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Bass Playing Styles

Updated on August 8, 2013

Major bass playing styles - slap, tap, finger and pick

So you play bass guitar. Well, are you a slapper? Or a tapper? Do you play with your fingers? Or do you pick with your pleccie?

Whether it is slap bass, tapping, fingerstyle or plectrum playing, let me know your favorite bass style.

This lens showcases some of the world's most renowned bass players, from Larry Graham, the inventor of electric slap bass, to Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Look out for Mark King, Stanley Clarke and Victor Wooten, also, each geniuses in their own right!

So, what are these bass playing styles?

Playing Electric Bass

Knowing which notes to play!

This page is all about styles of playing electric bass, and for slap bass it is better to use a bass with frets. I'm not going to tell you which notes to play, but you'll find with your own practice and experience that certain styles tend to favor common note patterns.

For example, in the slap style, it is very useful to thumb a note and then 'pop' the octave of that note - extremely popular and produces a great effect. A lot of the very mellow tapping stylists play close to the body of the bass - the high notes - which is also a wonderfully melodic way of playing.

Whatever style - or styles - you employ on bass, your starting points are the scales and common chords. If you know your way around these, you'll be able to add musical interest to your basslines, and of course, play notes that fit nicely with what everyone else in your band is playing!

So good luck in exploring the bass styles and I hope you find your style.

Slap Bass

also known as 'thumpin and pluckin'

Slap Bass Tips & Tricks For Beginners - Learn The Techniques The Pros Use

This book describes in detail how to perform the slap bass technique. It covers everything from right thumb slapping, the left hand and right thumb mute slap, and popping, all the way through to more advanced techniques, such as Mark King style machine gun triplets, double pop triplets and the funk peel off.

Slap Bass Tips And Tricks For Beginners (Bass Basics Book 1)
Slap Bass Tips And Tricks For Beginners (Bass Basics Book 1)

First things first. This book was written by me! It is seriously cheap at the moment, because I felt it was important to get the techniques out there in their rawest form. I didn't pay for expensive musical notation software, or for some photographer to come in and take professional photos of my fat thumb and fingers doing the techniques. And so you don't pay stupid money for the booklet either. It's a little over a dollar - though the price will vary according to where you are and sales taxes etc.

So I'm giving you fair warning that you ain't going to get pretty pictures and sophisticated diagrams - the book just tells you to strap on your bass, then read the pages and do exactly what the instructions say. Then it's all down to you dudes. Practise 'til your slapping thumb and popping fingers are nice and hard and callused!

Oh, and if you buy it and it's helpful, feel free to leave me a review on Amazon. Thanks Slapmeisters!


Larry Graham

The father of funky slap bass

Slap bass is generally characterised by striking the strings with the thumb of the right hand, using the left hand to fret notes, hammer on, or add percussive muted slaps. The fingers of the right hand are used for 'popping' or 'snapping' usually the D and G strings against the fretboard.

Slap bass is a very percussive style. It's invention (on electric bass) has been credited to Larry Graham, of funk bands Sly & the Family Stone, and Graham Central Station, allegedly improvising on an occasion when their band was left without a drummer! Larry Graham refers to the technique as "thumpin' and pluckin'".

Hear Larry's Slap - Larry Graham and Graham Central Station

Slap bass courtesy of Mark King of Level 42 - Example of slap bass

Influences - Mark King

And here's a really interesting slap bass tutorial

The techniques on this are amazingly difficult to get a grip on!

Other bassists who slap

In addition to Larry Graham and Mark King, other bassists known for using the slap style include: Stanley Clarke, Bootsy Collins, Victor Wooten, Marcus Miller, Louis Johnson, Stu Hamm, Les Claypool and Flea.

Some other great examples of the style

Here are some other great examples of slap bass players doing their thing!

Slap bass books - Learn to slap bass yourself

Tapping on Bass


Tapping on the bass produces a very mellow and melodic sound. The notes are not plucked in the conventional sense, but result from hammering on with both left and right hands on the fretboard.

Examples of the Tapping technique

Tapping on bass courtesy of Victor Wooten.

Fingerstyle Playing


Fingerstyle is one of the most common ways of playing bass, and is pretty self-explanatory. The notes are played by plucking with the fingers of the right hand.

Examples of Fingerstyle playing

Fingerstyle bass courtesy of Stanley Clarke.

And here's a nice piece of fingerstyle funk where you can actually see clearly what's going on.

Walking bass

The fingerstyle of jazz & blues

A commonly employed version of fingerstyle play is called walking bass. It's usually associated with jazz and blues, but can be found in other styles of music.

Unlike a lot of slap bass, especially that used in the funk style, walking bass is usually unsyncopated, and consists of quarter-notes (or four-feel in jazz terminology).

The sound of a walking bassline is generally ever-changing rather than a simple riff following chord progression. The walking line can use scale tones, arpeggios and passing tones, and provides an undulating melody that rises and falls in tone over several bars.

Here's a nice example of jazz walking bass.

Playing with a Pick (Plectrum)


Using a pick or plectrum

Pickplaying involves the use - obviously - of a pick (or plectrum) and is used commonly in the punk and rock styles.

Playing with a pick demonstrated by Phil Havella.

What do you think?

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    • guitaristguild profile image

      guitaristguild 4 years ago

      Great lens, thanks for posting it.

    • robertzimmerman2 profile image

      Robert Zimmerman 5 years ago from SE Florida, USA

      You forgot Phil Lesh of the Grateful Dead. He uses a pick.

    • christopherlee lm profile image

      christopherlee lm 6 years ago

      Good tip on how to play bass. I'm trying to learn how to read the notes.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Hey, this was a nice, well-rounded, intro to playing styles. So glad you included Stanley! Great work.

    • Kyetsu profile image

      Kyetsu 6 years ago

      I'm trying to learn to play the bass, and I found this to be a very interesting lens! I'll keep it in mind when I try to figure out what kind of playing style I have!

    • profile image

      funkmasta1805 6 years ago

      Great lens! Also, whatever style you choose, try to remain somewhat knowledgeable in the other methods, even if you don't use them. Something might come up where you need to know them. Also, listen to as many bassists as you can so you can get a feel for the different genres and techniques. check out my lens for help with that.

    • profile image

      TomBoyd 7 years ago

      Great lens! Slap bass is one of my favorite things to do when I learn to play bass.

      Victor Wooten is a master!

    • verymary profile image

      Mary 7 years ago from Chicago area

      I <3 bassists :] but my only personal experience with the instrument thus far is on

      RockBand! Cool lens, 5*

    • profile image

      Good-Music 8 years ago

      Wonderful lens, although I am learning to play the guitar I love all these bass players, especially Stanley Clarke, he is a true master.

    • ArtSiren LM profile image

      ArtSiren LM 8 years ago

      [in reply to Drum-And-Drummer]

      Thanks DandD! The Wooten lens isn't one of mine, but I'm more than happy to feature relevant lenses here if they relate to great bass players! :)

    • profile image

      Drum-And-Drummer 8 years ago

      Beautiful lens! As soon as I finish 5-starrin' and favin' you and what-not, I'm going to go check out your Victor Wooten lens. He's my all-time favorite! Very tasty stuff here... I'm excited I found you!

    • religions7 profile image

      religions7 8 years ago

      blessed by a squidangel :)

    • profile image

      howtoplaybass 8 years ago

      I wonder what the ratio is between guitarists and bass players. Probably bee like 10 : 1

    • profile image

      rockycha 8 years ago

      Squid Angel blessings for your excellent work on this lens! :)

    • profile image

      howtoplaybass 8 years ago

      Dude the bass guitar rules lol, there should be more of us out there tbh.

      How to play bass

    • KimGiancaterino profile image

      KimGiancaterino 9 years ago

      My husband is a bass player, so I'll have to show him your lens. Well done!

    • profile image

      SteevieJ 9 years ago

      I`m There =)

    • ArtSiren LM profile image

      ArtSiren LM 9 years ago

      Wow! Thanks for the thumbs up Steve. It means a lot! I'm not quite sure whether Mark king had moved to Alembic by '86. He was using a lot of basses, but mainly Jaydee. I think he had a white Moon bass, that he pulled all the frets out of and filled, because he fancied using a fretless for one of his songs! If you're interested you can check out my Mark King lens also! ;)

    • profile image

      SteevieJ 9 years ago

      Absolutely awesome lens.... Bass is my primary instrument, but I made the transition to guitar about three years ago. Can remember, a long time ago, round about 1986/7/8 being shown an old VHS of a Mark King Bass solo.... I THINK he was playing a white Alembic??? It totally blew me away... I was hooked !!!.....Went out and bought a Westone Thunder 1A... my first Bass =)

      Love all the stuff around Bass guitar.... don`t know why, but I honestly think its harder to be a GOOD bassist than a GOOD guitarist.

      And Blackie Lawless once called the bass "The Instrument of Ignorance"..... Erm.... OK Mr Lawless :-/

      Me thinks Squidoo could do with alot more lenses like this.... Totally entertaining...

      Thank You for this.... will be showing it to a few of my mates... I know they`ll appreciate it.

      Lensrolled and favourited !!!!

      Thanks again.

      Steve @ Guitar Beginner Lesson

    • RuthCoffee profile image

      RuthCoffee 9 years ago

      Great lens, I love string instruments; guitars, violins, it makes no difference. I'm in awe of people who can really play!

    • profile image

      alicesy 9 years ago

      Excellent Lens. I like the quality insight you have provided here about Bass Playing Styles. Keep up the good work.

      Please check out my Reverse Cell Phone Lookup and Unlisted Number Search Site.

    • profile image

      JAV010 9 years ago

      thanks for this great lens there are realy good information and if you can please visit my lenses thanks again :)

    • SingerArtistLover profile image

      SingerArtistLover 9 years ago

      Wish could have played guitar myself but I guess I'm not good at playing musical instrument. The only way I can appreciate music is listen to it. Even singing is a bit problem for me. I guess I'm not at memorizing lyrics too.

    • carrieokier profile image

      carrieokier 9 years ago

      Really nice job on your lens. 5 stars and lensrolled to my

    • TonyPayne profile image

      Tony Payne 9 years ago from Southampton, UK

      Nice lens, I love a bass player who does more than just keep the rhythm. Some bands let the bass take the lead which leads to a great sound in my opinion.

    • ArtSiren LM profile image

      ArtSiren LM 9 years ago

      Thanks triathlontraining! I'll find a nice alternative vidclip for fingerstyle when my modem is working properly - 4 mins to get this lens downloaded! I don't dare try streaming video at that sort of speed!!

    • triathlontraini1 profile image

      triathlontraini1 9 years ago

      Very informative and fun lens! I watched all the videos, except Fingerstyle bass courtesy of Stanley Clarke, which is no longer available. Great! 5*

    • ArtSiren LM profile image

      ArtSiren LM 9 years ago

      Lizzy - :lol: I've heard that some of the heavy metal bassists tape their picks to their thumbs so they don't 'fly away' when they're playing! But I'm more of a slap player, so I don't get the washing machine blues!

    • ElizabethJeanAl profile image

      ElizabethJeanAl 9 years ago

      My son plays a bass. I find picks in the bottom of the wash machine all the time.

      Nice lens