The Role of a Bassist?

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by WyrmDL, Jan 13, 2009.

  1. WyrmDL

    WyrmDL Guest

    Feb 15, 2008
    Hey TB,

    I'm a newbie to bass (played drums for 10 years, guitar for a little over one, and listened to music for a long time). I love the bass, and I respect pretty much everything about it.

    But, if I'm going to be in a band, say, just like a standard church band, what does music usually call for in a bass?

    I know about roots and all that, but if I want to add just a little character so its not just plain roots, what are some paths I could take when playing?

    I've been introduced to 3rds and 5ths, as well as just some pattern ideas, but if I want to make, say, a funky bass line, or a really nice fill, what should I be looking or thinking in my head?

    I'm not looking for a set list of steps to think in my head and things for my fingers, but just ideas.

    I love idea's from other people, so if you feel inclined to share them (description, tab, etc), it would be greatly appreciated.

    Advice would also be great too! Thanks for all your help, and I apologize if this topic has been beaten in the past.
  2. tyrelnorth

    tyrelnorth Guest

    Dec 4, 2008
    Dallas, TX
    I said you already new about this but I'll throw my 2 cents in anyway. I play in the band at our church, and they use alot of what I like to call "worship 3rds." The guitar will play a G A G A progression, and the bass will do a G A B C# progression. I use that alot and it sounds great in that context. I follow the vocal melodies quite a bit. In certain parts where it gets mellow, I'll play the main vocal line, sometimes in a call and response way.

    Hope that helps.
  3. SmittyG


    Dec 24, 2003
    Texarkana, Texas
    The role of the bassist is the groove and nothing but the groove.

    OK, that's a touch extreme. But, your first duty it to form the groove. If you can add little touches and keep the groove, cool. But, you never give up the groove to add a little ear candy.

    Having said that here are some thoughts: When it comes time for more than just roots, I normally want to do some harmonic movement. I think in terms of the chords--what can get me from one chord to the next.

    For example, if I'm cruising along in Gm and about to head to C7, my obvious start and stop points are a G and a C--the root notes for each of those chords. Now, how many ways can you come up with to get you from G to C? Next break them down into beats: How many ways with just one beat? How many ways with two beats? One measure? Two measures?

    That will give you a toolbox full of ideas to use in a song. However, if you are still at the point where you have to "plan" it out in your mind before you play it, you will probably find the fills getting you into more trouble then they add to the music in any way. In the practice room, work out all of these ideas; on the gig, serve the groove. Eventually, you will start dropping in the extras while maintaining the groove. It takes a little time, but it will come.
  4. dbassman59

    dbassman59 Guest

    Dec 19, 2008
    Vancouver, BC
    SmittyG gives good advice. I play in Worship band weekly and a classic rock band. The Worship band (Elijah) has really helped me hone my playing.

    To answer some of your question, I often borrow riffs (especially those that get me from one chord to another) from classic rock and incorporate them in to the Worship music. I even make notes on my sheet music that says " sounds like "No Reply" by The Beatles.

    I also listen very carefully to the drums, the rhythm of the guitar, the serenity or liveliness of the vocals and and the message the song is trying to deliver ... and play to suit. Some songs I will only play a whole note per bar ... others I'll be walking all over the neck ... I also use a lot of octaves when I'm "walking" ... I also like slides ...

    To be honest ... my bass playing often dictates to the rest of the members how the song will be played ... my drummer is particularly good at listening to my lines and often follows suit ..

    I agree with SmittyG ... and what he said about fills. If you play fills them well ... I play TONS of fills and love it .... but I never play my fills over the lyrics ... just in the breaks of the lyrics ... and my fills are tasteful IMHO and only add to and never take away from the song ... and my fills usually take me from one chord progression to the next.

    Enjoy ... it's a pleasure playing for Him ...
  5. skidrawk


    Jan 21, 2007
    Space City, TX
    I thought the rolls were the drummer's job?
  6. bikeplate

    bikeplate Supporting Member

    Jun 7, 2001
    Upstate NY

    As a bassist, for the most part, you are the link between the rhythm and the melody. Listen to many different styles of music the next few weeks. Listen to how the bassist does what he does. Thats the best way to get a feel for your role. Learn to play in time and with the drummers kick. Also, as you learn to groove make sure it lends itself to the song. Dont step on the vocals or melody. Be tasty. You'll always get work if you know your role

  7. JTE

    JTE Gold Supporting Member

    Mar 12, 2008
    Central Illinois, USA
    Yeah, I know you said that's a touch extreme, but I think it's WAY more than extreme because it totally skips the other part of the bass. The role of the bass is to be the bridge between the rhythm (groove, swing, flow, whatever) and the melodic parts AND to DEFINE the harmony.

    So, you gotta know the feel and work with the drummer to create a groove for the others to work with. But it's just as vital that you tell everyone what's going on with the harmony too. It's not a specific chord until the bass player gives it a context. The guitars can play all the C chord they want, if I emphasise A and E, it's gonna be an Amin7.

    Don't discount either of the functions, groove nor harmony, in defining your role!

  8. SmittyG


    Dec 24, 2003
    Texarkana, Texas
    Well, I was trying to be a little tongue-in-cheek with my remark--but just a little. Yes, there are a lot of elements and approaches that can come into making up a bassline. However, without the groove, the rest aren't going to serve you too well at all. If you play nothing but root notes, but maintain a great groove, you won't be considered the flashiest player on the block, but you will quickly find yourself one of the most sought after. If you have all the other elements in play but can't maintain a groove, you won't be near the top of the first call list--in fact, you won't be on the list at all. Of course, I can't speak for all music and musical environments. I can only share what I have experienced on my tiny piece of this rock we roll on.
  9. 2x4strgkramers

    2x4strgkramers Guest

    Dec 15, 2008
    What do you like about the bass lines of others ? Maybe learn those walks/runs/scales/mode and incorporate those into your style.

    Do you have a vision in your mind musically of what you want to hear ? If not practice using the mental vision and then finding those notes. Sort of imagine how what you want to play sounds.

    Then once you get that figured out or if you like alot people do not have 3 dimensional virtual audio/visual skills then try recording what your playing at church and practice with it.

    But if you can get a song stuck in your head playing all day you have the ability but not the discipline to use it yet. If thats the case maybe seeking out some instruction in thoery could be highly beneficial.

    Just throwing this out there.

  10. bad_andy


    Sep 21, 2005
    Omaha, NE
    [pet peeve]I hate having to explain to keyboardists that I'm not a chorus pedal for their left hand. I also hate having to explain to riff-rock guitarists that I'm not an octave pedal for their bottom 3 strings.[/pet peeve] :rolleyes:
  11. dbassman59

    dbassman59 Guest

    Dec 19, 2008
    Vancouver, BC
    Right on!!! How many times have you heard a keyboard play the melody, bass and vocal parts all at the same time .... It rare to find a guy on keys who knows how to stick to his part ...

    Also the guitar guy ... how many times does one need to explain that there are no guitars in Grand Funk's "Some Kind of Wonderful"
  12. scottbass

    scottbass Bass lines like a big, funky giant

    Jul 13, 2004
    Southern MN
    What tyrelnorth described is known as "walking bass". You can walk up, you can walk down. You walk in order to move from one chord to the next, or you just walk around in circles. Besides providing the groove, I have always considered it another major role of the bassist to lead the progression, especially when it is a slow-moving progression. Walking from one chord to the next accomplishes this. Other instrumental players - especially the drummer - listen to the bass line to make sure they know where they are in the song.
  13. Phalex

    Phalex Semper Gumby Supporting Member

    Oct 3, 2006
    G.R. MI
    The role of the bassist is to get the guitar player laid.

    In a church band, it's a little different.
  14. chrisrusty99


    Oct 2, 2008
    when I play in my church I mainly make use of scales and roots 3rds and 5ths. It's extremely useful to know the notes in each scale because you can often walk up/down to new chords, add some little fancy things, etc. But yeah like alot of people have been saying the groove of the song is important for the bassist to keep.
  15. 2x4strgkramers

    2x4strgkramers Guest

    Dec 15, 2008
    I clicked the link in your sig. That girl has some pipes. Is that you playing ?? If so congrats on the fat warm sound and big walking lines. Big Thumbs up from me !

  16. scottbass

    scottbass Bass lines like a big, funky giant

    Jul 13, 2004
    Southern MN
    Thanks for the compliment. :) Unfortunately that singer has moved on - like to Colorado! Yes, that is me playing. It was back in my "make the StingRay sound like a P bass" era. Now I just play a P bass - but I still walk like a big, funky giant. IM(not so)HO. :smug:
  17. 2x4strgkramers

    2x4strgkramers Guest

    Dec 15, 2008
    Your welcome. I prefer something well played over something fast and noty any day. Good tight playing with your drummer.

    Shame on the loss of the Singer. She is a rare talent. Any new stuff your working on ?

    Back on topic. \

    Get a book of modes and scales and still work on the mental ability to picture the music. It will get you so much mroe flexiability. I always find the hard part getting out what I imagine though. I think that is a never ending battle though.

  18. WyrmDL

    WyrmDL Guest

    Feb 15, 2008
    Thanks for all the replies!

    So now I have a much better understand of what to look for when I'm playing.

    Earlier I was just experimenting with some chords, and while it didnt go so bad, I just felt like I wanted a much more vast knowledge of possibilities.

    Like for drums, I'm able to play complicated off-beats and syncopations, but I only use them when I feel that the music is asking for it, and I want to be able to have that opportunity for bass.

    I appreciate the help so far!

    Also, I'm a little confused of how the "Walking" goes. Can somebody elaborate on that for me?
  19. The bass player is the pulse of the band. Weak pulse, weak band. Strong pulse, strong band.
  20. CatfishStudios

    CatfishStudios Guest

    Jul 6, 2008
    Portland Oregon
    In my opinion...the role of a musician is to break free from roles. Who is to say a bass cannot be a great solo instrument, or play resounding chords? Music evolves and so does the role of any given instrument.