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The Lowdown with Dr. D.: Upright Slap Bass: Starter tips and etudes

This is part 2 of the Upright Slap Bass series by Dr. D. Check out Part 1 and Part 3.

dr-dHere are a few etudes to help you improve your slapping. We will use a two octave G blues scale (6 note version) as our starting point. You can use any scale, arpeggio or lick you want, but this is as good as any. Use a metronome for these exercises. It will keep you honest, and also allow you to accurately gauge your progress. I suggest starting at quarter = 60 and working up from there.

First, play the scale by Snapping each note. The notation for a Snap is above the notes in this example. Some will notice that the Snap (Bartok pizz.) notation is similar to a “thumb/harmonic” notation. Here, obviously, we mean Snap.

Fig. 1: Single Snap (Click to enlarge)

Fig. 1: Single Snap (click to enlarge)

Get the snap by curling your fingers between the string and the fingerboard and pulling the string away from the fingerboard. Make sure that every note is equal in attack, tone and volume. Don’t let one string, or one note, stick out more than the others. Work this up to quarter = 100. Once you can do this easily and precisely, I suggest working on switching from pluck to Snap.

Set the metronome at 60 again and play the scale, this time alternating between a standard Pluck and a Snap for each quarter note. The result should be Snapped accents on beats 2 and 4.

Fig. 2: Pluck/Snap (click to enlarge)

Fig. 2: Pluck/Snap (click to enlarge)

Pluck by pulling away from the fingerboard, just like a Snap, but use less force on the plucked notes so they don’t end up as Snaps! Work this up to quarter = 100.

Set the metronome back to 60 and play the scale like we did the first time, with every pitch getting a Snap, no plucking, and also insert a Slap in between each note. Do this in duple meter (straight eighths). The resulting sound should be a quarter note slapped scale, with a Slap on every upbeat. I have indicated the slaps here with an “x” as the notehead.

Fig. 3: Snap/Single Slap (click to enlarge)

Fig. 3: Snap/Single Slap (click to enlarge)

Don’t hit the strings/fingerboard too hard. Use only the minimum amount of effort needed. The slap can occur with your fingers, thumb, or palm of the hand, depending on your technical approach, what string you are on, and the speed. Work this up to quarter = 100.

Set the metronome back to quarter=60 and play the scale, again with a single slap in between…..but this time, do it as a shuffle. Subdivide each beat by 3 with a single snap on the third subdivision of each beat. Keep your wrist and arm flexible, and don’t get too tense! Work this up to quarter = 100.

Fig. 4: Snap/Single Slap Shuffle (click to enlarge)

Fig. 4: Snap/Single Slap Shuffle (click to enlarge)

Do the scale again (quarter=60), but this time add two slaps in between each pitched Snap and play it in compound (triple) meter. Even though the pitches still fall on the beats, the slapping should create a sense of constant triplets. Keep the rhythm rock solid, and keep the Snaps and Slaps balanced. Work this up to quarter = 100 or higher.

Fig. 5: Snap/Double Slap and Drag triplet (click to enlarge)

Fig. 5: Snap/Double Slap and Drag triplet (click to enlarge)

This is a good etude to develop your drag triplet technique mentioned in part 1.

Set the metronome back to 60 and do this same thing again, but divide the beat by 4 (sixteenth notes) and play the two slaps on the last two subdivisions of the beat. The resulting rhythm should be eighth and two sixteenths, or a “gallup” rhythm. Work this up to quarter = 100 or higher. Again, this is a good etude to develop your drag triplet technique mentioned in part 1.

Fig. 6: Snap/Double Slap (Gallup Rhythm) (click to enlarge)

Fig. 6: Snap/Double Slap (Gallup Rhythm) (click to enlarge)

Once you can execute the etudes above cleanly and accurately, you should have the technical capacity to play basic Slap bass found in most bluegrass and rockabilly. There are other common rhythmic patterns of course, and stylistic concerns, but if you master the basic techniques above you should be able to adapt to them easily.

For extremely fast slapping, like that in Psychobilly, you will definitely need to learn the “Drag Triplet” technique and be able to execute things at a faster tempo.

Next: Part 2 – Starter tips and etudes