THIS MONTH, ANTHONY VITTI ANDLenny Stalworth of Berkleemusic.com and the Berklee School of Music share some tips culled from their new online Slap Bass course. Go to berkleemusic.com to sign up.
When we decided to write this course for Berklee Music Online, we wanted it to be a history of slap bass. We first take the students back to some of the early upright players who pioneered slap, like Wellman Braud, George “Pops” Foster, Milt Hinton, and Willie Dixon. We then cover the history of the great electric slap players. The early slappers had basic techniques that used octaves, hammer-ons, and pull-offs. Mimicking the early players enables us to play more difficult modern variations of slap bass.
We highlight a different player every week, including Larry Graham, Louis Johnson, Janice Johnson, Aaron Mills, Stanley Clarke, Alphonso Johnson, and Marcus Miller. The students receive transcriptions to play with backing tracks, along with many listening examples to reinforce their contributions to slap bass. There is extensive listening throughout the course, with an emphasis on lesser-known players who made tremendous contributions to slap bass. We make a distinction in this course between the rock style of slap bass and traditional funk and R&B styles (we both come from a deep funk and R&B background). Students will be able to take the skills gained from this course and apply them to any style they want to pursue.
Each of us brings different skills to the course. Lenny plays primarily 5-string, while Anthony usually plays 4. Here are some crucial exercises to develop your slap technique
Example 1 is a basic eighth-note octave technique that’s essential for building your rhythmic repertoire. It feels natural and is easily executed because it’s played with an up-and-down motion. The third bar incorporates 16th notes on beat four. This line is simple and efficient and should be practiced at different tempos.
Example 2 is a 16th-note pattern that combines several techniques. I’ve written hammer-ons, pull-offs, and slides to eliminate overuse of the right hand, enabling you to play smoother and faster without attacking every note. In bar 1, attack the first 16th note is attacked with your slapping hand and hammer with your fretting hand, followed with a combination: a pop with the slapping hand and slide with the fretting hand. It takes a great deal of strength and stamina to maintain this four-bar groove.
In Ex. 3, I emphasize the thumb dexterity needed to play complicated lines. In this example you will be thumbing across all the strings, which requires you to get an even sound. It also challenges your string-skipping ability and uses a lot of range on the instrument.
Example 4 combines hammer-ons, pulloffs, and very difficult thumbing and popping combinations, which can give a bass line a more modern sound. Take your time with these exercises and play through them very slowly, paying close attention to the notation of how and where the notes are played.
Anthony Vitti has been a Professor in the Bass Department of the Berklee College of Music since 1988. He has authored all the slap bass courses in Berklee bass department, and has published ten bass books and three instructional DVDs. His website is www.anthonyvitti.com.
David “Lenny Stallworth is an Assistant Professor at Berklee, teaching in the Performance and Bass Departments. He’s toured with Maceo Parker and is currently playing with jazz trumpeter Roy Hargrove.