Slap Basics With Doug Johns: Diggin’ In
I get a lot of questions while on the road or during clinics. But one of the most common questions is about how I get that “pop” sound out of the right hand without really plucking the string. I’m going to do my best here to explain how I do it. This is by NO means the “right” way – just a way – only a variation or technique to put in your toolbox.
I refer to the sound or technique as digging in. Now, I must say that as I practice more and more, I realize how too much digging in can really mess up the sound of something. Yet, when used appropriately, it can be a nasty, funky cool thing.
Video is really gonna save my butt here, as it can explain a technique far better than I can do with only words. But here’s the synopsis:
To me, there are 2 areas on the body side of the bass that I primarily focus my right hand around: 1) over the bridge pickup, and 2) over the neck pickup. I’ve played mostly a PJ set-up my whole life; so, to me, these are the 2 natural areas for the right hand to anchor from.
Back by the bridge pickup seems to be the best place for me when it comes to precise, articulate fingering with the right hand. For a rounder, fatter sound, moving up towards the neck pickup works well, but the string can be a little more uncontrollable. Hitting the strings, especially over the neck pickup, is a balancing act of digging in just enough to get that snap – but not so much snap that you lose control of the string.
Controlling the string in this technique is almost impossible without some sort of anchor point for the right hand (for us right-handed players). Having that anchor – if it’s the pickup itself or the string or even a ramp/thumb rest – frees up your fingers to focus control over your selected string.
I’ve experimented with ramps over the years, and I’m seeing that they’ve become more common – and I think that’s a good thing. When digging in on a string, a ramp can help keep your right-hand fingers from sinking too deep towards the body of the bass. It lets you take control of the string, which is crucial.
You can check out the examples and exercises in the video.
They’re designed to help you control that spongy, erratic area of the string. And since we’re talking so much about strings, I’ll just mention that the one that feels taut enough for an attack and spongy enough for the funk is the right string for you. Whichever string that might be.
But there’s more to it than just the mechanics. There has to be energy and musicality behind it. I think the power or diggin in I do with my right hand comes from being naturally inclined toward literally feeling the drumbeat in my hand. Most of the time, I can feel the beat in my right hand as if it’s a kick and snare. So, I’ll do exercises with my right hand to mimic a drumstick, a kick drum, hi hat or whatever.
So go ahead and give it a try. Get diggin in on that bass and see if you dig it. A reminder from the start of this article: it IS possible to use this technique too much and at the wrong times. Look for what makes sense in the tune, and use the right tool for the right job.
Now get out there and jam with somebody!