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Popping the Bass

Learn to pop the bass in the style of delta bluesmen


From Mastering Acoustic Blues Guitar by Lou Manzi
You’ve heard bass players slapping and popping strings in funk styles. Guitarists have popped notes since the early days of the blues. This technique is usually used on the lower notes. Put your thumb under the string, then pull and release the string. Practice a few pops to get a feel for them.

Pops are indicated by the symbol . This symbol is taken from classical string notation where a pop is called a Bartok pizz. (pizz. stands for pizzicato, which means to pluck a string). Because the pieces in this lesson are to be played fingerstyle, we will use the letters p, i, m, and a to indicate the fingers of the right hand. These letters are abbreviations for the Spanish names of the fingers:

Right-Hand Fingers
p = pulgar = thumb
i = indicio = index finger
m = medio = middle finger
a = anular = ring finger

In “Pop Goes the Bass Note,” every note on the 6th string should be popped. Note the hammer-ons in measure 6. The first note in each hammer-on is a grace note, which means it has no rhythmic value of its own; play the starting grace note and quickly hammer-on to the next note.

Pop Goes the Bass Note  Listen


Our next piece is in open G tuning and in the style of delta bluesmen like Charley Patton and Willie Brown. The early players did not always follow the restrictions of 4/4 time or the 12-bar blues form. They added and/or dropped beats and bars here and there as they felt it, letting the phrasing guide the rhythmic groupings rather than letting the rhythm guide the phrasing. “Down in the Delta” alternates between 5/4 and 4/4 with a classic descending bass passage that is popped. Brushing the upper notes with your i finger will give you a rough and rugged Delta sound.

Down to the Delta Listen
All up-stem notes are played with the i finger brushing up, except for the first half of the fifth beat in the 5/4 bars, where i strums down. All bass notes are palm muted except in the 5/4 bar where they are popped.

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