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Gaining Higher Ground with Slap & Pop by Rhayn Jooste

The song/lesson for this month is Higher Ground  written by Stevie Wonder. It’s  inspiration is taken from Marcus Miller’s Marcus album (2008). The key is E min with a brief spells into A mixolydian. (Be aware Marcus de-tunes his bass down a half step, so the original is Eb min). The technique you are aiming for is slap and pop. Your goal is to master the basic pattern and melody. The twist here is to slowly add the sections of rhythmic accompaniment with the melody and improvisations to create a call and response bass solo part. This piece will require only four strings.

Listen to HIGHER GROUND Back Track

Main Groove.

The main groove is a triplet based pop and slap part on the chords Em, G and Am. This can be played in a variety of places on the bass, however here we are going to use 1st position and open strings. The primer should be used to get yourself acquainted with the changes, technique and gaining control over the open strings before heading on to the triplet pattern – a lot there so take it slow. The first three bars are played straight so concentrate on the technique and changes. Once you have nailed those move onto the next 2 bars. These build you up to the triplet feel and the full pop and slap pattern, so concentrate on the rhythms and timing here. The last 2 bars are the full pattern with a cheeky hammer on for interest. There is space for fills at the end of this groove pattern, hence the inclusion of E min pentatonic and the diatonic scale (with Aeolian and Ionian roots marked out). This is where you add in all those cool licks and runs you have stored; try both pop and slapping these ideas as well as plucked. Aim for a smooth R.H transition between these techniques. Good fills can stand to be repeated.

Things to note off the original are Marcus’s clean pops which are very staccato and his strong feel. An idea to steal off the record is his use of percussion for a solo break around the 3′ 31” mark.

Technical bits.

To begin its worth saying that whether you play thumb up or thumb perpendicular, slapping requires a clean hit on the strings with the side of the digit at the right place: end of the fretboard, ideally just after the frets. The right hand wrist should be relaxed as this is the main motor for this movement, with some thumb down movement at the large joint. The more relaxed you are now while learning the better. The pop is in essence a pluck that is almost a by product of the slap. Index or 2nd finger slightly caught under the string however with less force and more finesse. Clarity is the watch word here, if its not clear you’re moving too fast. Remember speed is a by product of technique.

That aside this technique will not sound right with out the right EQ setting (think smiley face) less mid range and more bass and treble. A fair amount of compression will help with evening out the hits, 4:1  plus ratio setting with fast attack and release. (smaller speakers help)

If you want to know where it originated google Larry Graham and find out what innovation is really all about.

Backing Track.

This bass line grooves because of the triplet feel, get that right and you are winning. The main chart starts one bar after the primer with a verse pattern that plays the root notes on the main beats (almost) and then moves into the full  slap pattern. The verses have space for your own fill ideas added as bass breaks for interest at the end of sections. Use Em pent and  G maj scale to achieve these. The chorus is based on A mixolydian (or key change to D major). Here it is a straight statement of the melody. Aim for good note placement and solid rhythms here; try it up the octave on the repeat. The last verse section is actually a solo part. Here I have added two parts together, melody and pop/slap accompaniment . The idea is to tackle this once you are confident with the other bits above. This could be used as a solo or in a band situation. This is a mere guide line and should be used as staging post for your own improvisation which utilise the Higher Ground groove and melody.

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