Watch Vulpeck's Joe Dart break down Flea and Victor Wooten's slap bass technique 

Joe Dart performs on stage with the Fearless Flyers at Ahoy on July 10, 2022 in Rotterdam, The Netherlands
(Image credit: Photo by Peter Van Breukelen/Redferns)

Having made a lasting impression on the world of retro-funk bass guitar with his band Vulfpeck, Joe Dart has been further channeling his bass playing prowess as a teacher, via the group’s new educational platform, Vulf Conservatory.

In an 11-minute preview of his new bass guitar course, Dart dissects his core slap technique, breaks down one of Flea’s slap-happy bass grooves, and explains why we all have Will Smith to thank for bringing the technique back in the 1990s.

“Flea would be playing very percussive, and a lot of dead notes,” says Dart. “So I really learned how to hit the strings without making any notes ring out. He was my first influence on the instrument, and his commitment to playing every note as if it were his last, and to holding it down in what is essentially a three-piece band – he inspired me as a kid and still does today.”

Accompanied by bandleader Jack Stratton, Dart goes on to showcase the main differences between Flea’s slap-style and that of slap bass specialist Victor Wooten. “This is a particular style of slap that is distinct from, say, a Victor Wooten style, where he is using his thumb more like a pick, slapping through the string and he’ll pull up and slap on the string on the way up, too. He’ll get a double slap that way, but I always did the bounce off, which is the Flea thing.”

Will Smith? "The two main slap basslines of our generation," says Stratton, "were Will Smith samples. Marcus Miller [Smith's Just The Two Of Us samples Miller's playing on the Grover Washington/Bill Withers track of the same name] and Freddie Ready on Forget Me Nots [Ready Freddie Washington's bassline from the Patrice Rushen hit is sampled on Smith's Men In Black]. 

"So we can thank Will Smith for bringing back slap bass."

Dart: "Well, just slap generally."

The online course – which features over 70 video lessons spread across 7 different lectures – takes students through a host of Dart’s bass influences, from Pino Palladino and Lee Sklar to Sting and Paul McCartney. Students are also met with topics like Grooving as a Solo, Using Scales to Compose, Improvised vs. Written Part, 3 on E and Finding Your Feel.

“To me, the one thing that you can’t skip on is developing great feel, because you’re going to play with a bunch of different drummers throughout your life," says Dart. "They’re all going to put the time somewhere else, and you should be able to always be the bridge between the drummer and the rest of the band and make it feel good. That’s a huge thing I think about when I think about what to practise. Stamina will come, and the vocabulary you can learn from listening to great bass players, but my advice is to always develop good time.“

Joe Dart of Vulpeck playing bass guitars

(Image credit: C Brandon / Contributor)

Students who sign up will also learn how to play some of Vulpeck’s most famous songs, including Dean Town and Beastly, while also breaking down some of Dart’s own signature sounds and techniques.

The Joe Dart Bass Course is available now for $250 via the Vulf Conservatory.

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Nick Wells

Nick Wells was the Editor of Bass Guitar magazine from 2009 to 2011, before making strides into the world of Artist Relations with Sheldon Dingwall and Dingwall Guitars. He's also the producer of bass-centric documentaries, Walking the Changes and Beneath the Bassline, as well as Production Manager and Artist Liaison for ScottsBassLessons. In his free time, you'll find him jumping around his bedroom to Kool & The Gang while hammering the life out of his P-Bass.