The varying role of the bass player in a 1 vs. 2 guitarist band

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by MissingSomethin, Jun 28, 2013.

  1. MissingSomethin


    Jun 28, 2013
    Let's say there is just a drummer, 1 guitarist, and bassist. (And you're waiting for that elusive vocalist to complete the band)
    I know that a 1 guitar vs 2 guitar band are different beasts. And I think this is one situation where this arises.

    Let's say you're just doing 3 chords jams to start.
    So, the guitar strums his D C G progression, for example.
    The drummer locks into the guitar playing.

    Let's talk about the role of rhythm when there is only 1 guitar. As in, whose job is it....
    My question is: What is the responsibility of the bass player? There are 2 obvious things he can do:

    1) The guitar is providing the distinct rhythm and backbone, so the bass is free to "wank" and play scales, etc. He's having a blast. The problem with this is that the guitarist is now stuck doing this rhythm. If he stops at any time, all you have in a bass player wanking scales with no cohesive rhythm maintained. The guitar can not solo, b/c now there is no rhythm at all, and it's 2 people noodling. The entire thing fails. So, the guitarist knows this, and can never take a solo. He can not alternate from rhythm to lead and back. This is what makes a basic jam interesting: The guitar leads, especially when they have different flavors (modes, etc)


    2) The bass can "double" the groove of the progression. He's carrying the rhythm by playing the root notes, and maybe adding in some embellishments at times. But, for the most part, he's carrying the rhythm that the guitar player established. What this does is allow the guitar player to do a lead solo. The guitar can alternate in and out of the rhythm. Do some leads, maybe do a few measures of the rhythm to help re-establish it (if it's getting weak with just the bass players root notes) If the guitar player stops playing entirely, the "groove" goes on. This really frees up the guitarist to try lead licks, try little secondary riffs, and mostly just be able to take a solo when he feels like it. Then he can go right back into the rhythm when he wants to.

    Here is the conundrum. The last few bass players I've played with have been #1. They never just play the obviously rhythm or riff that the guitar player has laid down. They're just happily playing scales/noodling, which does sound good, but it leaves the guitarist to never be able to leave the rhythm. It's like the guitar is the rhythm instrument and the bass is the lead instrument. Isn't this backwards?

    At the least, it seems like the bassist should know to keep the rhythm riff/groove going, just like the guitar is doing, and only going off on embellishments/wanking when the guitar is clearly holding down the rhythm. That way, at least both the guitar and the bass can alternate doing the lead wanking. But, if only one person holds the rhythm exclusively, and only one person ever takes leads, it seems like it should be bass = rhythm, and guitar = rhythm and lead. Not the other way around. But there needs to be some hierarchy, and it seems like it's backwards in the situation I described. When there is no solid rhythm being maintained, the guitar is stuck, since he is laying down the definitive "riff".

    It seems like the #1 type of bassist would be ideal in a 2 guitar band, where you don't need him to carry the rhythm, since guitar #2 can do that.
    What is the "right" role for the bassist in a 1 guitar band? Are the above 2 choices the only roles?
    Am in wrong in my assumptions? What is the solution here?

    If I am not clear. One more Time: the guitarist is playing D C G. Over and over. Simple 4/4 beat from the drums. Now, the bass comes in and just starts playing random noodling in D. It sounds cool, I guess. But, consider what you have here. The entire backbone is being played by the guitar. Now, you propose the guitar do something else? Consider what else is going on. Just a bass playing lead scales in D. Do you understand that when the guitar tries to deviate, the entire thing falls apart? There is no rhythm anymore. It has abruptly disappeared. You just have 2 instruments noodling in D.

    I guess you can tell the bass player to hold rhythm. It's just a little disconcerting that it needs to be said. It sort of tells me the person doesn't really know what the role of the bass even is. That's a fundamental gap, don't you think?

    I think this style of "always playing solos" bass playing only works in 2 rock situations:
    1) Punk band with no solos.
    2) Band with 2 guitars.

    In both cases, the rhythm guitar carries the backbone rhythm.
    So, the bass is free to noodle and do whatever. So, he just plays scales and adds a nice layer onto the music.
    You can unplug him and the song barely changes.
    But, the problem arises when you deviate from either of the 2 situations listed.
    Then the role of the bass needs to be dramatically redefined. Can't just "noodle in key" and just do whatever. Now you actually have a job to do.
  2. Violen

    Violen Instructor in the Vance/Rabbath Method Banned

    Apr 19, 2004
    Kansas City Metro Area
    Endorsing Artist: Conklin Guitars (Basses)
    Everyone should carry the rhythm.

    All three instruments are responsible for the groove, and creating parts that work with each other.

    Trading roles makes a song/band more versatile.

    This is the essence of the Power Trio.
  3. lowfreq33


    Jan 27, 2010
    Endorsing Artist: Genz Benz Amplification
    In a trio the bassist needs to fill more space. You can do this by playing busier lines when appropriate, eq'ing more midrange into your tone. Using overdrive, distortion, or octave effects.
  4. Matthijs


    Jul 3, 2006
    There's nothing left to add after this post.
  5. blue4


    Feb 3, 2013
    St. Louis area
    Yes you are wrong in your assumptions. Playing guitar isn't all about taking leads when you want and playing bass isn't just about sitting in the back. In a 3 man jam there should be more than enough room for all three to be interesting. Otherwise its just 2 bored guys watching 1 guy wank off.

  6. Not playing rootnotes, not losing groove during solo.
  7. MalcolmAmos

    MalcolmAmos Supporting Member

    As mentioned we work with melody, harmony and rhythm. Everyone in the band must find where they fit into all that.

    Some provide the melody. Some provide the harmony and all stay within the beat or rhythm. And we do all that without stepping on each other's toes.

    My point - there is no random wacking in what we do. Improvisation is not random notes. Very seldom does random notes produce music. In our case; we have a seven member Praise band and each has his or her role in that band. No one is playing random notes. My bassline follows the chords and uses that chord's notes. The ones responsible for the melody play or sing melody notes that follow the songs tune.

    Another band I'm in plays Country. There is no random wacking in that one either. Everyone has a role to play and we do it with out stepping on each other's toes.

    In the rhythm sections - the drummer and I have worked out that he sets the beat (rhythm). My job is to lock in on his kick drum, follow the chords, play root on one and hit the chord changes dead on. Additional chord tones and walk-ups and walk-downs can be inserted IF it does not step on toes. Interesting point - who does the drummer lock in on? The lead vocalist, who is also the director - who sets the tempo and then depends on the drummer to sustain that tempo. So... the drummer once he knows the tempo the lead vocalist is going to use he then lays down a steady beat for everyone to follow. Yep we all augment each other.

    Even in jamming sessions we assume progressions and end up playing melody, harmony and or rhythm leaving room for each. Everyone plays backup to the person having the lead. Even the lead is expected to follow the established tune, i.e. very little random wacking going on even here. Another interesting point. Who sets the beat in a jamming circle? The person that called the song.

    That's how it's done in my neck of the woods.
  8. blue4


    Feb 3, 2013
    St. Louis area
    I could be very wrong here, but the vibe I got off the OP was that he was a guitar player who is not happy that the bass player wants to play some solos too.
  9. wrench45us


    Aug 26, 2011
    random noodling/wanking bad

    a D C G progression is not a song, is it?
    what makes a D C G progression a song? it isn't noodling or wanking.

    There's a melody and a song structure some rising and resolving tension

    now a bass can generally play one note at a time, a guitar has a lot more options for chords or partial chords or melody lines -- somehopw out of that there has to come about some interaction that goes somewhere -- has a purpose

    Listen to the function of the bass with guitar in blues
    Read up a little about how Keith Richards created some kind of intertwining countermelody riffing thing long ago when he started out playing with Brian Jones -- he invented a way of playing guitar that traded focus and counter-filled. It's really pretty fascinating.
    don't listen to Eric Clapton and Jack Bruce -- that's just discouraging
    listen to the first 3 minutes of 'Dark Star' Jerry Garcia Phil Lesh
    (now those guy could noodle and wank, but sometimes they played something special)
    and then settle in with the first 'Hot Tuna' record Jorma and Jack -- listen to 'Hesitation Blues' about 50 times

    I guess I'm revealing my age, but that is how it's done.
  10. Mr. OP you are definitely "MissingSomething", like ears, musicality and experience. It comes with practice, work, and a willingness to listen, understand and learn. You can get it, if you want it.

    Your 2 "situations" are contrived, and your assumptions... well you know what happens when we all ASS-U-ME. ;-)

    Read post #2.

    For example, in your situation of 1) if the guitarist stops the riff and starts the solo, a good bassist will hear that and take over the rhythm riff. The guitarists solo will have a meaningful beginning, middle and end, that anyone can hear, and when it ends, the bass or drums can take over to move the song to the next section. The bassists "... can alternate in and out of the rhythm. Do some leads, maybe do a few measures of the rhythm to help re-establish it ", just as well as the guitarist.

    Use your ears, communicate with your band mates, and make it sound good.
  11. Vertigo Jones

    Vertigo Jones

    Jun 13, 2013
    I don't get this at all. The OP is a guitar player who expects the drummer to lock to him? When did Keith Richards join this forum? If the guitarist is holding the groove down with an expectation that the drummer will follow him, then how does said guitarist have an expectation of soloing freedom?

    The bass player's "job" is to hold down the groove. Period. Not to wank. You're playing D, C, G chords? The bass player better at least be playing guess what? D, C, and a G! It's the bassist who determines what chords you're actually playing. You're NOT playing D, C, and G unless the bass player says so. Welcome to the power of bass!
  12. ABlueJazzBassist

    ABlueJazzBassist "Always play beautifully."

    Dec 26, 2012
    Listen to the Bill Evans trio with Scott La Faro and Paul Motian. The OP is not playing jazz nor is he a jazz musician, but its great proof that in fact, everyone is responsible for maintaining a groove, and a solo that doesn't hold its own innate groove, is a bad solo. Victor Wooten has said this before about bass solos. Got to keep the feel, even if you're pouring out 16th note fusion runs, the soloist shouldn't need anyone else to give him the groove. In some styles, like free jazz, the time isn't even directly stated. Its just played around. As you listen more you'll begin to hear this. That people don't always play the time, but instead play around it. The time doesn't have to be played to exist.
  13. blue4


    Feb 3, 2013
    St. Louis area
    Why can't a bass player solo? As long as the rest of the band keeps playing they sound as good as any other soloist. Gov't Mule's song "No Need to Suffer Anymore" is how it's done as far as a rock bass solo, IMO.
  14. skwee


    Apr 2, 2010
    A bass player can certainly solo, but listen to 99.9 percent of mainstream music: the bass player is usually setting the groove/harmonic rhythm up from the heartbeat given by the drums, and has the most freedom to do a tasteful fill rather than do a major solo most of the time. The reason they call it a formula is because audiences are trained to enjoy things a certain way.

    A bass player is doing his/her job when they provide the groove, so that the vocal, leads, and obbligato can happen naturally. The bass should also get a moment or two to shine through fills, perhaps a small solo, or sometimes giving the initial melody (Listen to Saturday in the Park, for instance--all three things happen in that tune). If you have a small band or trio, that balance will lean more in favor of the bass player, but there should always be a trade off between instruments.
  15. Well, as has been stated already in other posts, playing a song is a cooperative effort by all musicians involved and they all need to play together (which is not the same as playing "at the same time") to make a song work.

    That said, since you are looking for clear cut ROLES for each instrument, I'll tell you that the label "lead guitar" is a misnomer. The guitar doesn't lead anything in the band. The only leading the lead guitar does is it leads the audiences attention toward that person.

    The drummer's main job is to set a tempo and a rhythmic feel for the song. Since the drums don't play notes or chords, anything can be played over the drums. So the drums set the very bottom foundation but they don't lead the whole song. To be strict about it, everyone follows the drums and the drums don't follow the guitar. In reality, everyone should be listening to everyone else to make sure that they individually are locked in with what everyone else is doing.

    The bassist plays the low fundamental of the chords by playing the root notes of the chords. Since the bass has such a strong presence, it often sounds best when it is playing in close timing and rhythm with the drums. The bass helps pump the rhythm along and signals the chord changes. Often the bass also controls or guides the mood of a song. The bass controls the overall feel of a song. In that sense, the bass is actually the lead instrument in a band.

    The rhythm guitar should lock in with the bass (which should be locked in with the drums) and play the full chords (of which the bass emphasizes the fundamental).

    The lead guitar is just one of any type of melodic instruments used for playing the actual melody of a song. If you haven't discovered this yet, you will soon learn that guitarists are a dime a dozen. Nearly everybody can play or thinks they can play the guitar. Instead of a guitar, you can just as easily have a saxophone, flute, trumpet, or vocalist playing the melody as the lead instrument (depending on your genre).

    In the 8-piece band I'm in, the lead guitarist plays intros, fills, and some solos and because of that, he usually plays less than everyone else during a song. The drums, bass, and rhythm guitars (we have 2) play constantly through the songs (as do the piano and synth/keyboard).

    Sometimes it is said or implied that bass isn't about playing the roots. It most certainly IS about playing the root notes! While the bass can embellish and walk between the chords, on the beat that the chord changes, the bass should play the root of the chord. That is one of THE main purposes of the bass.

    If the bass player has a good sense of timing and can play closely with the drummer (who should definitely have a good sense of timing), and hits the roots on the chord changes, then YOU as a guitar player should be able to find your spot in the music. The bassist shouldn't have to simply pound out 8th notes on the roots for you to be able to play (unless you're Eddie Van Halen).

    Personally, when I'm playing in the band, I actually play about 1/8 of the stuff I hear in my head. If I actually played all the riffs, fills, and accents I heard in my head, the music would fill up and I'd be accused of showing off. So I, personally, play the chord roots and toss in a little walking between chords while making sure that whatever I play is rhythmic and follows the drummer. Your bassist may choose to play differently.

    As far as what I do, personally, I try to lock in my timing and tempo with the drums and after that I pretty much ignore most of what else is going on (to a point). So that as long as the bass and drums are together, if anyone deviates from that base, they can easily hear they are off. If I follow the guitar and wander off timing with the drummer, the whole band sounds bad. If I stay with the drums, then only the instrument that wandered off timing sounds bad.
  16. Picktastic


    Feb 29, 2012
    I am of the opinion that in a power trio the bassist is the critical bridge between the drums and guitar, the guitar should not be focusing on setting the rhythm and the drummer should not be focusing on locking in with the guitar. It seems like perhaps the OP is having a problem finding a bass player, as opposed to a guitarist who plays bass like a guitar, or guitarist is just trying to do what shouldnt be done. In a power trio especially it is my opinion the bass and drums should lock in together to set the rhythm and the guitarist should work off of that. Bassist should be able to walk and noodle and retain the groove while doing so. If not, you have a problem somewhere (probably bassist but maybe drummer has trouble keeping a consistent beat when bassist changes pattern?). But guitarist in a trio being responsible for setting the basic rythm and groove does not work well IMO

    The power trio I play in has sort of the opposite problem. A great guitarist who seems to feel like everyone should lock into him, as opposed to him using the established ryhthm to launch from. Drummer and I are trying to break him from this, but its a painful process. Guitarists are notorious for being unable and unwilling to count to 4 ;).
  17. blue4


    Feb 3, 2013
    St. Louis area
    But what you are saying is exactly what I mean. I'm not saying the bass should always be soloing. My post was in response to the "The bass player's "job" is to hold down the groove. Period. Not to wank." comment earlier.
  18. Clef_de_fa


    Dec 25, 2011
    Sorry but I think all that is just putting everyone into little boxes like if you're all affraid of what could happen if you dare do something different.

    Sure the instrument sound low but "groove" and "locking" and bla bla bla other things bass players tend to worship are just concept not the "be all end all".

    You can have the drum play a melody, the bass play chords and a sax or guitar play the "bass" ...

    Also, time keeping, groove and all that stuff should be everyone responsability. What if the drum screw up ? everyone lost his time ??? If the bass player didn't play the root but the 5th or the 3rd ??? everyone his lost in the harmony ??? Only playing the root ??? you're quite boring ... harmony moves and become interesting when you start to have the 3rd or 5th or even the 7th as the bottom note of the chord !!! You can give the feeling the chords progress when in fact it is always the same 3 boring chords.

    If this is the case, you still have a lot of work to do. Everyone should be good enough to continue without the support of the others.

    I feel like some people should expend their horizon a little bit ... music isn't something stuck in a very predictable formula or made by stacking stuff up. For God sake you can even have a 4 part harmony !!! Or come up with somekind of counterpoint !!!
  19. JTE


    Mar 12, 2008
    Central Illinois, USA
    The bass's role in an ensemble never changes, no matter the style or genre, nor the instrumentation. We have two jobs, both EQUALLY important.
    A. We connect the rhythmic part of the music to the harmonic/melodic part.
    B. We define the harmony

    Now the WAY to fulfill that role may vary, but the ROLE never changes. Unless we're soloing- in which case we we should solo like any other instrument. Why do bass solos suck? Because bassist don't practice soling- DUH...

    Clef de fa in post #19 makes some excellent points. Everyone playing has to keep the flow of the music happening. If it's groove oriented, don' mess up the groove. But even music that doesn't groove by the common perception STILL has a flow that needs to be maintained. Just as it's not the drummers' job to keep time by themselves, it's not the bassists' job to maintain the groove or swing or feel by themselves.

    A three-piece rock band can either be stultifyingly boring because the guitarist just wants to wank over a turgid static rhythm section. Or it can be a three-part conversation between three instruments on equal footing. It seems to me the OP wants the former. But the only good three-piece bands are all the later. Cream is the primary example of three people playing FOR each other and interacting. Ginger does something and Jack reacts to that which causes Clapton to do something different the process goes back and forth. The Jimi Hendrix Experience is a good example of the same thing, as is Hot Tuna, Rush, etc.

    Only playing the root is sometimes the right thing to do. But it's also sometimes the WRONG thing to do. But LISTENING to each other is always the right thing to do!

  20. unclejane

    unclejane Guest

    Jul 23, 2008
    The role of the bassist in a 2-tard band is to find another band ASAP. Begin the search instantly the night the first tard pulls you aside and whispers "we gotta get rid of that other guitarist". Why? Because it's only a matter of time before the other tard pulls you aside and whispers "we gotta get rid of that other guitarist".

    There's a reason we call em "gui****s" - Get out and get out right now.

    As for playing, I only played in a 2-tard band once for a very short time (see above). My playing was utterly no different that I can recall. Else, I played the majority of time in single-tard bands and my role was the same there. I found a trio to be the most manageable and the most enjoyable as a bass player. Trading off rhythm and melodic duties happens a little more often in a trio or an otherwise single-tard band. I tend to prefer ensemble playing, though, so I tended to play melodically more often.