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The "Role" Of The Bassist

Discussion in 'Bassists [BG]' started by Bryan R. Tyler, Jun 19, 2005.

  1. Bryan R. Tyler

    Bryan R. Tyler TalkBass: Usurping My Practice Time Since 2002 Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    May 3, 2002
    More and more these days, the stereotypical role of the bassist is being challenged by players, from ERB players in rock groups to solo bass performances. When I began playing, I never thought that a bassist had any other responsibility except to play the bass. I didn't think that a bassist had to lock in with the drums, back up the guitar, or stay only in the lower register. I thought being a bassist simply meant playing a bass in any way he or she chose, much as a pianist's job is to play piano in any form they choose. I still feel this way today.

    I spent a long time (a couple years) practicing and playing by myself before even playing with other musicians, and I was surprised to see so many people had these preconceptions of what being a bassist meant; that a bass player had a role, and applying these roles to the bassist's instruments as well. The really strange thing to me was that even though the electric bass has only been (easily) available to the public for around fifty years, some folks act like there's an established, unbreakable historical role of the electric bass, and that it was some sort of heresy to break it- as if fifty years was a long amount of time. The guitar began as an accompaniment instrument and remained so for over a hundred years- giving a serious solo performance on one would have been laughed at.

    Stranger still is that most of these people who I've heard say the bass has a role define that role by how the bass has fit into rock music, which in itself has had a very short history. The sound and frequency of bass notes lend themselves very well to certain things, such as grooves and locking in with a kick drum for a tight rhythmic sound, but I don't think this defines the role of the instrument at all. Stevie Wonder's left hand can do this better than a lot of bassists, but I don't define the role of the piano or keyboards by it.

    So how about you? Do you feel the bassist and the bass have a defined role? Do you feel they have a role in some musical genres and don't in others? Do you base your definition of the role of an instrument, and therefore define the role of its player, on certain types of music?
  2. Matt Call

    Matt Call Supporting Member

    Aug 1, 2004
    Minneapolis, MN
    I just look at it as a generalization. Many bassists stay in a certain area or play single note because they don't have, dare I say, the skill to play otherwise. That may have sounded harsh. Let me rephrase it: Rock music. I'm most likely completely wrong about this, but it's simple in many regards. Maybe I'm thinking of pop punk or something, but there are usually only a small set of notes that are played. Those notes are often on the E and A strings. These are the players that simply blend in and are forgotten. The players that we remember are those that stretch the "boundaries" of bass. For example, flea.

    I feel like I'm not making any sense. I'm done.

    There is no defined role for bass players, no matter what the genre. Well, unless that role is to "not suck."
    Jinglesmeowmeow likes this.
  3. Let it be known that the professor supports "not sucking".
  4. Vysous


    Mar 29, 2005
    I couldn't stand defining roles....
  5. who need roles, whatever i do what i want
  6. oldgreyOlds


    May 12, 2005
    Delta, BC
    Ive heard excellent bassists doing both. The bassist from the guess who (they had a couple, and Im forever mixing up their names with the names of their several temporary guitarists) played very nice rythymic lines, like in Raindance. but Geddy Lee often goes way higher to play more melodic basslines. they both work, so I guess whatever that paticular bassist does better, he should stick with.
  7. Lowtonejoe

    Lowtonejoe Supporting Member

    Jul 3, 2004
    Pasco, WA




  8. I think for certian kinds of music the roll is defined.

    I am a drummer in a classic rock band and my job it to keep time, create a groove, offer feel and throw in some nice fills without over playing. Simple stuff...I accept my mission. For other jazz/fusion gigs I can explore things and it works.

    We have a bass player who plays all over the pocket (never in it) with too many notes and ahead of the ONE. Drives me nuts. It just doesn't work for anyone but him I guess.

    We are looking for another bass player. ;)
  9. It's the bassist's task to be a bassist, period. But everybody here will have a different idea of how they should play. And part of that idea is defined by the music they want to play.

    The only rule in music is: make it sound good. And that''s the only role any musician should be playing. The role of the guy that makes (or helps ) it sound good.
  10. I'm ok, you're ok. Group hug. :smug:
  11. Fran Diaz

    Fran Diaz

    Mar 28, 2002
    Santander, Spain
    Every instrument has a role in every musical genre. Bass is no exception. Some genres give the bass the chance to stands out more (Funk, Jazz,...) while others need the bassist to be supportive and be a part of the team. A good bassist can be creative and add to the music in both circunstances. Just my 0.02.

    We all complain about the guitar players that play always to 11 and are all over the place. Their problem is that they don't understand the role of their instruments and you and the audience end up with a terrible headache. :D

    keep groooovin'

    JAUQO III-X Banned

    Jan 4, 2002
    Endorsing artist:see profile.
    For me the Defining role of the the Bass is to give what is/fits best for the Music being played at the moment.just give the Band leader,Producer what they ask for and from that what you feel would best fit the musical situation.Versatility,respect and an open mind would be a very powerful asset next to playing the Bass itself.
  13. Bryan R. Tyler

    Bryan R. Tyler TalkBass: Usurping My Practice Time Since 2002 Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    May 3, 2002
    But do you think that ignoring these designated roles that you think of in each genre and still coming up with great music changes the genre they're played in? For example, look at the piano in the various forms of jazz throughout the years. At times the piano is a purely rhythmic background instrument. On the other hand, there are piano players in jazz that are only melodic soloists, who don't take the rhythmic aspect at all, yet still make quality music. Does this change the genre they're in because they are not sticking to defined roles?

    If a bassist uses his bass as the lead melodic instrument in a rock group, and the keyboardist holds down the bottom and the rhythm, are they no longer playing rock because they aren't playing their standard roles-does it become some sort of progressive or jazz genre to you?
  14. Trying to classify musical genres based on the roles of individual instruments seems to be as tricky as defining roles for instruments. Of course a rock band can be very bass driven. Its truly up to the members of a particular band to determine the roles of their instruments based on the sound they want to produce. If you, as the bass player don't feel comfortable or satisfied with that role, there are plenty of other bands out there.
    I honestly think the best music comes out of a situation where everyone is doing there thing and somehow making it sound good and appealing to others as well.
  15. Fran Diaz

    Fran Diaz

    Mar 28, 2002
    Santander, Spain
    I think that the genre is defined by the big picture, not by the role one or several instruments play.

    There is nothing wrong with stepping out of the established role of the instrument if the people that pay you is happy with it (whoever they are: band leader, producer, audience in a live show, etc.). the problem comes when you don't give people what they want...but then you can be an innovator :bassist: and define a new genre. It happens sometimes although most of the time you or your band can lose the gig. :bawl:

    keep groooovin'
  16. exactly.
  17. Funky Doctor

    Funky Doctor

    Aug 28, 2003
    I quite like the assumed "role" bass has. I'm quite happy to hold down a groove and do it in the back ground. In fact I love it. Doesn't mean to say I don't like the bass as a solo instrument. I would say that bass has a defined role in different styles of music.
  18. FunkMachine


    Jul 13, 2004
    As a bassist I feel my responsibility is to play the groove. No matter what kind of music it is.
    Jinglesmeowmeow likes this.
  19. Well said. it is all about the groove. Rocco never really took a solo but those bass lines were a constant piece of art.
    Same with any great jazz bassist. Analyse a Paul Chambers line and it is this amazing breathing thing that twists and turns and becomes this pulse.
    Flea, well Flea has a certain melodic sense that appeals to many. For me its always just not quite there. But hey he has probably got more kids playing the bass than any other recent player. As long as they move on.

    It is the groove and in pragmatic terms if you want to make a living or even just a part time one you have to play what is required and then stretch it out after you are established.
    That is fact. After 20 years experience playing semi-profressionally that is what you do. I am no Jaco or Wooten or Miller and I don't want to be. I play for the joy of playing.
    I play electric bass in this 17 piece big band and eventually have become such an integral part of the band that even if a double bass player stepped up the band would say no. It took a while before they accepted I could play walking lines just like a "jazz player" and now that they are doing more contemporary stuff there is no argument.
    You simply need to play is my answer and then figure it out on the job.
    What works works and bend around the edges.
  20. Ian Perge

    Ian Perge Supporting Member

    May 11, 2001
    Evansville, Indiana
    I'll just rephrase what others have said in different ways. I simply play what will make the music better. If that's playing a groovin' walking line, so be it. If it's a LH-tapped chordal/RH-tapped bassline, that's fine. Grinding pickstyle with some dirt in my signal, doubling a synth line... I'm down with it all.

    That being said, if I can expand what I'm doing in both techniques and sonics while continuing to service the song, so much the better. And I as well fully adhere to the "not sucking" rule that's in effect. :D

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