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Funk 101

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Funk 101                                      by Orin Isaacs


     I get asked a lot by bass players about my approach to the whole ‘slap bass thing’ and I never know quite how to answer them without first seeing them play. They always say that they have some technique but just can’t seem to make it groove. Right about then I say to myself “Well then, get the technique down and start grooving”, but it comes out more like “just keep practicing and it will eventually come to you”.

     Unfortunately folks, it’s not that easy. The first rule of this maze of slapping, popping, and thumpin’ with hammer-ons and 16th note triplets' that you must FEEL IT!!!  And you must make it HAVE FEEL!!!  You can have all the technique in the world but if you can't get it to means nothing.

     I learned that the hard way at the age of 17 at an after-hours jam spot that musicians could go to after their gigs.  The people that went there appreciated all types of music.  After all, that's why they were there; it was to hear good musicians jam all night long.

     I was a young slightly cocky bass player trying to impress the cats…and most of the time I did. One night the keyboard player asked me to start a groove to get things going. I pulled my thumb out of my holster and started to fly, notes were everywhere. I gave them all I had. This went on for about a minute, which at the time seemed like an hour because of the blank stares I was getting from everyone in the club, including the musicians on stage. ‘Why weren’t they jamming with me?’, I asked myself. ‘Maybe they can’t keep up.’ ‘Yeah that’s it,’ I told myself.

     Just then the keyboard player got up and stopped me. He then asked if a friend of his could borrow my bass and sit in. I thought, ‘Well he can’t top my speed and chops, so why not?’ The man gently put my bass around his neck and laid down a groove that had the club rocking! I mean the place lit up! The band joined in and you could see the joy in everyone’s face, every face except mine. As a tear rolled down my face, I learned then the importance of ‘The Groove’.

     I stayed away from that jam club for 2 months because I felt so hurt, but in those months I worked on my grooving skills. I finally had worked up enough courage to go back. Once again the keyboard player invited me on stage and asked me to start a groove. And that’s exactly what they got, a bass line with feel, a progression that worked and a tasty amount of thumb that made the place bounce. That was the night I married the technique that I had with the groove that I was missing.

     Hopefully I will give you some insight to save you such embarrassment.

     When it comes to slapping or thumpin’ the bass, the first thing that you should do is evaluate whether your technique is complimenting the groove or lick that you’re trying to do. If your technique is not correct then you actually can be limiting your potential to do certain things. Ask yourself something now, and be honest. Is your thumb bouncing off the string instead of passing through to the next string while thumbing, when it could be used to double strike the string, creating two notes with the same movement instead of one? One note with a down stroke and another note with an upstroke of the thumb, which is called double thumbing or double thumpin’. Do the fingers on your note hand stick up above or duck under the fret board, unless they are being used to fret a note? I call these ‘run away fingers’.

     Do you keep your plucking finger on your other hand nice and low to the strings? You want to minimize movement of your entire right hand to pull off those 16th notes triplets that you love to do. And most importantly, can you ‘Groove’? Can you sit down with just your bass, jamming just with yourself, and make people feel it? If you answered ‘yes’ to these questions then you’re on your way.

     If you think that you can use some help getting there, than I’ve put some video examples in the “bassics” section of my website at for those who would like to check out what I’m talking about.

Till then, mad love to all my bottom dwellers!

Orin Isaacs is the Bassist/Musical Director of ‘Open Mike with Mike Bullard’, which can be seen nightly on the Comedy Network and CTV.

Check out his album entitled “Where I’m From” on the Global Bass Station. Orin can be reached at


You can also find an in-depth Cover Story interview with Orin in our first issue of Global Bass Magazine Click here to read it.



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