Proper slap bass technique is one of the most debated topics in all of bass playing.
There are hundreds (perhaps even thousands) of threads in online discussion forums as well as YouTube video after YouTube video that all claim to offer the best technique.
But what actually is the best way to slap?
The Correct Technique
Many will say that the "flea" technique (named after the bassist from the Red Hot Chili Peppers) is the best method. And this was the method that I used growing up.
But over the course of my studies, I found that this technique has some serious limitations.
Just quickly for anyone who's not familiar with either technique, the Flea technique utilises a hand position that has the thumb pointing down and going across the strings. A quick google search will help you get a clear image of this hand position.
The bony joint of the thumb (just below the nail) is used to slap the string and the tips of the index and middle fingers are used for pop strokes.
Typically, the Flea technique works best for bass players that have their basses at a lower height. The hand position needed for the Flea technique needs a lower bass to ensure a good shoulder position.
The Marcus technique, by contrast, is better with the bass higher up. The hand position has the thumb running almost parallel to the strings with the outside of the thumb (again just below the nail) used for slap strokes and this time the inside edges of the index and middle fingers used for pop strokes.
Again, if you're having trouble picturing this hand position then a quick google search will help you out.
As we'll discuss later on, the Flea technique is problematic if you want to learn advanced slap techniques like double thumbing.
But, when compared to something like the Marcus Miller style technique (a form of which most great slap players adopt) the Flea technique also makes us fall into a technique trap.
Avoiding Technique Traps
Let me explain what that trap is and why getting out of it matters.
The technique trap I'm referring to is actually a mentality.
When most students learn basic slap, they notice that all the basic strokes like the pop stroke, the slap stroke and so on, can all be performed with either the Marcus style technique or the Flea technique.
This leads them to say "well if you can do it either way and I happen to use the Flea technique then why should I change? The technique isn't important and I can just do what works for me".
I can see why they say it but here's the problem.
What happens when it no longer works for you?
As it turns out, the Flea technique often works against bass players from the start.
When performing a slap stroke the Flea technique will have your thumb contact the string but then the hand position forces you to leave the thumb in place hovering over the string.
This opens up the possibility that the string will rebound off the neck, touch the thumb and the sound will be slightly muted resulting in a sound that's less powerful.
The second big problem is that quickly changing between slap and pop strokes is so much harder with the Flea technique.
Using the Flea technique you'll see your whole hand rotate as you play a slap stroke. But this means your fingers will rotate too. And the hand position coupled with the rotation will move your fingers away from the strings they should be plucking.
The technique here is actually making you work harder and probably play worse.
So how are things different with the Marcus technique?
Why The "Marcus" Technique Is So Good
Let's go in reverse order.
First of all, it's much more ergonomic for both slap and pop strokes.
The thumb and fingers are both parallel to the strings they need to play so they have less distance to travel and will also stay closer to them at all times.
But second is the fact that, because the Marcus technique requires a subtly different slap stroke technique, it actually creates a fuller and more powerful sound.
Rather than having the thumb strike into the string, the Marcus technique requires the thumb to brush down and across the face of the string and almost go through it.
This helps the string vibrate because the direction the string moves in is much closer to being parallel to the surface of the neck rather than actually down into it.
But this slap technique also means that your thumb can either rebound off the string or go through it and rest on the string below.
Either eventuality means that, unlike the Flea technique, your thumb is clear of the vibrating string and won't run the risk of muting it unintentionally.
But what about all the advanced stuff? Why can't the Flea technique be used for double thumbing or lots of fast double plucks?
Simply, the hand position doesn't allow for the movements involved.
Let's take double thumbing as an example.
This technique requires both and down and up stroke with the thumb. It's very similar to the motion of using a plectrum.
Now, if you think about the hand position you adopt when playing with a pick and the angle that you hold the pick at in relation to the strings you'll notice that the hand position is similar to the Marcus technique and not Flea, and you'll also see that the angle of the pick is parallel to the strings.
The Flea technique has the thumb going across the strings rather than parallel to them so in order to double thumb you'd have to change your hand position anyway.
So why not just use the Marcus technique the whole time?
The best thing is to try the Marcus technique out and learn from experience.
I've done numerous YouTube videos on this technique as well as a short beginners course which you're welcome to check out.
But I'm sure you'll see that even with a bit of experience, the Marcus technique is better, more versatile and it can also be learnt by any bass player of any ability level.
Beginner Slap Bass Technique Video Lesson Playlist