Less is More?!?!

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by Joe Nerve, Jul 20, 2002.

  1. Joe Nerve

    Joe Nerve Supporting Member

    Oct 7, 2000
    New York City
    Endorsing artist: Musicman basses, Hipshot products
    Just feeling like ranting a little about this. I think a lot of people use this these days as a total cop-out. I don't believe that "less is always more", and honestly - at least in the R&R I hear these days, less is usually "lazier", "less creative" and flat out "boring".

    I've been listening to a lot of 70's lately and I hear lots and lots of simple yet truly outstanding and artful basslines. Paul McCartney is a gret example of someone who can make the simplest basslines wrap themselves around your soul for life.

    Sorry - but the idea of simplicity today - playing all quarter & eighth notes, following the root - under the guise of being a supportive, groove, "I really know how to lay back and keep my ego at bay" kind of guy/girl - holds little water with me. I think many of the newer bassplayers aren't really giving their all to learn how they can be creatively supportive. I don't know how many strive to be truly artistic in their playing. I think lots of people are picking up the bass today because if you play simply, it is probably the easiet instrument to get involved with. I guess that's cool too (for what it's worth) - just can't handle anymore hearing the babble about "I've learned to be supportive." I think it's better to learn to write great bass lines.

    I'm done.
  2. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    I don't really want to comment on the subject because that would take weeks. However, I would like to say that this thread appears to have much LESS to do with Technique than it first appeared, and perhaps MORE to do with Miscellaneous. I'm just trying to be supportive of the moderators, more or less. :)
  3. Pacman

    Pacman Layin' Down Time Staff Member Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 1, 2000
    Omaha, Nebraska
    Endorsing Artist: Roscoe Guitars, DR Strings, Aguilar Amplification
    Thanks, Chris. I'll leave it where it is, it's not a big bother.

    I agree with Joe. All you need to do is take a look through "Standing in the Shadows of Mowtown" at some of James Jamerson's lines to realize that you can be all over the place and yet be supportive and grooving. How many times have you heard a band cover "Heard it Through the Grapevine"? And how many times have you heard the bass player play the actual part? Frightfully few times, I'll bet. "I'm just a groove player" is a total cop out by those who don't want to put in any real effort to learn to play.

    Right on, Joe.
  4. JimK


    Dec 12, 1999
    They were probably doin CCR's version. ;)

    Anyway, I think I'm with Joe & Pac...did you guys think I was joking with that Frasier Crane line? ;)

    I hear it at this site all the time-
    "Play The Song".
    What does that mean...exactly?

    As Packer said, Jamerson was playing the song...JJ's approach to "playing the song" may have been 'busy', cutting edge, advanced, inspired, soulful, intelligent, etc...whatever it was, it was grooving.

    ...and Joe's last point in paragraph #1 is well put.
    Belive it or not, there was a time when Rock("good" Rock, anyway)was about experimenting & "going for it".
  5. BassistJ


    Mar 20, 2001
    Hemet, CA USA
    Ohh, the ol' "Is Less More?" debate.

    I'm of the belief (like I'm sure most people who post here are) that one needs to play what the song calls for. Bear in mind that is there's a way to embellish or take the established bassline a little farther I'd probably be the first one to do it, but that's just the kind of bass player I am. But sometimes riding the root on eighth notes for the verses just works better then shooting through a couple arpeggios. I guess it all comes down to where you're ears are at.

    Case in point: My bass teacher has been playing for the better part of 30 years, and can cop a groove that would make Jaco blush. Yet the basslines he plays in a group situation are usually some of the simplistic, "stoopid" lines you could imagine. And he makes them groove like a bastard. Just watch out when the band gives him a solo. :D
  6. Philbiker

    Philbiker Pat's the best!

    Dec 28, 2000
    Northern Virginia, USA
    It's all about taste. Sometimes less is more. You bring up McCartney as an example.

    That's kind of tough because McCartney's easily one of the best pop/rock bass players ever. It's just like saying jazz cats can't play because they can't play like Jaco. :p

    Anyway, McCartney's a perfect example. Listen to the bass line for "Silly Love Songs" Penny Lane" and "Rain" for example. Harmonically complex, moving, driving the whole song. Out front as a solo instrument. Now listen to "Come Together" or "My Love". Very simple, straight, slow, nothing flashy - but it serves the song perfectly!

    That's what bass is all about. Serving the song whether the line should be complicated or simple. It means not only having the chops but also knowing when to use them.

    One thing's for sure. You could do worse than look on McCartney as an example of good taste and the bass truly serving the song.

    And if you want to hear some great old school punk bass playing in a similar vein, try to get your hands on some old stuff by "The Stranglers". JJ Burnel is very tasteful and serves the songs perfectly as well.
  7. My old sig was a Manring quote that went something like this: "If you take taste too far, it's not tasteful anymore."

    There's a point of diminishing returns, yeah, but it's pretty easy to be a very boring player.

    What's more important than how many notes you play, though, is which ones you do. Any fool can play roots and fifths and minor sevenths and make it sound "professional." It takes skill to know when to throw in a dissonant tone and make it sound good.
  8. JimK


    Dec 12, 1999
    I shoulda copped Chris' plea & not commented.

    Anyway, I do like playing Devil's Advocate on these type of discussions.
    "Serving the song"(?). I would assume most would agree that the song may be served in a variety of ways.

    "I Heard It Through The Grapevine"...check out Jamerson's 2 takes on this classic. Then check out CCR's.
    All 3 "serve the song", right? ;)

    Maybe, it's "serving the situation" at hand... I dunno.
    I will say playing stoopid pays(me) pretty well.
    BTW, "shooting through a couple of arpeggios" aren't really my thing...riding the root can be interesting, too, provided some rhythm & dynamics are employed. The trick(?) is to find the correct combination of space(rests) & noiz(long notes/staccato notes). Both, IMO = activity & energy.
    The trick(?) depends on each individual's experience, blah.

    Now, McCartney...definitely still one of my favourites-
    Honestly, I never thought of "Rain" as "harmonically complex". Edumacate me! ;)
    Also, I wonder if a tune like "Love Me Do" woulda had a different bass line/feel if recorded later in The Beatles' history.
  9. Blux


    Feb 5, 2002
    Philadelphia, Pa.
    I am not at all in a position to argue any point in on this topic. However, since Joe mentioned him and Philbiker suggested McCartney's "Come Together ", I would like to note a variation of that excellent line on George Benson's album recorded in 1969 "The Other Side of Abbey Road". The jacket does not say which bassist played on which track. It was either the great Ron Carter or the great Gerry Jemmott playing such a sweet variation that adds a few more notes and in doing so, really adds a touch more favor. It takes nothing away from the original, but what it adds is more than just groovin'. It's a different voice. If I knew how to create an MP3 sample, I would do so and I am certain everyone would hear how valid/fitting both versions are.

    Also, if I knew how to create an MP3, I would put a few minutes of the TB Philly Get-together jam up for everyone to enjoy Joe's flat out and tasteful groovin' with 3 others bass players. Then you would know exactly from where Joe is coming.

    Edit, to add two of my favorite McCartney bass lines; "She Came in Though the Bathroom Window" on Abbey Road and the very simple and effected "Get Back".
  10. joe, can you point out some players in particular? just so i can get an idea of who you're talking about.

    i mean, i kinda understand where you're coming from, but i think kim deal's playing with the pixies invalidates your whole argument. just my opinion.
  11. Ari


    Dec 6, 2001
    I have to disagree. It's not just what you play... It's also how you play it. To sound "professional" is not that simple. Even if it's an easy bassline the goal is to play with great tone, feel and most importantly great timing.

  12. Philbiker

    Philbiker Pat's the best!

    Dec 28, 2000
    Northern Virginia, USA
    Guess I should have used the word "busy" instead of "Harmonically complex". ;)
  13. Joe Nerve

    Joe Nerve Supporting Member

    Oct 7, 2000
    New York City
    Endorsing artist: Musicman basses, Hipshot products
    That's one of the nicest things anyone's ever said about me :) Thanks.

    DHC - someone mentioned Silly Love Songs, which is one of the songs I had in mind when I posted this thread. That bass line is super simple - yet it sings. If it were written today by some of the people I hear saying "less is more" that bass line would be DDDDDDDD - F#F#F#F# - GGGGGGGG (don't know the key of the song).

    The Chili Peps new CD actually got me going on this. Haven't had the guts yet to really dive into it, but my first listen really disappointed me with Flea. He's playing simply for sure, but NOT simply like on Soul to Squeeze, or some other older tunes. It seemed on first listen like he has abandoned style and taste in the name of simplicity.
    I'm going to really listen well to the CD today. My opinion might be different after that.

    I DO believe there are times when the absolute simplest 8th note roots serves a song best (Blitzkrieg Bop) - a lot of the songs I write are just that - but I feel the ART is getting sucked out of bass playing. Maybe I'm seeing too many kid bands in my neighborhood these days. It saddens me when I compare the music my friends and I were creating at 16 compared to the stuff kids nowadays are coming up with. They don't worship bass players. If they do they worship the guy from Blink 182. They don't stay up all nite trying to learn Ramble On. They never heard of Jaco, think they might know who Mcartney is, and laugh at Yes albums. I lent a kid a Yes album, he gave it back to me a couple of days later and rolled his eyes. A lot of these kids claim to be a "supportive" player. Again, I think they're just sad, lazy, misled players.

    The above of course doesn't include any kids from Talkbass - the fact that they're here in itself puts them a few notches up from the people I'm talking about.


    I'm becomming very opinionated these days. Does that mean I'm getting old????
  14. LiquidMidnight


    Dec 25, 2000
    Joe, I agree with everything you just said in the above post. I think that the musicianship in mainstream music has gone down all together, not just the bass playing. I mean, most of the bass playing is just root note bashing and half-assed slap, the guitar playing is just down tuned power chords and the drumming is "Oh look at me use my double kick pedal". That's just rock though, don't get me started on the sad state that Country is in, or how bad all of these new mainstream rappers couldn't flow if they were water running down at a 90 degree angle. I know that's quite a broad assumtion and I'm not saying all mainstream contepary music is bad. Back in the early to mid 90's, there were a lot of talented rock bands like Days of the New and Aic, and there are a lot of bands that can still write a decent song like Matchbox20 and Goo Goo Dolls, but we can agree, that it's mainly crap populting the airwaves. You can tell if music is made honesty and you cannot be condesending to that. (Even if you don't care for the music) But if it's souless, I think you should tear into it if you feel like it. I'm not mad at mainstream music for being popular, just around 98 I realized it sucked, so I thought I would quit listening to it and check back in a few years later and see if it cleaned itself up yet.

    Even though I'm about 20, guys who are twice my age are gung-ho to play with me, and I think the main reason is because when most people my age are interested in playing Linkin Park and Slipknot, I want to be playing Rush, Van Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zepplin, SRV, and Rollingstones. I'm also interested in diving into the world of Jazz. I remember at a jam session once, we were trying to think of a Du-wop number to do and I suggested Blue Moon and the lead singer was blown away that the "Youngblood" new Blue Moon.
  15. Intrepid


    Oct 15, 2001
    Less is more doesn't mean play root...sure sucky players like to use that saying, but it really means not to overly play and do crap thats off-the-wall that will make the song suck...don't play ballads with some fast slap line. I hate to tell you, but there are as many good bass players today as there were back in the day.
  16. got that right. it's just that there's a lower signal-to-noise ratio.
  17. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002
    I'm with Joe & Pacman.

    I think alot of players who make those comments because they couldnt play a more exciting bass line if they tried.

    I see bands on TV (and live) all the time and the bassist is playing a line with almost zero melody and groove,

    I find it frustrates me because I feel I could do a much better job.

    At the same time it can be gratifying to know that you're not just the usual lame arse bass player.

    "Less is more" is true, but that's no reason less has to be dull as sh*t.

    Personally, I'll play where I think I should play and I'll hold back where I think I should. Bass is a great sound and people should hear more of it.

    ...and balls to making comments like "I had to keep my ego in check, maaan"... that is totally 'saying the right thing in the interview' pretentious wank.

    Hey Joe.. give the new peppers CD a good listening to. The bass lines are very good, but the songs writing has taken a vast prominance and it becomes very clear after a few good listens. I'm a BIG fan (of nearly 15 years) and I love it, but it does need time. I think it's far better than califiornication as a complete album.
  18. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002
  19. CS


    Dec 11, 1999
    Theres a fine line between disappearing and overplaying. That line shifts with the instrumentation, line-up, music style and what the alpha-male/female wants.
  20. Pacman

    Pacman Layin' Down Time Staff Member Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 1, 2000
    Omaha, Nebraska
    Endorsing Artist: Roscoe Guitars, DR Strings, Aguilar Amplification
    I've been thinking about this further....

    The more I think about it, the more I realize that most of the people that I've heard that say "I'm just a groove guy" couldn't hold a groove if it had handles. Just an observation.