter?

Gain Architecture- Instrument volume up full? High gain and lower master volume? Or less aggressive gain settings?

EQ- On the instrument and on the amp. Do pedals/ fx help? Which leads nicely to...

Compression- None? A little? Or a lot?


Where does the motion originate; the elbow or the wrist?

What even is thumb up and thumb down?

What direction am I striking the string in; downwards or inwards so it hits the last fret?

Where should I hit it? Up by the neck, over the pickup?

How hard!? 

Which digit should I pop with? Index, middle or either? 

How much finger should I by using to pop with? the best sound I can get is by using so much it won't fit between the strings! Less, and it deteriorates into nothing. 

Thanks in advance for any and all input.

Now all I have to do is find somewhere in the house that neither cats nor humans will roll their eyes as soon as I put thumb to string! 


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Posted (edited)

Instrument? Doesn’t matter, but wider string spacing helps to start.

Strings? Doesn’t matter, although some prefer a lighter gauge with a low action.

I’d go with a clean tone, certainly to start with.

Happy, smiley, mid-scoop EQ, to start with.

Comp helps, if you have it, but not super important at the start, fast attack, and release to taste.

I feel it comes from the wrist, but your forearm can’t help but follow and keep the thumb loose (keep it all loose in fact).

The rest is all what you fancy/feel comfy. For me, again, FOR ME, I like to slap against the last couple of frets and pop with my index. The action feels like it’s straight down, 90° to the neck, but given I use a rotation of my wrist/forearm, it’s probably more down & across the string towards the floor. In terms of up and down (double thumbing), I’d stick to down strokes to start with, as double is probably more an advanced technique, but try it if you want, it may feel easy and natural, especially if you’ve used a pick and use alternate up and down picking.

As with any new technique, start slow and easy, maybe just thumb with no pop for a while.

This is all what I would do, again, WHAT I WOULD DO, there are no hard and fast rules as this is  still, in the grand scheme of things, a relatively new technique and there is certainly no right or wrong way to do it. However, watch out for bruising on the side of your thumb (just look at how much tape Mark King puts on his thumb).


Edited by ezbass
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As far as the actual technique is concerned, I'd say most of the motion is coming from the forearm rather than than the wrist or elbow. Some players, like Louis Johnson use big movements from the elbow at times, but the majority comes from a forearm rotation. For the best tone, I'd say to play over the end of the neck so that the string can hit the top fret. Some guys really hit hard, but it isn't necessary to get a good sound. Playing thumb up or down is often dependent on your bass position. Flea has his bass pretty low, so plays thumb down. Mark King has his bass really high and plays thumb up. Most people sit in the middle and I find that having the thumb up or sideways is more accurate than playing thumb down, especially on the higher strings. For popping, you can use any or all fingers, but most people use index and/or middle.

For the sound, I like an active jazz style bass with some mid scoop. Newer strings help with the brightness too.  Some players use a lot of compression, others don't, so you just have to experiment there.  All this side is personal preference- there are guys who slap on a Precision who sound great, and others who nail it on 6 and 7 strings.

Personally, I spent a long time trying to get Marcus Millers technique down and I've used it for years. Lately though, I've been trying to switch it up in to more of an Alain Caron kind of thing.

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Louis Johnson used flats.

Mark King uses 30 - 90 RW SS set which is really twangy and fun.

The higher placement of the bass may help you in the beginning. I tended to slap against the fretboard.

My big finding was to hit the E twice with my thumb. Then pop once with my index and later on, twice with index and middle.

Slap it! by Tony Oppenheim is still decent book (check YT videos), @Joe Hubbard Bass did a book Basslines (Amsco publications, 1985, ISBN 0.7119.0622.X) which has Rio funk, Heathrow and others.

I used to play with a 4-string that had 19 mm bridge spacing. My next bass was a 5-string with 17 mm bridge spacing and I never learned to slap with it. Now I have a 5-string with 19 mm bridge, but there are practically no songs where slapping is needed. All parties are happy...

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