Slapping on the guitar looks and sounds cool, but how do you do it and make it sound good?

Read on further to find out how it’s done and how to practice it so that you can turn your normal chords into something that sounds great.

What is slapping? 

Slapping is a great technique where, in between your chord playing or finger picking, you can slap the strings with your thumb to create a nice percussive sound. The slapping technique is replicating the sound of a snare drum on a drum kit. 

This is typically the part of the drum kit that gets people dancing and is a big reason why it sounds great on guitar too.

You’ll hear this if you listen to people like John Mayer (listen to his song “Heart Of Life”).

I often see lots of people having challenges with this technique, how to do it, how to practice it, and how to use it while playing the guitar and so let’s break down this technique so you can do it too. 

How do you slap? 

The movement in which your thumb makes is one of the most important aspects of slapping. 

To do this, imagine like you’re trying to open a door. Instead of the movement coming from moving your arm up and down, the movement should come from your forearm rotating, 

When slapping, try to hit strings 6 and 5. This will give you a great percussive sounding slap that will really stand out in your playing when you do this. 

It’s at this point I see students struggling because it’s important to not only know what strings to aim for, but also what part of your thumb you should slap with. The best way to achieve a great sounding slap is to make sure you’re hitting the strings with the joint of your thumb.

My thumb hurts, is this normal?

When you first try out this technique, you may notice that your thumb starts to feel a little sore. This is completely normal and it’s something that every guitar player experiences. 

Note: If you do feel in pain then I recommend you take a break from practising for the day and come back to it tomorrow.

Over time you will become more comfortable with slapping your thumb against the strings, to the point that you won’t feel any pain, hurting, soreness, and you can focus on really having a lot of fun using this technique. 

What should I practice first?

If this is your first time learning the technique, or if you can do it a little bit already, I strongly advise you to spend a little bit of time practicing the thumb slap in isolation. This means to practice it without doing any kind of picking pattern. 

You will need to develop the ability to get a great sounding slap out of your guitar and this is the fastest way I’ve seen people learn the technique. 

I’ve practiced slapping the thumb, what’s next? 

So you’re starting to get a great sound out of your thumb slapping? Great! The next step is now to practice starting to use the thumb slap while finger picking. 

We’re going to avoid using chords just yet because I find that it’s very easy to get distracted by the sound of the chords, rather than focusing on what’s important at this stage which is to use this slapping technique blending with a picking pattern. 

To begin with, play patterns as follows:

  1. Bass note
  2. treble note
  3. slap
  4. treble note

What does this mean? A bass note is any string that’s 654. A treble note is any string that’s 321. The slap (S) is when you hit the strings. Some example patterns could look like: 

  1. 6 3 S 1
  2. 5 2 S 3
  3. 6 2 S 1

How many more patterns can you create?

A more advanced exercise would be to play all your treble strings at once which would look lie this (the ‘(321)’ means to hit those 3 strings at once):

  1. 6 (321) S (321)
  2. 5 (321) S (321)

Applying to chords

Now it’s time to put everything we’ve learnt into action! Let’s take some chords that you know and try out these picking patterns. This could range from a single chord you know, up to pairs of chords, or even chord progressions from songs. 

To begin with, try holding down an Em chord and then playing one of the patterns above. Sounds cool with the slap right? What if we change between two chords, Em and G? The possibilities almost become endless.

With the right practice and training, learning to slap with your thumb while using finger picking is very achievable and it won’t take you long to get it down. 

If you’re new to slapping, or you would like some help with how to use this technique better in your playing, then contact us at Guitar Tuition East London for Acoustic guitar lessons. You’ll get support, feedback, and direction from teachers who understand how help you to improve and who are committed to being great teachers.