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I've tried learning slap bass on and off over the years, but one area that keeps holding me up is the Left-Hand Percussive technique. In theory it sounds simple, you just mute the strings by striking across them sharply with the fingers of the left hand. Whenever I try it, however, I end up with a dull thud instead of the crisper tone I see in demonstrations.

Is this a function of how I'm striking, how the bass is set up, or both? For context, my main bass is an '83 Squier P-bass with the action set as low as I can without buzzing.

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    Note that a really bright sound comes usually from hammering-on a string that was very shortly before excited by a right-hand slap. A lot of the energy of the new tone is actually "inherited" from the old one. Getting a lone left-hand hammer loud is much more difficult. – leftaroundabout Oct 2 '14 at 18:18
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Here is a possible problem... you say you have the bass

...with the action set as low as I can without buzzing.

When slapping, the strings have to hit the fretboard. If they're right next to the fretboard, they just aren't able to get as much sound, just as if, for example, the beater on a kick drum pedal stood only a centimeter away from the head, you won't get much sound. You need some room to build some force!

Besides this, try different places on the neck. If you're playing at the top of the neck, closest to the headstock, again the strings will be closer to the fretboard and tighter since you're close to the nut. Some areas lower will give you really strong harmonic ringing, depending on the bass as well. Try different places on the bass to see where you'll get the best tone.

For that much, once you get better you'll likely want to be able to do it all over the bass so you can more easily mix in full notes with your percussive slap, but its a good start.

People make these things look so easy for some reason, but its really really difficult, especially some people (aka me). Just keep working at it, maybe trying to play along with some songs to make it more fun. Good luck!

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    Good point. I've got an extra 5-string I use for miscellaneous things; may take it in to get it set up in an optimal slap configuration. – Kaji Jul 8 '14 at 17:27
  • I have a 5 string as well that I have a lot of trouble slapping on... it's an Ibanez bass with very thin string spacing. When I try to slap on this bass, I tend to miss the strings often and get a lot of ringing, as I have trouble muting the strings. Just something else to think about! Depends entirely on the bass, the hands, and the skill level though. – Eichhörnchen Jul 8 '14 at 18:05
  • I do a fair bit of tapping on my main bass (mostly on G and D), but that's a slightly different mechanic with more directed force. Thinking the 5-string will allow for a little more space to work between the strings for pops and such. – Kaji Jul 8 '14 at 18:23
  • Bassically (sic)- 5 stringers have one of two neck configurations. Either a four string neck that 5 have to fit in - quite tight; or same string spacing as standard, so the neck is about 20% wider. – Tim Jul 9 '14 at 8:18
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Put a finger, your index,on the strings, just resting on all 4, not pressing onto the fret.Anywhere will do for now. Without moving that index finger,bring the other 3 onto the fingerboard, again without pressing onto the frets. Don't bounce them off again, but leave them touching.You'll need to get some isolation between index and other three, so that the two elements work independently. This is the tricky bit.

Leaving index on, and hitting with all the other 3, will stop any harmonics which may be woken up by a finger - tapped harmonics. They can be removed by selecting a different fret, but you don't need them to sound anyway.

Do the whole thing slowly, as in thumb,l.h.,thumb, l.h.Followed by maybe thumb,l.h.,pop,l.h.until there's a nice gentle rhythm and the two 'deads' are sounding,well,dead.Speed up gradually, but for now, leave that l.h. index finger touching the strings.Hope that helps.

Make sure the tone is on the trebly side, too, as any percussive sound will be dull if the top is rolled off.

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