Chromatic for Diatonic Players
Part 5 - The Slap and the Hammer

by Winslow Yerxa

Download this Article.       

Last time we looked at using the slide to spice up some lines. Now it's time to take another look at tongue blocking, with special focus on two closely related techniques, the slap and the hammer, or lift. These can add a huge amount of flavor, punch, and variety to your lines.

Two conditions or maybe three
Way back in Part 2, we looked at a whole catalog of tongue-based techniques. The very simplest one was this:

Alternating a full chord with a totally blocked mouthpiece, making no sound at all. This has a very clipped sound. Here's a line that uses it on almost every note:

Note the asterisk before the tab note indicating a slap. On the music notation, observe the dot over the note. This indicates staccato, a note that is played for as short a duration as possible and cut off sharply.

To hear it played twice, click here: choke1.mp3. The special effect on the long chord held at the end is vibrato.

A slight rise in sophistication would be to alternate a full chord with a single tongue blocked note:

This means that the single note is always sounding. It sounds with the full chord and continues when the chord is blocked out - it never stops.

This alternation is the basis of the slap and the hammer. If we alternated chord and single note on alternating beats, we'd have something like this:

Even if you don't look at the tab showing blocked holes alternating with played ones, and even if you don't read music, you can see the top note coasting along while the chord notes start and stop.

If you want to hear what it sounds like, click here: alternation1.mp3

Now, this is just chord vamping in rhythm. To be a slap, it has to have a percussive sound, as the name implies. The chord itself has to be short and abrupt. It's the same motion as a vamp, but much quicker. You start to play a single note, but you start with a chord and almost immediately slap the tongue down to get rid of the chord and go to the single note. However, the single note can continue.

To hear what it sounds like, click here: slap1.mp3

Here is a very simple riff that uses a slap. The asterisk before the note in the tab tells you where the slap comes.

Note that the only note that doesn't have a slap is the note that isn't on the beat.

To hear this line, click here: slapline1.mp3

The slap can be combined with the choke we worked with earlier. Here's a new version of the earlier line with both chokes and slaps:

To hear it played three times, click here: choke-slap.mp3. The sound at the very end is an octave. We'll get to that in a future installment.

Let's try a line where there are at least two notes per beat. We'll slap any note that falls on the beat:

To hear it played slowly, click here: slapline2-solo.mp3

To hear it at speed with the band: slapline2.mp3

Now in blues, we often divide the beat into three notes. This gives us some options. WE could play a very similar sequence of notes three to a beat, shown here without slaps:

We'll play this line more slowly to make it easier to hear what's going on. To listen, click here: slapline3-solo.mp3

Now, click here to hear it with the band at speed: slapline3.mp3

We could still put slaps on the beat, on the first note of every group of three:

To hear it played slowly, click here: slapline4-solo.mp3

To hear it at speed with the band, click here: slapline4.mp3

But what if we put the slaps where they were before, on the first of every two notes, even though there are now three to a beat? Then we get a pattern that goes a little crazy for a little excitement:

To hear it played slowly, click here: slapline5-solo.mp3

To hear it at speed with the band, click here: slapline5.mp3

The hammer

The hammer, or rapid repeated tongue lift, is sort of halfway between the slap and the vamp. Like vamp, it repeats but, like the slap, it happens very fast. The result is a texture with a very big sound. To indicate a hammer, the tab just shows a string of asterisks after the note:

Note how the hammer comes at a dramatic point, at the end of a rising line.

To hear this line, click here: hammer1.mp3

In the recording the line is played three times, with the hammer treated three different ways. The first time, it's a fast hammer. The second time it's slower. The third time it starts slow and goes to fast. Each creates a different effect.

The hammer doesn't have to be the crowning point of a line, however. It can be part of a riff texture

To hear this vamp, click here: hammer2.mp3

Here's another texture riff that takes advantage of the low range of a 64:

To hear it played twice, click here: hammer-low.mp3

Both slaps and hammers bring special emphasis to a note. When a slap falls on the beat, it rides along. But when it goes in between the beats, it pulls away and creates excitement. You can do something similar with a hammer but on a larger scale. So far we've put our hammers on strong beats, sometimes with a build-up. What if we put one on a weak beat?

To hear it, click here: hammer3-12.mp3

On a 64, we can take this line an octave lower:

Next time: We'll pick up where we left off, with more ways to use tongue blocking to bring texture, fullness, and bite to your chromatic lines in third position.

Notation Key

Please visit for a notation key.

Contact Webmaster   |   Visit our main web site -

To purchase Mel Bay products::
* Check your local music store
* Call 1-800-8-MEL-BAY (800-863-5229) or
* Online retailers

For a catalog: call 1-800-8-MEL-BAY (800-863-5229)
or e-mail

Mel Bay Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 2002 Mel Bay Publications, Inc. All Rights Reserved.