Role of the Bass?

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by outofstep, Jan 29, 2002.

  1. outofstep


    Dec 5, 2001
    Sonoma, CA
    I've been playing bass for a little under a year, and I've progressed very rapidly... I've been playing guitar for a little longer and I have a trouble switching back and forth... this brings up a problem for me.. I'm not sure what I should be doing on the bass... like keeping a solid pumping bass line (I play mainly rock n' roll/punk), or sticking with the guitar rythem... I don't have problems making up a bassline to the guitar roots... I have problems trying to keep the guitar rythem... I don't know what to do.. I don't know how to do it... any help?

    I also have problems keeping even measures and such.. like I'll write a cool bassline rythem-wise but it tends to be odd and partial measures.. I don't know what to do.. any help, suggestions? thanks. -matt
  2. Bass is the connection between drums and guitar IMHO. Follow the chord structure layed down by guitar, and play off the rythem from the drums.

    If in doubt, do what I do, remember to listen to that kickdrum, and play off that.
  3. CrawlingEye

    CrawlingEye Member

    Mar 20, 2001
    Easton, Pennsylvania
    Traditionally the bass is to keep the rhythm of the guitar, and so on.

    I don't really buy into much of that, though. I generally play what I feel suits the song best. :)

    If the part requires root notes, I play roots, if I feel like slapping, I'll slap. If I feel like playing something involving chords, or double stops, I'll do that.

    I think the "role of the bassist" is decided by the person who's holding the bass. There's no real universal rule on it.

    If the bass just held the rhythm, who would Jaco be? Just another guy playing roots.
    Who would Victor Wooten be? Same as Jaco (Just playing roots).

  4. cassanova


    Sep 4, 2000
    as a bassist you have 2 main responsabilites

    1. being able to keep time
    2. being able to outline the root motion of progression

    if your having problems keeping even measures and time, i suggest you go out and buy a metronome and learn to get your interal clock charged up and working properly. if you CANT keep good time or even measures, then you arent going to get much work if any at all as a bassist. its imperative that you hone that skill asap

    as far as outlining the root motion, the only advice i can give you is to learn as much theory as possible so you know what note choices you have available to you. I also recomend that you listen to a variety of styles so you can broaden on your rythms a bit.
  5. I second what Cassanova says in regard to your playing being "the glue" between the beat and the melody.

    That is the traditional role and will always keep you gigging.

    However, as Crawling Eye says, you are only limited by your imagination, ability, and the music you are playing.

    Bottomline - the more diverse styles of bassing you listen to, the broader your horizons will be. Listen to James Jamerson/Tommy Shannon vs. Les Claypool/John Entwistle back-to-back and the wide range of possibilities become very apparent.
  6. Steve Lawson

    Steve Lawson Solo Bass Exploration! Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2000
    Birmingham, UK
    This is in some ways a very diverse topic - the bass guitar, on one level ain't nothing but a lump of wood with some strings and a pick-up and you can make whatever noises you like with it. If all you want to do is plug into a guitar amp and jump up and down on your bass wearing huge clown feet and get off on that sound, that's fine. If all you want to do is play melody, that too is fine, if all you want to do is emulate the sound of a guitar or a keyboard, yet again, that is fine. I spend a heck of a lot of time with my bass not sounding how one would traditionally imagine a bass to sound, even though my thought process is not 'how can I get away from sounding like a bass' rather it's 'how can I best get that sound that I'm hearing in this song?'

    contrast with that the extremely conservative expectations that many other musicians have about the role of bass within a set style of music and you have a choice to make - if you want to be a 'functioning bassist' in a rock/punk/pop/whatever band, your best start point is listening and analysing - learning the lines from other bands that are in a similar style to the band that you're playing. once you've worked out the line, it's time to work out why those notes and rhythms were chosen - what is the link between the bass line and the chord progression? does it bear any strict relation to the melody or the riff? is it in one key or more random? what is the relationship between the rhythm in the bass and the drums? is it just following the bass drum or playing an amalgam of what the rest of the kit is doing as well? this way, after playing a few tunes, you'll start to work out what the 'guidelines' are for defining that style. there's no reason why you should have to stick strictly to those rules, but you should get some idea of what will be expected if you chose to market yourself within a specific style - claiming to be a punk band and then gigging with a piano trio playing standards is probably not a great way to get gigs... :oops:)

    ultimately music is all about sound. But if you're concerned about style, it starts to get a little more restricted and defined, and people's expectations of what a bass player should do are similarly limited. So study the bands you want to emulate (if indeed emulation is part of your game plan), or else just sit and hit the bass with kitchen utensils until you find a cool noise then work with that - it's all good! :oops:)

    have fun,

  7. stephanie


    Nov 14, 2000
    Scranton, PA
    Well said Steve! :)

    I believe the role of the bass is going to depend on what exactly you are doing. If you are in a regular rock band I suppose then the bass is gonna play a supportive role. But if you are solo then you play the main role.

    I get weird looks and always questions asked when I say I want to be a solo bassist, mainly "how can you be solo on a bass? You can't do much with just a bass, can you?...."

  8. thrash_jazz


    Jan 11, 2002
    Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
    Artist: JAF Basses, Circle K Strings
    I think it depends on what kind of music you're playing. Most styles do seem to have rigidly defined roles for the bass; however, the main theme in most is to groove and provide a solid backbone and pulse to the music.

    As far as it depending on what style of music it is... For instance, in jazz, bass can be a solo instrument, but bass solos are much rarer in, say, a 12-bar blues band or rock band.

    Of course, there are bassists such as Les Claypool and Victor Wooten, who carved their own niches. Unfortunately, one not only needs high skill levels to do this; one also needs to be playing with people that don't mind sharing the spotlight (good luck finding a geetar player that'll do that!).

    I'd say that if you, your bandmates and your audience are happy with your playing (and, by extension, your music), you're fulfilling your role perfectly.
  9. CrawlingEye

    CrawlingEye Member

    Mar 20, 2001
    Easton, Pennsylvania
    I'm going to have to collide with Steve on this issue.
    I don't think your genre should really effect how you're playing. I feel that the role of the bassist is more decided (I'm repeating myself) by the bassist himself.

    If you want to strictly play roots, that's fine. I wouldn't restrict myself to what "punk bands are allowed" to play. That's just plain silly.

    Take The Ramones, for example. Their bassist played nearly only root notes, and played a supportive role, in keeping the rhythm.

    Now, compare that to Hot Water Music, for example... The bassist does keep the rhythm sometimes, but he does lead a good deal of songs, as well.

    I had a thread a while back, in the "bassists" forum, which was asking "What kind of bassist are you?"

    A lot of people chose "melodic/groove."
    I tend to stick to more melodic stuff, myself, over groove. I have gone for a more groovish (new word?) vibe for some songs, though...

    It's all about what you want to do, contrary to what anyone says. :)
  10. john turner

    john turner You don't want to do that. Trust me. Staff Member

    Mar 14, 2000
    atlanta ga
    ...until, of course, the time comes to make money with your playing. then you have to meet the expectations of those paying the bills. sometimes, if you're lucky, those expectations will be to do exactly what you want to do. most of the time, though, these expectations will dictate more stringent requirements upon one's playing.
  11. Steve Lawson

    Steve Lawson Solo Bass Exploration! Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2000
    Birmingham, UK
    ...which is fine unless you are joining a band who have an expectation of what they want you to do - if you join a band who are punk and want to stay punk, then there are going to be certain expectations about the way that you're going to play, and the kind of cliches you are going to employ (I use cliche in its least perjorative sense).

    Ultimately, it's just music, and you can play whatever you want - if you want to play in a band that has a punk guitarist and drummer and a 'free' bassist, then there's no reason whatsoever why you can't do that, but there's a point at which you would cease to be considered 'punk' at least musicially if not in attitude. No problem with that unless you WANT to appeal to a punk audience, unless you WANT to sound stylistically comparable to other punk bands.

    Music is just noise - there are no rules whatsoever about what you can and can't do - you wanna play pots and pans? great, you wanna play bass with a dead badger? great (so long as it died of natural causes...) - but if you are playing in a band with musicians who are wanting to play music within a particular style, then you'd better be familiar with what is 'usually' required of a bassist in that style before you join the band. once you've 'paid your dues', you may earn the right within the band to subvert the expectations of the audience and mess things around a bit (x-ref Les Claypool, Matt Freeman, etc. etc.) but If asked, you can bet your ass that either of them could play rock/punk/pop/whatever in a more conventional way...


  12. If only it were that perfect a world, Crawling.

    To underscore what John and Steve are saying with a concrete example;

    - Two nights ago, I was invited to audition for a semi-tribute band. Their "tribute" side is Lynyrd Skynyrd and I never went for that "meth and whiskey" style of Southern rock.

    But their sets also include material I really enjoy playing, (e.g. Spirit, Billy Squier, ZZ Top, Bad Company, et al).

    So, what to do??? Well, these guys have some upsides to offer - they've played nationally and internationally, have toured with Peter Frampton, Foghat, .38 Special, and others, and command up to $5600 a night, depending on the gig (e.g. multiple nights). And they are booked week-in/week-out.

    Bottomline, I would have to learn to emulate bass styles and music I don't care much for in order to play some music that I get off on. That may seem like artistic prostitution to you, but as Jimmy Carl Black said in Zappa's movie, 200 Motels when the devil was asking him to sell his soul to play music in "comedy group" (Mothers);

    "Hell, I'm perfeshnul. I'll do ennythang fer munney!!"

    Besides, I'm too old to start paying my dues all over again. :rolleyes:
  13. CrawlingEye

    CrawlingEye Member

    Mar 20, 2001
    Easton, Pennsylvania
    I think you all raise good points.
    I wasn't really taking into account that.
    I was more stating that you can play slap in a punk band, if you do it properly. You can do whatever you want, as long as it fits.

    The genre thing's more the overall sound, as far as I've known. Granted, if a band has expectations, they must be met. You'll have to excuse my ignorance, because I'm 16, and haven't yet had to worry about getting paid by playing bass for a band. :)

    I, personally, wouldn't join a band that plays something that collides with my expectations, though. That's just me, though. :)
  14. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    Well , I think that again this is something that makes sense when you are 16 ...but ...

    ....when you get to 20 and haven't played a gig or when you get to 25 and you have seen people your age - friends, acquaintances - getting up there and doing it in front of large audiences while you haven't got further than a school concert or your bedroom ...then these things can go out the window.

    I did play with original bands that I believed in when I was in my 20s but after I got dumped from one band and replaced by programmed music, I vowed to do everything myself in future. But eventually I missed playing live with other people and nowadays I am prepared to compromise my ideals if it means getting a good gig that is fun to play.

    If you get the bug for playing live, then I think there is always going to be an element of compromise with other band members - unless you're brave enough to play solo bass! ;)
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