Fingerstyle Slapping

Weekly Newsletter #54

August 19, 2022

One of the greatest additions to any fingerstyle player’s arsenal is the technique of slapping. 

No, I’m not talking about the bass-slap technique from the Seinfeld intro, the guitar slap is a purely rhythmic and percussive sound. 

It adds a deep pocket and groove to just about any song, and provides an awesome tool for keeping time. 

For a detailed lesson on this technique check out this VIDEO and TAB. 

What Is The Slap? 

Essentially the slapping technique is just a buzz sound that’s created when you slap one of the bass strings. 

What’s actually happening is the bass string gets pushed into the fretboard and makes contact with one of the frets. 

If done quickly enough, this creates a rattle or buzz that is great for creating the percussive slap sound. 

The idea behind this sound is that it is meant to mimic the snare drum of a drum kit. 

Pay attention to almost any song you enjoy, you’ll notice that the snare almost always hits on beats 2 & 4. 

This is exactly where we’ll be placing the slap when we use it. It’s beats 2 & 4 that create the pocket for a song, and if you really know what you’re doing it’s on these beats that you’ll clap along while listening to a tune. 

How To Slap It 

When fingerstyle playing, you’re almost always playing the bass strings with your thumb, and so that is the finger we’ll use to create the slap (most of the time). 

If you sit with your hand in position as though you’re going to start fingerpicking, simply rotate your forearm outward, without bending your wrist, and your thumb should come away from the guitar. 

It’s from this position that you’ll bring the thumb back quickly and hit the bass string with force in order to create the slap sound. 

In this way it’s actually very similar to the technique used to slap a bass guitar, but obviously the sound is very different. 

The trick to getting this technique correct is the accuracy of the slap. Ideally you only want to slap one string with your thumb. This creates the most focused and snare-like sound that will cut through the chords and notes you’re playing. 

In order to do this it’s vital that you practice accurately slapping all three bass strings individually. 

As you progress it will become apparent that in order to play a bass note on a specific string you’ll need to slap that string prior to the bass note. 

Start Slapping 

Check out this example of slapping. It’s the riff from Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean…but with a slap added in. (Example can be found in the VIDEO

The chords are really simple: F#m - G#m - A - G#m. 

Notice how the slap is on the 6th string, and always on beats 2 & 4? 

The part that may create some difficulty is that after the slap on beat 2 you must be in position with your three fingers to pluck the high strings and get the G#m chord on the “and” of beat 2. 

In a second example you’ll be alternating bass notes which requires you to slap on the correct string. 

Remember it’s important to slap the the string of the next bass note so that your thumb can just rest there after the slap and then play that bass note when it’s time. 

Fixing Your Timing 

You might notice that when trying to play this at tempo you have an instinct to slap on beats 1 & 3. 

This is normal for many players and can be overcome. The trick to “feeling” the rhythm on beats 2 & 4 can be accomplished by using a metronome in a way you’ve likely never tried. 

Instead of having the metronome click on all four beats in a measure, you should aim to have it only click twice. 

If, for example, you’re playing at 100 BPM and the click is on all four beats, try cutting that number in half. 

Now you have a metronome clicking at 50 BPM. 

The hard part is playing so that the click only occurs on beats 2 & 4. 

This means that beat 1 (when you likely begin playing) will be silent. 

The above example of bass note slapping is a great tool to use for this. Just take the first measure and see if you can play it with the metronome at 50 BPM and clicking only on beats 2 & 4. 

There should be no click during the bass notes. 

This will likely be a lot harder than you imagine, but as you practice you’ll eventually begin to feel the music on these “back beats” instead of beats 1 & 3. 

In the attached TAB and VIDEO there are many more examples of how to include this slap into your playing and will take you from the very basics all the way up to adding the slap into Jimi Hendrix’s Purple Haze. 

There is really no limit to what you can do with this technique and it adds an indispensible sound to any fingerstyle song. 

Feel the backbeat and fall into the pocket…the groove will be irresistible. 

-Max Rich