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As you may or may not know, the bass guitar is partly a rhythmic instrument. It means that importance of rhythmic playing is on the same level (if not higher) as melodic playing on this beautiful instrument.

This is also one of the reasons why we focus with students in my guitar school on precise rhythmic playing and feeling while playing bass. One big chapter in this topic is about to practice great timing. But this won´t be our point of interest today. In this article I want to point out how we can make rhythmic playing more fun, what elements we can add to make our rhythmic patterns sound more interesting and how to practice them.

The key here is to learn how to play and how to use percussive notes on bass. They are used a lot in a variety of music styles and slap technique (which is one of the most favorite among bass players) is in fact based on playing and mastering these types of notes.

Playing percussive notes means that we play in the way when no specific tones are produced. While playing “percussively”, there are no A, C, G, D etc. There is only a sound which underlines the rhythmic feeling of your bass lines. If we do not want to sound specific tones, then we have to use MUTING the strings, which is the basic element of playing percussive notes.

There are two main ways, how we can do it.

First, mute the strings with your left hand while the right one still plays the same. In another words, fingers on the right hand will still hit the string like as you play in standard way in order to create a sound. Left hand will mute the strings on the neck because we do not want to create a specific note. It´s absolutely critical to mute the strings in correct way = put your fingers on the strings and do not press them too much but also not too weak.

The good way to begin with practicing it is to focus on creating the right sound. When we can do this, then practice playing one note in standard way (unmuted) and one note muted. Repeat the process as long as it is necessary. Focus on playing it in the same tempo.

We can play this with all of the right hand´s finger we play usually (ring, middle and index finger) but we can add even more accent to our playing by using right hand´s thumb.

Second way is to mute the strings and create a sound at the same time only with your left hand. Try this with your bass. Do not use your right hand and try to put your left hand to your neck with an accent. Do it until you achieve a dull and heavy sound. Be aware of not resonate the strings and create a tone.

In praxis, both of these techniques are usually combined together. Especially while playing slap technique, there´s often a need to use these percussive notes in very quick succession. Therefore, muting with one hand might not be enough. It can limit us in the speed. We achieve more effectiveness in our playing when we will combine both of these techniques together.

About the author: Tom Sklenar is the professional bass player and the teacher in the Guitar School of Chropyne (Škola kytary Chropyně), Czech republic. 

How To Play Percussive Notes On Bass