Playin’ the bass

Sometimes, in the right circumstances, I’m a bass player. That proviso is important because, when they are right, the experience is sublime; when they’re not, it’s strictly on par with a visit to the periodontist.

I’ve discovered there’s a lot more to bass playing than typically meets the eye (and ear). For starters, you can’t really take any ‘time off’ when you’re holding down the bottom end. As a guitar player, I often find myself taking momentary little ‘holidays’, mentally and musically, during a tune. Nobody’s the wiser, and the tune rarely suffers when the guitar player has a breather. Not so for the guy on bass; if you relax for even a bar, it usually feels like the muffler just fell off. So, that part is about uninterrupted focus on what’s going on.

The bass has a complex role in a band context; rhythmic, harmonic and percussive. One piece of advice I got from a drummer once (somewhat sternly) was to “pay attention” to his kick drum. What? Not just ‘notes’? (He was essentially warning me not to muddy up his ‘workspace’.)

Harmonically, there’s often a whole lot more required of a bass player than just fundamental tones; often, the bass forms a part of a complex chord structure with keyboards and other chordal instruments. Then, of course, there are the questions of dynamics, syncopation and the ever-present requirement for,…,”the groove”.

In my personal experience, often the best overall musician in the band is the bass player, despite the typically low profile. Musicians certainly appreciate a great player in their midst, though.Want to build a great band? Start with a great bass player. (That may mostly explain why I normally restrict my bass playing to duo situations.)

What are the ‘lessons’ of bass for life generally? Well, paying attention all the time; listening to what’s going on around you; fitting in; making other people look (sound) good. Those sound like good fundamentals to me.

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