Slapping is one of the most fun ways to play the bass guitar. It`s also one of the hardest. Furthermore, the difficulty of slapping depends on what type of bass you are playing. Slap players most commonly use 4-strings, but can you slap on a 5-string bass?
Despite having an additional low string, it is possible to slap on a 5-string bass. While there are slight differences in slapping a 5-string and a 4-string, multiple professional bassists have used 5 basses for slapping.
I`ve always mainly played a 4-string for both fingerstyle and slapping. Whenever I’ve tried to slap on a 5-string it has always gone moderately well though.
It required me to make some slight adjustments, and my playing wasn’t as clean as on the 4-string. However, learning to play the 5-string and slapping it was far from as difficult as some make it out to be.
Thus, I decided to write this article to show you what slapping a 5-string bass feels like. I will show you whether it is harder than a 4-string as well as some useful tips for how to slap on a 5-string specifically. You will also see some examples of bassists slapping 5-strings and what type of techniques they use.
Is it harder to slap a 5-string than a 4-string bass?
In general, 5-string basses are slightly harder to slap than 4-string bass guitars. This increase in difficulty is due to having to keep one more string muted, and due to narrower string spacing. However, these factors only have a minor impact on difficulty.
The main difficulty lies in adjusting to the 5-string if you are used to slapping on a 4-string. It is common for bassists to let their thumbs live a life of their own when they don’t need to keep an additional string muted.
On a 5-string, you will need to have more control of your thumb. This is mainly for the sake of not accidentally hitting the low B string, but also because you might want to use your thumb to mute strings. This will be especially noticeable when slapping the E string on a 5-string.
Related reading: Can you slap a fretless bass?
Furthermore, some 5-string basses such as the Musicman Stingray have narrower string spacing than 4-basses. When the string spacing is narrow it becomes easier to hit unwanted strings. This requires you to be more precise and put more effort into keeping strings muted.
This increase in difficulty is not too bad though. We are not talking about tapping on a fretless-levels of difficulty here and this will only have a minor impact on how much you will need to practice.
Tips for slapping a 5-string bass
If you are to slap a 5-string bass, it is important that you go about it correctly. Here are some useful tips that will help you along the way:
- Mute with the index finger – To me, the best way to keep unplayed strings muted is by using the index finger of my fretting hand. In addition to fretting, rest the index finger on every higher string than the one you are playing. For example, if you are fretting a note on the E string, the index finger should rest on top of the A, D, and G strings, but not the B. If you are familiar with bare chords on the guitar, think of it as a “failed” bare chord where you are not pushing the strings all the way down.
- Thumb control – Due to the narrower string spacing on the 5-string, you will need to work on being precise with your thumb. While this will come over time, it greatly helps to work on this skill individually. A great way to do this is to play finger exercises that skip between strings while only using your thumb. Focus on precision first, and then develop speed as you progress. You can find an example of this type of exercise here. (use exercises 5 and 6).
- Mute with the palm – Your index finger will not be able to keep lower strings muted when they are unplayed. Personally, I prefer muting these with my plucking hand instead. I do this by gently resting my palm, or the side of my hand on the lower unplayed strings while slapping. Bassists do this is in a lot of different ways, so feel free to experiment with what works for you. What is important is that your plucking hand keeps the string muted without limiting the fluidity of your thumb.
- Bounce and fluidity – Hitting a string with your thumb doesn`t necessarily mean you are slapping it. Avoid moving your thumb in a rigid motion when hitting the string. Visualize that your thumb is bouncing off a really tight trampoline. It should strike the string like a whip and bounce off it naturally, rather than being pushed down and pulled up. When you have an additional string to work with, fluidity becomes all the more important. This is because faster basslines will be harder (and more painful) to play when you have to move your thumb across 5-strings.
Examples of slapping on a 5-string
So what does slapping on a 5-string bass actually look like? I have handpicked two great examples of this below and pinpointed what you can take away from both.
The first is a short clip by Waldemar Skoglund, on a 5-string Jazz bass. Pay extra attention to the fluidity of this plucking hand. His thumb is bouncing naturally off the strings, and his hand moves freely while remaining precise.
Also, rather than using his palm, he is using his wrist/arm for muting with his plucking hand. This is another perfectly viable of keeping strings muted.
Below is an example of legendary youtube bassist Davie504 slapping a Sire Marcus Miller V7 5-string. Notice how he uses his thumb for muting unplayed strings. This is similar to resting your thumb on the deepest unplayed string when playing fingerstyle but inverted.
Despite the difference in technique, notice how Davie and Waldemar both have great fluidity in their playing. This is fundamental for having control, speed, and producing a great tone when slapping a 5-string.
Slapping a 5-string bass guitar is slightly harder than slapping a 4-string, and requires some additional practice. However, slapping a 5-string also opens new doors for what types of basslines you can play.
I recommend slapping on a 5-string If you are looking to emulate 5-string players or want a deeper range. If you only own a 5-string or are mainly a 5-string player, using it for slapping is also a natural choice.
If you decide to use a 5-string for slapping, follow the tips outlined above to speed up your progress. Focus on muting and fluidity before anything else, and always prioritize control over speed when practicing.
Also, keep in mind that slapping is a difficult way to play the bass, regardless of how many strings you have. No one masters slapping overnight, but those who rush it rather than focusing on the basics tend to take more time getting there.
Having an additional string doesn’t make your bass unslappable. However, this doesn’t mean that all basses work equally well for slapping. To learn more about what type of bass to use for slapping, read my guide on whether you can play slap on any bass guitar.