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Bass Transcription: Federico Malaman’s “Speed Demon”

Like many bassists of my generation, I grew up loving the grooves on Michael Jackson’s records, be it Louis Johnson’s slapped parts on the Off the Wall album, or the heavy synth lines from albums like Thriller and Bad. But the track we all wanted to be able to play was “Speed Demon” from Bad, a hyperactive little number with a bass part that was just too ridiculous to be real.

Of course, it wasn’t real, it was a programmed synth track, but that didn’t stop many of us from having a go at it. Unsuccessfully in my case.

Federico Malaman – one of the bass world’s most inventive and promising players – is one of the few who cracked it. “I was born in 1979 so I was very young when I first heard it” he notes. “I was like wow! Is that a real bass?! When I realised it wasn’t I decided I would have to learn to play it on the bass before I die!”

Malaman’s tribute to the track was filmed in 2012 and quickly did the rounds on Facebook and the many bass forums around the world, making it perfect for this month’s transcription. Here it is:

The track opens with the main Verse groove of the song, which essentially outlines an Am7 chord. This is played with conventional slap and pop technique, although the use of well-placed hammer-ons and the practice of popping and slapping on the same string in quick succession make this sound more complex than it is. Federico adds A Dorian-based fills every few bars, such as in bars 4, 6 and 17. When we spoke, Federico was keen to point out that he had arranged his version from memory and that the fills he played do not appear on the original version.

Of course, it’s the Chorus that’s the star of the show. Based around a D7 chord, the first bar features a blazing lick played in thirty-second notes. This is played using a very fast application of a slap and a pop. This can be very tough to do on the same string – as you are required to do here – and at this tempo. Note that fingerings for your fretting hand have been written above the stave and slap guidelines are included between the two staves. This lick is very challenging and even Federico admits that it’s not for the faint-of-heart: ‘If I have to play this song, I have to warm up’ he laughs. ‘I have to play the lick slowly for fifteen minutes or so before I can do it.’

NOTE: Alternatively, you can play this lick using the double thumb technique as shown below:

Bass Transcription: Federico Malaman’s “Speed Demon” - alternate

After the track has come to an end, Federico plays a fast, slapped lick for two bars. This is played in the same way that Victor Wooten played his song “Me and My Bass Guitar”. The lick is based on a simple, syncopated figure which is played by hammering on with the fretting hand (the pitched notes in the score). After each note is hammered, the thumb of the picking hand slaps the string and is followed by a pop. Both of these are dead notes. This series of three notes is then repeated, with the pitched fretted note moving around as notated. You should find that this is quite simple to play slowly: building it up to the speed Federico plays it on the video is another matter…

Have fun with this month’s transcription. Technically speaking, it’s probably the most challenging piece to play that I’ve transcribed for this column so it should keep you busy.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some practice to do!

Download the transcription (PDF – Standard notation and tab)