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In music, the term slapping is often used to refer to two different playing techniques used on the double bass and on the (electric) bass guitar.

Double bass

On double bass it refers to the technique that is a more vigorous version of pizzicato, where the string is plucked so hard that when released it bounces off the finger board, making a distinctive sound. A percussive sound is also made by smacking the strings with all four fingers on the right hand, usually in time with the snare drum.

The earliest players of this technique in American music include Steve Brown, Bill Johnson, Pops Foster, Wellman Braud, and Chester Zardis.

Notable slap-style double bass players have included Milt Hinton, Jake Tullock, Jimbo Wallace, Kim Nekroman, Scott Owen, Dick McCarthy, Alcide "Slow Drag" Pavageau, Phil Bloomberg, Lee Rocker, Amy LaVere and Peter O'Brien.

Slapping the bass is a technique used by many bands since at least the 1920s; it came into popular use in the 1940s. Slap bass provides a strong downbeat when the string is plucked and a strong back beat when it slaps back onto the fingerboard of the bass. It creates a very percussive sound and adds a lot of drive that is particularly good for dance music.

Yet another explanation is that snapping the strings against the wood of the instrument supplies a crisp, intense sound which can supply the foundation of a dance band.

Slap bass was used by Western Swing and Hillbilly Boogie musicians, and became an important component of an early form of rock and roll that combined blues and what was then called hillbilly music—a musical style now referred to as rockabilly. The technique inspired the George and Ira Gershwin song "Slap That Bass".

Bass guitar

On bass guitar, "slap bass" usually refers to a percussive playing technique most commonly used in funk, disco, soul, jazz, Latin, pop, and many other genres. The style sounds much more percussive than regular fingering of notes with the plucking hand, and is also usually louder and more distinct than the sound of a bass guitar played with the usual plucking techniques. The slap sound comes from the combination of two elements: striking the string with the side of the bony joint in the middle of the thumb, a harder surface than the pads of the fingers (used in plucked fingering); and intentionally allowing the vibrating string to come into contact with the metal frets, producing a "tony" or buzzing sound that is normally avoided in plucked/fingered bass.

In the slap technique, the bassist replaces the usual plucking motion of the index and middle fingers with "slaps" and "pops". In the slap, the bassist uses the bone of the thumb joint to strike the lower strings (usually the E and A, and occasionally D, strings) near the base of the guitar's neck. In the pop, the bassist will use the index and middle fingers of the plucking hand to snap the higher-pitched strings away from the body of the bass, causing them to bounce off the fretboard; this produces a prominent buzzing tone with a sharp attack and more high-frequency vibrations than present in plucked bass. The bassist can play many notes quickly by rotating the forearm, alternately slapping and popping: during the pop, the hand moves away from the fretboard, "winding up" or getting in position for the next slap. The slap and pop techniques are commonly used with pull-offs and hammer-ons with the fretting (left) hand, to further increase the rate at which notes may be played. Ghost notes, or notes played with the string damped, are also commonly played in slap bass to increase the percussive feel of the technique.

The invention of slap on electric bass guitar is generally credited to funk bassists Louis Johnson and Larry Graham. Graham has stated in several interviews that he was trying to emulate the sound of a drum set before his band had found its drummer.

Some internationally recognized rock bass guitar players known for their use of slapping in their playing include P-Nut (311), Larry Graham (Sly and the Family Stone, Graham Central Station), Marcus Miller (solo artist, Miles Davis, David Sanborn, Luther Vandross), Prince, Louis Johnson (The Brothers Johnson, Quincy Jones, Michael Jackson), Bootsy Collins (solo artist; Bootsy's Rubber Band, Funkadelic, Parliament, Praxis), Mark King (Level 42), Flea (Red Hot Chili Peppers), Jayen Varma (Indiamarker), Les Claypool (solo artist, Primus), Fieldy (Korn).

For a longer list, see List of slap bass players .


There are numerous variants of the slapping technique.

Some bassists use other fingers of the strumming hand to achieve this sound, such as bassist Abraham Laboriel, Sr., who uses his thumb to pop the strings, and his other four fingers to slap the strings. Bassist Victor Wooten uses alternating slap and pop patterns fast enough to produce the equivalent of a drumroll on the bass guitar. While Funk fingers invented by progressive rock bass player Tony Levin create a similar sound by using a hard surface to strike the strings and intentionally cause string contact with the fretboard. Instead of applying the usual slap bass technique, Indianmarker bassist Jayen Varma plays bass like the percussion instrument tabla.

The slap technique bears some resemblance to tambour, a percussive technique used in flamenco and classical guitar, although the tonal quality produced in this technique is quite different from that of a slapped electric bass.

Use in television and movies

  • The theme song for the television show Seinfeld utilises slap bass keyboard samples. A sample was also played in between scenes in each episode, often punctuating a scene or highlighting a punchline.
  • The movie Forgetting Sarah Marshall parodies Seinfeld's usage when the main character Peter (played by Jason Segel), who produces music for a TV show, inserts a goofy slap bass sample into a dramatic scene where "dark and ominous" music was needed.
  • In the popular British series The Mighty Boosh, the recurring character "The Hitcher" utilises his large thumb for playing slap bass.
  • The hit 90's show Martin features slap bass riffs as well as many sitcoms of that period with soul, funk-oriented theme songs.
  • The film I Love You Man features several references to "slappin da' bass."


  1. Milton Brown and the Founding of Western Swing. Cary Ginell. 1994. University of Illinois Press. page 252. ISBN 0-252-02041-3 see also: The Jazz Book.Double Bass Hill. 1975. p 278-84; The Complete Encyclopedia of Popular Music and Jazz House. 1974. p 923-24
  2. Milton Brown and the Founding of Western Swing. Cary Ginell. 1994. University of Illinois Press. page 252. ISBN 0-252-02041-3 see also: The Jazz Book. Hill. 1975. p 278-84; The Complete Encyclopedia of Popular Music and Jazz House. 1974. p 923-24
  3. text from Experience Music Project in Seattle, WA
  4. Bass Player magazine, Apr 07

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