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Slapping on Bass Guitar Lesson #1

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Doug Wellington
doug@arizona.edu
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 (ian@ohm.york.ac.uk) 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!
__
|-----------------| |--/--\--------------------
|-----------------| | \ | .
|--5----7---------| |---@--|-------------------
|-----------------| | / . 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
|-------------|
|o-----------o|
|o-5--7------o|
|--------0----|
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.
Email any comments to me: doug@arizona.edu.
This article (c) Copyright 1993 by Doug Wellington.
You may distribute it freely so long as it is not modified.

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Previous tapping and slapping lessons are available via FTP from
KAPPA.RICE.EDU in the directory /pub/bass/lessons. If you do not
have FTP, and wish to retrieve the lessons via email, send mail to
ftpmail@decwrl.dec.com with the message "help".
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