Larry Graham created the slap bass technique to emulate the role of a drummer. Larry took the dilemma of not having a drummer, a challenging situation, and turned it into an innovation! This is a great lesson for us all when faced with a problem. In this traditional role of slap bass you would normally find the thumb being played on a downbeat and the plucks on upbeats as in Example 1.
Larry used his thumb on a lower string to emulate the bass drum and plucked with his index finger as a substitute for the snare drum. The bass line in Example 2 demonstrates the drum emulation concept using the thumbed notes as the kick drum, the pops as the snare, and the ghost notes as the hi-hat. You will alternately hear the drum beat and then the bass emulating that drum beat.
For those who are not familiar with the terms downbeat and upbeat, a simple definition for a downbeat might be, “where the quarter notes fall.” If you tap your foot and count during a song your foot normally touches the ground on the quarter notes, 1,2,3 and 4, or downbeats. Upbeats are basically all the other syncopated beats that happen while your foot is in the air. These upbeats anticipate the downbeat, they are 8th notes, 16th notes, etc.
Example 3 is a traditional disco bass line where the thumb is playing on all the downbeats, 1,2,3, and 4 and the plucks or pops are falling on the “and” of every beat, or upbeats.
A quick disclaimer, although I have the utmost respect for all the guys who play in the “double thumbing” slap style with machine gun-like triplets and virtuosity, this lesson and this style are designed to be played in more mainstream situations where you are part of an ensemble with multiple players and parts going on at the same time, including possibly vocals.
Ok, now that we have a solid concept of “traditional” slap bass rhythms, let’s look at one approach to spicing them up a little. One of the ways I do that is by reversing the normal technique of always playing with the thumb on the downbeats and popping or plucking the upbeats. Instead I reverse that and pluck some of the downbeats. I will show you a few simple examples of how you might do that.
We will start in Example 4 with a more typical slap bass line, thumb on downbeats and pops on the upbeats.
In each of the next 4 examples, I will vary the line by placing a pop on a different downbeat in each example. Let’s start with Example 5, which puts a pop on the downbeat of beat 1.
Next Example 6 has a pop on beat 2 of the bass line.
Now we will play a pop on beat 3 in Example 7.
In our last example, number 8, we place the pop on beat 4.
In these examples, we only scratched the surface of the “reverse” or “inverted” slap bass technique, but hopefully enough to let you see the possibilities of changing an otherwise plain, traditional sounding slap bass line into something that still grooves and works in a band context, but sounds more adventurous, syncopated, and interesting.