Master hammer-ons and pull-offs with the help of the great Stuart Hamm. Pic: Getty

Hello, beautiful bassists and gorgeous groovers! Let’s play a piece of mine titled ‘Sexually Active’ from my very first solo release, Radio Free Albemuth, and different techniques which we can use to create fun and inspiring bass riffs.

Start by tapping the E on the 9th fret of your G string with your right hand. I prefer to use my middle finger here, as it has the most strength. While you do this, I also want you to use your left hand to fret the Bb and C on the same G string below the E that you are tapping. I use the first finger on the Bb and the pinky on the C for reasons that will soon become apparent.

Now, let’s execute our first move. Tap down with your right-hand middle finger to sound the E. As you pull your finger off the string, pluck the G string with your right-hand middle finger. In this instance, I am pulling my hand and middle finger up towards the E string, so the pull-off and plucking motion will be the same as the usual way I use my right-hand fingers to play notes. There are times, such as when I’m playing a pull-off on the G string but I want to let the open D string ring, that I would pull off away from the body so as not to dampen the open D – but not in this case.

As a consequence of pulling off and sounding the G string, the fretted C on the 5th fret will now sound. Next, pull off the C with your right-hand pinky that is fretting the C: this will cause the Bb, fretted by the first finger of your right hand, to sound. To finish it off, pull off the fretted Bb with your first finger to sound the open G. Note that I’m pulling my right hand down and away from the body of the bass to make room for the open G to ring. It looks like this!

Exercise 1

172 - Stu Hamm - Exercise 1

Next, we need to repeat the phrase backwards to repeat the lick in reverse. Notice that the open G string has is already ringing from the pull-off from the Bb in the previous exercise. Also notice that the C on beat 3 is created by hammering up from the Bb with your pinky.

Exercise 2

172 - Stu Hamm - Exercise 2

This is entirely too easy now! The whole lick is a series of sextuplets and plays at 128bpm, so you have some practicing to do.

Exercise 3

172 - Stu Hamm - Exercise 3

Now that you have the basic concept, let’s make some music – a song! Let’s use the same overall shape of open notes and play basically the same lick, but outline an Eb7 chord. Be careful as you go back up the arpeggio as you will need to let the open G ring and then tap all of the ascending notes with no hammer-on.

In Exercises 1, 2 and 3 we were outlining a C7 chord, where the open G would function as the fifth of the C arpeggio, but in 3 we are outlining an Eb7 chord, so the open G will serve as the major third of the arpeggio. Take the time to practice this slowly at first, as there are some basic right- and left-hand co-ordinations that you need to master. Then you can start to practice with a metronome and eventually get up to tempo, around 128bpm.

Okay, do you have that mastered so that you can play it along with the metronome and the beats from the metronome disappear? That’s when you know you’re getting somewhere…

But you’re not done yet!

Exercise 4

172 - Stu Hamm - Exercise 4

What we need to do now, in addition to playing this rather complicated combination of taps, hammer-ons, pull-offs and open notes, is add the first finger of your right hand playing the root of the chords at the same time. That’s right – at the same time as you play the C7 arpeggio, you need to play a whole note C on the eighth fret of your E string, and let it ring while you play the sextuplets with the other fingers of your right and left hands. Then, on the second half of the riff – in other words, the arpeggios in Eb7 on the G string – you need to hold down a whole note Eb on the sixth fret of your A string.

These two techniques will greatly benefit from any piano playing experience you have, because it will help with two-handed independence. Piano will also have taught you to keep your fingers curved, so that you play the notes with your fingertips for optimum tone – and to keep them properly arched so the notes that you play will be properly articulated while the other strings will stay quiet.

This is a challenging lesson, so stick with it and take it at your own speed until you can nail it. I know you can do it!


Stu Hamm's Counter-Sliding Harmonic Chords

“Windsor Mews” contains a technique you call “counter sliding harmonic chords.” Can you explain that concept?     This is something I have been working on for some time, and both “Windsor Mews” and “Uniformitarianism” feature this style. The idea is to