A New Technique for Slap and Funk Bass

OK … so here it is.

Last night whilst playing my usual gig with Hardrick Rivers and company at the Pioneer Pub in Natchitoches, I believe that I discovered a new (and potentially revolutionary) technique for playing slap, pop and funk bass.

I had been thinking on two different wavelengths prior to last night.

The first was Victor Wooten’s right hand technique, particularly the thumb technique where he uses his thumb as if he were wearing a thumb pick – as opposed to a Larry Graham/Bootsy Collins thumb technique which approaches the strings vertically (i.e., the thumb pops up vertically from the string in a primarily percussive thwack), Victor’s technique involves popping with the thumb horizontally so it can perform an upstroke for additional speed and effect. When he combines this with left guitarist technique for hammer-ons and pull-offs, the end result is dazzling speed.

The second was Jaco Pastorius’ use of chording and false harmonics. When exploring different chord shapes and voices around the neck, I sounded the chords out using arpeggios played with my thumb, index, middle (and sometimes ring) fingers – not an unusual approach when one is playing acoustic fingerstyle guitar – or banjo. Particularly claw hammer style banjo.

The innovation is the claw hammer approach. I admit I was troubled with the “double-thumb” technique of Victor’s. Why not just use a thumb-pick, as you would on a banjo, instead of resting (and in a sense, limiting the range of motion of) your thumb. I’ve always avoided techniques that involved resting the hand in anyway on the strings or nearby props (like the old Precision thumb rests). And my thumb slap technique was deeply rooted in the vertical style.

But to use the thumb and first fingers in combination, and move the thumb for a second combination stroke with subsequent index and ring finger “plucks”? Keeping an underlying rhythm going consisting of sounded notes and/or muted string unsounded notes while the hand floats above the strings (and along the neck)? That, my friends, is “claw hammer funk” bass.

I’m still working out the details and some of the mechanics. But the end result should be (provided that you have sufficient hand strength) a bass style that provides both thumb and finger pop and slap, with a fluidity and dexterity akin to Earl Scruggs banjo technique.

And there you have it.

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