Home>Instruments>Bass>Who Invented Slap Bass

Who Invented Slap Bass Who Invented Slap Bass


Who Invented Slap Bass

Written by: Brook Tavares

Discover the origin of slap bass and the genius inventor behind it. Uncover the intriguing history of this unique bass playing technique.

(Many of the links in this article redirect to a specific reviewed product. Your purchase of these products through affiliate links helps to generate commission for AudioLover.com, at no extra cost. Learn more)

Table of Contents


Bass guitar is an essential part of any band, providing the foundation and groove that drives the music forward. While traditional bass playing involves plucking or using a pick, there is another technique that adds a unique and rhythmic element to the instrument: slap bass.

Slap bass is a technique where the player uses their thumb to strike the strings against the fretboard and then “slaps” them with their fingers, producing a distinctive percussive sound. This technique creates a sharp attack and adds a funky and syncopated flavor to the bassline.

The origins of slap bass can be traced back to the early days of electric bass guitar in the 1950s and 1960s. Musicians were experimenting with different ways to make the bass stand out in a band setting, and slap bass emerged as a result of this exploration.

In the early days, slap bass was predominantly used in genres such as funk, R&B, and soul. It allowed bass players to mimic the rhythm and intensity of drums and fill in the gaps between the beats, creating a more dynamic and energetic sound.

As the technique gained popularity, a number of pioneers emerged, pushing the boundaries of what could be done with slap bass. Their innovative styles and techniques paved the way for future generations of bass players to explore and expand upon this unique technique.


The Early Origins of Slap Bass

The roots of slap bass can be traced back to the early days of the electric bass guitar in the 1950s and 1960s. As bassists began experimenting with different playing techniques, they discovered that striking the strings with their thumb and “slapping” them with their fingers created a distinct percussive sound.

One of the earliest examples of slap bass can be found in the playing of Louis Johnson, a member of the funk band The Brothers Johnson. His percussive and rhythmic approach to the bass guitar set the stage for what would become the foundation of slap bass playing.

Another influential figure in the development of slap bass was James Jamerson, the legendary Motown bassist. While his style was not exclusively slap-based, he incorporated elements of the technique, using his thumb to strike the strings in a percussive manner to add groove and dynamics to his basslines.

During the 1970s, the funk and R&B genres exploded in popularity, and slap bass became a staple in these musical styles. Bassists like Bootsy Collins of Parliament-Funkadelic and Larry Graham of Sly and the Family Stone further pushed the boundaries of slap bass playing, incorporating complex rhythms and melodic lines into their grooves.

It is worth noting that slap bass can also be traced back to the double bass players of the 1920s and 1930s. Slap techniques were employed by musicians in the jazz and swing era, where they would strike the strings with their thumb and use their fingers to “slap” the strings, adding percussive rhythm to their walking basslines.

As slap bass gained popularity and recognition, it started to influence other genres as well. Rock, fusion, and even metal bassists began incorporating elements of slap into their playing, adding a new dimension to their sound.

Overall, the early origins of slap bass can be attributed to the desire of musicians to explore new ways of creating rhythm and groove on the bass guitar. From its humble beginnings in funk and R&B to its widespread influence across different genres, slap bass has become an integral part of the bassist’s toolkit, providing a dynamic and percussive element to the music.


The Innovators: Pioneers of Slap Bass

Slap bass technique has flourished over the years thanks to the contributions of innovative and influential bassists. These pioneers not only popularized the technique but also pushed the boundaries of what could be achieved with slap bass, inspiring generations of bass players to explore this unique playing style.

One of the key figures in the development of slap bass is Larry Graham. As a member of the legendary band Sly and the Family Stone, Graham revolutionized the role of the bass guitar by incorporating slap technique into his playing. His iconic bassline in the song “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)” showcased his mastery of slap bass and instantly captivated listeners. Graham’s ability to blend melodic lines, complex rhythms, and his signature slap sound laid the foundation for countless future slap bass players.

Another pioneer who played a vital role in the popularization of slap bass is Louis Johnson. As a founding member of the funk band The Brothers Johnson, Johnson’s use of slap bass brought a distinctive flavor to their music. His precision, speed, and the infectious grooves he created on songs like “Stomp!” and “Get the Funk Out Ma Face” made him a highly respected figure amongst bass players. Johnson’s technique inspired a whole generation of musicians and solidified the place of slap bass in the funk music scene.

Additionally, Stanley Clarke, a virtuoso bassist known for his proficiency in various playing styles, has significantly contributed to the development of slap bass technique. Clarke’s technical prowess and intricate slap patterns showcased on songs like “School Days” pushed the boundaries of what could be achieved with the technique. His playing not only demonstrated the rhythmic and percussive capabilities of slap bass but also its melodic potential.

Other notable figures who played a crucial role in the evolution of slap bass include Marcus Miller, who brought his own unique flavor to the technique by infusing jazz and funk elements, and Victor Wooten, whose intricate and innovative slap bass playing expanded the possibilities of the technique even further.

These pioneers of slap bass not only helped establish the technique as a prominent playing style but also inspired countless bass players to experiment, develop, and push the boundaries of slap bass. Their contributions have had a lasting impact on the instrument, cementing slap bass as an essential element in various musical genres.


Larry Graham: Bringing Slap Bass to the Forefront

When discussing the rise and prominence of slap bass, it is impossible to overlook the significant contributions of Larry Graham. Born in 1946 in Beaumont, Texas, Graham is widely regarded as one of the pioneers and innovators of slap bass playing.

Graham’s musical journey began in his childhood, where he initially played drums before taking up the bass guitar. Drawing inspiration from R&B, gospel, and funk, Graham developed a unique playing style that would come to define slap bass as we know it today.

He first gained recognition as a founding member and bassist of the influential funk band Sly and the Family Stone. With hits like “Dance to the Music” and “Everyday People,” the band captivated audiences with their infectious grooves and groundbreaking sound.

It was during his time with Sly and the Family Stone that Graham revolutionized bass playing with his innovative use of slap technique. He developed a distinctive thumb-based approach, combining slapping, popping, and plucking to create a percussive and melodic sound that became his trademark.

In songs like “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin),” Graham showcased his mastery of slap bass, creating a powerful and rhythmic foundation that elevated the entire band’s sound. His playing style was a fusion of funk, soul, and rock elements, incorporating intricate and syncopated rhythms along with melodic and grooving bass lines. This melding of genres and techniques made Graham’s bass playing truly unique and influential.

Graham’s contributions to slap bass go beyond his playing style. He is credited with popularizing the technique, introducing it to a wider audience and inspiring generations of bass players. Graham’s influence can be seen in the work of countless musicians who followed in his footsteps, taking their own approach to slap bass while maintaining the spirit and essence of his innovation.

Throughout his career, Graham continued to push the boundaries of bass playing. He went on to have a successful solo career, releasing albums and collaborating with various artists. He maintained his innovative style, experimenting with different sounds and techniques while always staying true to the core elements that defined his playing.

Larry Graham’s impact on the bass guitar and slap bass cannot be overstated. His groundbreaking contributions brought the technique to the forefront, ensuring its lasting influence on the world of music. His mastery, creativity, and ability to fuse different musical styles have not only solidified his status as a bass legend but also ensured that the legacy of slap bass will continue to inspire and captivate future generations of musicians.


The Influence of Jaco Pastorius

When discussing the evolution of slap bass technique, it is impossible not to acknowledge the profound influence of Jaco Pastorius. Born in 1951 in Norristown, Pennsylvania, Pastorius is widely revered as one of the most innovative and influential bassists of all time.

Although not primarily known for his slap bass playing, Pastorius’s unique approach and virtuosic abilities had a significant impact on the development and popularization of the technique. He pushed the boundaries of what could be achieved on the bass guitar and introduced new techniques and ideas that inspired a generation of bass players.

One of the hallmarks of Pastorius’s playing was his remarkable ability to seamlessly blend different techniques and styles. He incorporated elements of classical, jazz, fusion, and funk into his playing, creating a signature sound that was both melodically rich and rhythmically dynamic.

While Pastorius was renowned for his fretless bass playing and intricate fingerstyle technique, he also utilized slap bass in his music. His command of the technique was evident in songs like “Come On, Come Over” from his debut self-titled album, where he demonstrated a beautiful balance between slap, pops, and melodic lines.

Pastorius’s influence extended beyond his playing style. He challenged traditional notions of the bass guitar’s role in a band, elevating it to a lead instrument and showcasing its melodic potential. His composition “Portrait of Tracy” showcased his melodic sensibilities and pushed the boundaries of what could be achieved on the bass guitar.

Another aspect of Pastorius’s influence was his profound impact on the bass community. He inspired a new generation of bass players to explore the possibilities of the instrument and encouraged them to innovate and find their own unique voice. His technical proficiency, musicality, and fearless approach to music inspired countless bassists to embrace new techniques, broaden their musical horizons, and push the boundaries of their own playing.

Tragically, Pastorius’s life was cut short at the age of 35, but his legacy and influence continue to resonate in the world of bass playing. His innovative approach to music and his mastery of the instrument have left an indelible mark, making him an enduring and iconic figure in the history of the bass guitar.

From his blending of different musical genres to his revolutionary use of harmonics, Pastorius’s impact on the development of slap bass cannot be overstated. He expanded the possibilities of the instrument and inspired countless bassists to explore new techniques and embrace the rhythmic and percussive potential of slap bass.


The Evolution of Slap Bass Techniques

The technique of slap bass has evolved significantly over the years, expanding beyond its origins in funk and R&B to encompass a wide range of musical genres. Bass players have pushed the boundaries and developed various techniques to create their own unique slap bass styles.

In the early days, slap bass was characterized by a percussive thumb strike and finger “slap” on the strings. This technique, popularized by pioneers like Larry Graham and Louis Johnson, provided a rhythmic and funky sound that defined the genre. These players focused on creating a percussive attack and emphasized the groove.

As the technique gained popularity, bassists began to incorporate more intricate and melodic elements into their slap bass playing. This expansion led to the development of “double thumbing,” where the thumb not only strikes the strings but also executes a quick pull-off motion, allowing for faster and more complex lines.

Another technique that emerged was “ghost notes” or “dead notes,” where the player lightly touches the strings to produce a muted sound. This technique adds rhythmic dynamics and depth to slap bass lines, creating a more nuanced and layered sound.

Thumb slaps also evolved to include various techniques such as hammer-ons and pull-offs with the thumb. This expanded the melodic possibilities of slap bass and allowed players to incorporate rapid-fire, virtuosic passages into their playing.

Furthermore, the integration of tapping techniques into slap bass playing has become popular. Tapping involves using the fingers of the plucking hand to tap on the fretboard, creating fast and fluid melodic lines. This technique, popularized by bass virtuosos like Victor Wooten and Billy Sheehan, has pushed the boundaries of what can be achieved with slap bass.

The development of new technologies and gear has also influenced the evolution of slap bass. Upgraded bass pickups, preamps, and effects pedals have allowed bass players to experiment with different tones and textures, enhancing the expressiveness of slap bass playing.

Additionally, the fusion of slap bass with other styles, such as jazz, rock, and metal, has broadened its horizons. Bass players like Marcus Miller and Flea have seamlessly incorporated slap techniques into their playing, blurring the lines between genres and expanding the sonic possibilities of slap bass.

The evolution of slap bass techniques is an ongoing process, with bassists continuously pushing the boundaries and finding new ways to express themselves on the instrument. From the early funk pioneers to the virtuosos of today, the technique has evolved to encompass a wide array of styles and techniques, making slap bass an enduring and versatile technique in the bass world.


Modern Slap Bass Players

Slap bass continues to thrive in the modern music scene, and there are numerous talented bassists who have embraced and further developed this technique. These players have taken slap bass to new heights, incorporating their own unique styles and pushing the boundaries of what is possible on the instrument.

One modern slap bass player who has made a significant impact is Victor Wooten. Known for his virtuosic playing and innovative approach to the instrument, Wooten has expanded the possibilities of slap bass. His ability to blend melodic lines, complex rhythms, and intricate slap techniques is unparalleled, making him a true master of the instrument.

Marcus Miller is another prominent figure in modern slap bass playing. With his melodic sensibilities and impeccable technique, Miller seamlessly integrates slap bass into his eclectic style, fusing jazz, funk, and R&B. His unique approach to rhythm and groove has solidified his status as one of the most respected bassists of our time.

Joe Dart, the bassist for the band Vulfpeck, has gained a significant following for his infectious slap bass lines. His precise and dynamic playing, along with his unique sense of groove, has made him a favorite among bass enthusiasts. Dart’s ability to combine funk, rock, and pop influences with his slap technique has elevated his playing to new heights.

Thundercat, the stage name of Stephen Bruner, is known for his versatile slap bass style. With his blend of jazz, funk, and experimental influences, Thundercat has emerged as a creative force in modern music. His virtuosic and exploratory approach to slap bass has garnered critical acclaim and inspired a new generation of bass players.

Additionally, Hadrien Feraud, a French bassist, has established himself as one of the foremost slap bass players in recent years. His lightning-fast technique, complex harmonies, and melodic inventions have earned him accolades within the bass community.

These modern slap bass players, among many others, have paved the way for a new era of innovation and creativity. They have not only carried on the legacy of the pioneers who came before them but have also brought their own unique voices and styles to the forefront, shaping the present and future of slap bass playing.

As the music landscape evolves, we can expect to see more talented bassists embrace the art of slap bass and continue to push its boundaries. With their ingenuity and dedication, these modern slap bass players ensure that the technique remains vibrant, inspiring future generations of bassists to explore the rhythmic and melodic possibilities of the instrument.



Slap bass has come a long way since its humble beginnings, evolving from a percussive technique in funk and R&B to a versatile and expressive style embraced by bassists across genres. The contributions of influential players like Larry Graham, Jaco Pastorius, and modern bass virtuosos have shaped the evolution of slap bass, pushing its boundaries and solidifying its place as a prominent playing technique.

From the catchy and infectious grooves of Larry Graham to the melodic and innovative approach of Jaco Pastorius, these pioneering bassists paved the way for future generations to explore and expand upon the possibilities of slap bass. Their influence can be heard in the playing of contemporary bassists who add their own unique flavors to the technique.

The evolution of slap bass techniques has seen the incorporation of complex rhythms, melodic lines, tapping, and the fusion of genres. Modern bassists like Victor Wooten, Marcus Miller, Joe Dart, Thundercat, and Hadrien Feraud continue to push the boundaries of the technique, showcasing its versatility and adaptability to various musical styles.

Despite the evolution, the essence of slap bass remains rooted in its rhythmic and percussive nature. It adds a dynamic and energetic element to the bassline, allowing the instrument to shine as a lead voice or a powerful accompaniment.

As the musical landscape continues to evolve, so too will slap bass. Future bassists will undoubtedly build upon the foundation laid by their predecessors, bringing new techniques, styles, and innovations to the forefront.

Whether you catch the infectious grooves in funk, the intricate melodies in jazz, or the driving rhythms in rock, slap bass will remain a fundamental aspect of the bass guitar’s identity. Its influence will continue to inspire and captivate bass players and listeners alike, shaping the sound of music for years to come.

Related Post