Our first Bass post comes to us from guest author Tim Hays.  Tim is director of the music business and applied music programs at Elmhurst College, and has served as president of the Music and Entertainment Industry Educators Association (MEIEA), the world’s leading organization devoted to music business education.

The slap/pluck electric bass style has proponents from Flea to funky Marcus Miller clones everywhere in R&B land.  It helps to know that the first one to use this style was Sly and the Family Stone’s bassist’s Larry Graham.  He was attempting to make up for the lack of a drummer in a gospel band he was playing in, so be started to use his right hand, and later his left hand as percussion elements, rather than just his fingers to pluck the strings.

Most bassists can figure the downstroke of the right thumb followed by the upstroke of the index finger, most commonly heard in an octave pattern.  Say low C to high C, etc.  What they can’t figure out is that if you simply do that — no matter how quickly — you will not replicate the machine gun speed and percussive quality that real slap stylists do all the time. If you watch their right hand, you’ll never figure this out, whether you’re looking at a video or some bass funkster at Guitar Center.

That’s becasue it’s not just a right hand attack technique. The left hand is also attacking, or rather tapping the string as well. One common 16th note pattern is a thumb downstroke on a muted open string, left hand tap, thumb downstroke, octave higher pluck. It’s best to simply practice the thumb attack on a muted string and the left tap answer until this generates an even, if slow tempo.  It’s also best to use a metrone to keep the tempo, and increase it after the basic beat is generated by your right and left hand.

This is a percussion technique first and foremost, and you can practice this even away from your instrument. I think I learned the pattern of this on a long boring drive where I tapped my hands on the steering wheel for hours until is started to feel natural and in the pocket. This is a technique where you have to start slow and accurate, and then speed it up. One of the best methods I’ve seen for lots of detail in developing this style is the series of books and videos by Alexis Sklarevski. He does a great job of breaking things down into small steps.

BTW: Just because you may not have heard of him, doesn’t mean he can’t teach — which he does, very well.  Conversely, just because you HAVE heard of someone doesn’t mean they CAN teach.  Happy slapping!