If you are the bass player of the band, then I believe that you’ll encounter people who doesn’t even know what is the bass guitar. There are people I know that do not even know the sound of the bass guitar. All they know is the electric guitar or acoustic guitar. Knowing the role of the Bass Player in a band, I find this intriguing and frustrating because it is important in the band.
Let me repeat that. The bass player is one of the most important player in the band. If the drums and bass player are so tight in playing, the band is definitely on a good position and has a good chance of being successful.
Why drums and bass?
Sure, there are solo artist that are well known for their solo performances usually accompanied by an acoustic guitar or piano. It’s because the element they need to sound pleasant is delivered correctly. Drums and bass is not the reason why the band will be successful. It is the role that they have in which when executed well, it can bring the success of the band.
Drums and Bass are the ones that drive the rhythm, the pulse of the song, the groove or feel. If a solo player can bring this out through their guitar or piano, then it will definitely sound pleasant. It’s the same with drums and bass. If those two musicians can deliver those elements perfectly, the result will be remarkable.
Again, it’s not the instruments that bring out in itself the elements, but the skill of the player who plays them. On a band set-up, drums and bass are the two players who should be exceptionally good in terms of rhythm and groove. Later, we will talk about groove if you do not know what it is.
The Role of the Bass player in a band
1. Solidify the Rhythm Section
The term solidify means to provide a solid foundation for the rhythm. As a bass player, you need to make sure that the rhythm itself is intact and tight. That’s why you need to work with the drummer as he also plays a huge part in the rhythm.
If you want to be on the lead role, then bass guitar is not for you. You can have some spotlight in some cases but most of the time, you’ll gonna be working behind the scenes ensuring that the rhythm is not falling apart because if that happens, then your music will not sound good.
It is a misconception that you’ll have to go along on whatever the drums is doing. No, you should work together. He is not the one in charge, but both of you. Since you, too, is a master of rhythm, you should both discuss how the rhythm will go and after establishing that, then do your part especially by locking in with the Kick which will result to a very solid rhythm.
2. Hold the Groove
Groove, in simple terms, is the feel of the song. It is what separates every genre from each other. Knowing how to hold the groove is one of the important role of a bass player. You should know how the feel of funk differs from rock. All genres have their own way of playing and that’s why you have to know and be familiar to the feel of the genres.
Holding the groove means that you should be consistent on delivering the right feel. There’s nothing wrong on being creative or going out of the box but you have to understand that the necessary groove should not be too different in what you are doing unless you are trying to do a variation of the genre.
Let me give you an example. Most popular songs today are not relying too much anymore on the groovy bass lines and it is just a consistent root note all the way. If you try to do a jazz groove in those songs, which is heavily relying to a lot of syncopation and swings, and has a lot of bass notes, then the feel will be like the jazz and not pop anymore.
3. The Bridge between the Rhythm and Harmony
We clearly defined above that the bass holds an important role on the rhythm but it is also important in establishing harmonic foundation. Harmony is defined as simultaneously playing more than one notes that sounds good altogether. A chord is one example of that.
A guitar chord or a piano chord is already a good harmony but by providing a good low end tone that is done by a bass player, the chord will shine out more. Try playing a chord progression with and without a bass, you’ll clearly hear the difference. One wrong move of the bass player, either wrong time or wrong note can destroy the harmony that’s why it is a challenge for bass players to be in perfect rhythm and harmony at all times.
Some tips for the bass player
1. Play with Kick Drum
This is a cliche and most probably the first thing you would know when you are starting to play with a band. Playing with the Kick Drum means syncing with the Kick. Don’t walk ahead what the drummer is doing by doing a bass line without considering the kick.
If you won’t play with the Kick, the rhythm will be disastrous and it will be a sure way to kill your career. This principle should be mastered as soon as possible or else you will only have poor groove everytime you play.
2. Add the other notes of the chord
Have you ever wondered what you’ll do when you encounter a minor chord, or a major seventh chord? Most bass players are only focusing on the root note and some scales when they play. But I would like to tell you that by knowing the notes included in the chord will help you provide a better bass line.
A C major chord has notes C, E, and G while the minor has C, Eb, and G. When you encounter a C major chord, you can add E and G in your playing.
The 3rd’s and the 5th’s should be a common knowledge for you and while it is important to play the root note always, you can always add the 3rd and 5th in between to add some flavors in the groove. You should be careful in adding since it can either make or break the groove so practice it consistently. And do not forget that adding these notes should still be in sync with the drummer.
3. Don’t Slap inappropriately
I heard to one of my friends that their bass player recently learned how to do a slap in the bass. But what struck him in his nerves is it was done in almost every song they practiced before. Slapping is a good skill but it must be done at proper times.
4. Don’t Overplay
I can’t hardly emphasize this but this is a required discipline in all musicians. Overplaying will result to a poor groove and using many notes is not the way to sound good. We have this principle “less is more” which is said and advice by the best musicians out there.
Hearing the bass all over the song will muddy the overall sound and that is not good for listening. When you are playing the bass, always try to put yourself on the listener’s position and do what you think the listener will love to hear in a song as a whole. We tend to show every licks we know and we forgot that the people is listening to the whole song and not just the bass only.
5. Don’t put too much strength on the right hand
Putting too much strength on the right hand will make the sound too loud and too punchy. One thing you should learn when you are the bass player is to relax your hand when playing. Be mindful to release the tension in your hands and make sure your fingers are relaxed. That way you’ll achieve a soft sound without overwhelming the frequency. Too much strength will make the sound man cut you in the mix because you are too loud and punchy which can hurt the music.
6. Play in time and with the right note
This should be done 100% of the time. Your role is to make a bridge between harmony and rhythm. When you are not in time, the rhythm will collapse. When you don’t have the right note, the harmony will not be good. Let me also remind you that one wrong note can often mislead the vocals into wrong tone because the bass serves as the harmonic foundation. Even when the guitar and piano has correct chords, if you miss the right note, the vocals can have a hard time in singing the right note.
7. Experiment with the length of a note: Whole note, half note, quarter note, eighth note
There are times that you have to play longer note especially at those song with slow tempo. But playing longer notes at fast tempo songs can sound bad so you have to experiment on the length of the note.
8. There will be times you won’t be playing anything
Yes. You read that right. There are certain parts that you have to stop playing and just leave the guitars or the drums or whatever and let them play that part. Doing this will improve your dynamics because not hearing the bass is a big change in the ears of the listeners.
What’s good in this is when you come back and play, the tension will build up faster and you can achieve the climax in the music much easier if you know what I mean. Not playing is not always bad, as long as you know what you are doing.
The Bass Player’s role is so important that having a good and bad one has a big effect in the career of the band. Since it has less spotlight, people are not investing in this instrument and they even think that it is easy to play this since you are just using the root note, but it is wrong.
This role is so underrated but since you know that they are important, please do appreciate them when you feel the right emotion in the music when you play. And if you are the bass player, you should invest more time in practicing the rhythm rather than those bass lines since it is much needed.
If you have questions feel free to leave it at the comment box. I would like to know what you think is the role of the bass player in the band.