First Things First.
Playing The Bass Guitar Is An Awesome Responsibility Not To Be Taken Lightly.
When you’re playing bass in a band you’re holding on to an instrument that can literally change the musical landscape at the switch of a groove.
Below you’ll find the top six things suggested by pros that will help you handle that responsibility of such a pivotal position.
#1 Play For The Song
It’s important that you the bass player support the song. I heard a great quote from Joe Walsh of the Eagles the other day. He was talking to his bass player during sound check. He said “You’re the engine that drives the song.” He was encouraging the bass player to play in the groove, stay in the pocket, and support the song. There is a tendency to want to deviate a little and “show your chops a little.” Use caution here. If you go south on the groove the whole band will lose the support. It’s as if the bottom end that supports everything falls just falls out.
#2 Lock With The Drummer
You the bass player and the drummer are like the two pillars that hold up the weight of the entire band. Keep in mind that drums and bass form the foundation that everyone else can play on. The drummer is looking for a groove to support. You the bass player have to give that to him. Your rhythm has to be the same and it has to be consistent. Otherwise for a drummer it’s like trying to chase a cat across a busy six lane highway. If you’re not consistent in your rhythm and groove it can be quite frustrating for everyone.
#3 Pay Attention To Your Tone
Pay attention to your tone. Bass is not about one tone. It’s about finding and matching the right tone for the right song. From the audience side the low tones don’t cut through as much. It sounds like an unintelligible boom. It had no definition. On stage you may not be able to hear it, but out in the audience is where it counts. This is something to be aware of. Have someone listen from out front and give you feedback the next time you perform. From there you can adjust if necessary. Also consider different effect pedals to have a variety with your bass tones. Some of the effect units used include chorus, delays, octaves and sometimes distortion pedals.
#4 Make Your Timing Solid
Timing is not just the drummers responsibility. It’s actually everyone’s responsibility. If the drum groove is relaxed and you the bass player are pushing it, that just doesn’t work. When that happens, there is a tug of war battle going on that affects everyone else. Same goes for the all the other players. The fact that the bass and drums are the foundation makes it important for your timing to be solid. Think in terms of targeting and hitting the patterns that the drummer is playing. If you both are doing that your grooves will be solid. As an example, if the drummer is playing behind the beat, lay back with with your groove and match his or her groove. If one is ahead, and the other is behind, your music won’t have any drive.
#5 Be Sparse With Your Bass Licks
Ok, let’s talk bass licks. Yes I know about the thrill of the lick, but licks are like salt in your food. How salty is your main dish? Think walking into and eating in a high end restaurant with a master chef on this one. When to lick, where to lick, how often to lick are important things to consider. If you’re going to play a lick, there has to be reason for it. The reason might be a transition, or responding to an event in the lyrics, or some other event in the music. Study great songs and pay attention to where the licks happen, and look for the reason the lick is happening.
#6 Remember Most Of The Time Less Is More
Just stick to the groove man! Learn to groove, and groove hard. I asked master drummer Steve Ferrone of Tom Petty’s band what would you say to a young drummer to helm him or her be their best. His response was forget about the rolling around the kit, forget about the crazy fills and play time. He said play two four and get great at it. When you master that, then you can add the other stuff in. It’s the same for playing bass. If you’re sitting in a groove, and the drummer is sitting in the same groove, what you have is cohesive force. It’s more like a cohesive driving force that the audience can’t ignore.
There is a really cool article I found that points out the do’s and donts of a bass player. The title is a bit strange, but the information is solid. It’s called “How To Not Be a Dumb Bassist” and can be found on StartupMusician.co. It’s a great read for both beginning bass players, and a good reminder for experienced bass players.
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