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To lock or not to lock... that is the question.

Discussion in 'Bassists [BG]' started by tb-player, Jun 7, 2019.

  1. tb-player

    tb-player Supporting Member

    Mar 6, 2019
    I was recently in a conversation regarding the fundamental role of the bass player in a band and came across some differing opinions. As we all know, the bass is the bridge between the rhythm and the melody. But, as is to be expected, not everyone approaches it the same way.

    I hear more and more bass players overplaying (in my opinion) songs, instead of simply locking down a tight groove with the drummer. And yes, I’m sure I’ve done it a time or two. But ultimately, I am of the opinion that a bass line should almost always begin locked in with the kick drum, making room for the rest of the band. Other players I’ve spoken with aren’t as conscious of or intentional with the kick. They lean more toward lines based around what the guitarist is playing, with rhythm almost feeling secondary.

    Granted, a good bassist will be conscious of both. And it also largely depends on the tune. But, as a rule, when you’re building a bass line in a band situation, where do you like to begin? Or does it even matter?
  2. Wanker_Joe


    Sep 26, 2017
    My approach is a little of both. My drummer and I lock in when we need to move the song in a particular direction, and then go into a more free approach when we need to explore the sonic space. It works okay for the band I'm in, since our songs tend to be epic and long winded so varying our approach gives some breathing room.
    (When I'm building a song though I tend towards what some might call "overplaying", though I disagree with that term. I don't believe I overplay, I play what I feel is needed, which is lots and lots and lots of fast bass notes).
    Seashore likes this.
  3. dax21


    Nov 26, 2011
    It's a fine line and often a compromise between serving the song and keeping things sufficiently busy so that I have fun when I'm actually playing the song. Without the latter nothing else matters really. I like the bass to provide simple, hummable melodies as well, to have a hook here and there that isn't standing out too much, but one that you notice on your third or fourth listening. I also often get peculiar about fills, I want them to be different in all the parts but not too radically so that it appears forced when everyone else is playing more or less the same thing again when the section repeats, be it a verse or a chorus. Different enough so that I am actually looking forward to the next 8 bars instead of going on auto pilot.

    I wouldn't mind getting really tight with a drummer but I have yet to play with one who keeps his kick drum placements steady every time. Especially with bands with original music, it's all so prone to changes all the time to the point where i kind of gave up on adjusting my accents 8 times within a few months trying to follow and update my parts depending on how the drummer feels at the given moment. It's far more cost effective in terms of time spent to just do your own thing and then accent your notes in terms of dynamics depending on what the drummer is doing, than in terms of note length. Obviously this is regarding more unconventional parts when you aren't simply thumping away on the root notes, and when the bass line isn't conducting and deciding everything else.

    IMHO nothing wrong not starting along the kick drum, just like there is nothing wrong with not starting with a root note. If it sounds good, it sounds good.
    Seashore likes this.
  4. DWBass

    DWBass The Funkfather

    I play R&B, Funk, Soul, Motown and Pop, Pop/Rock music. There is nothing but locking in.
    Brad Maestas, JPDsma, jerry and 2 others like this.
  5. 40Hz

    40Hz Supporting Member

    Depends on the song, the style, and the goal. Groove is a part of music. But its not supposed to be the only thing to the exclusion of everything else. So while it’s important (IMO) to work in close collaboration with the percussion instruments, the bass role is more than just locking in and backing up the percussion section despite all the slap stylists out there. Bass also has notes. They’re there for a reason.

    I personally think there’s far too much emphasis on the kick these days. And most times its level is cranked too high in the mix for my ears. But that coincides with the general simplifying and dumbing down trend you see in a lot of our current pop music. Simple beat driven music for simple minds with simple tastes.

    Or so I think anyway. But maybe that’s just me.
    Brad Maestas likes this.
  6. Wisebass


    Jan 12, 2017
    Lost in Space
    hi Jeff :)

    I think you are talking about songwriting? (original music)

    I like to begin with the start. :D Sounds silly? What I mean is that I like to be first or second.

    When I have a bassline with a strong melody the drummer has to lock in with me!
    The other instruments will accompany and fill (or not!) the space that is left after adding the lead vocals.

    When the drummer plays an awesome groove, I always try to give that groove a melodie.
    Sometimes I even ask a (good!!!) drummer to sing me that melody, he already has in his head.
    The other instruments….. (see above)

    When the guitar is first, the problems begin. Especially when you work with a bad drummer! :(

    A bad drummer will lock in with the guitar and you have to double the guitar or the drummer plays a "boomchuck, boomchuck, boomchuck…" and the guitarist will tell you to play roots and 5ths :banghead:

    To break that scheme is a pain in the lower back…. (when you play with hacks it' s "mission impossible")

    My rule: Never let your drummer be alone with a guitarist! :D

    may the bass be with you

    kesslari and JRA like this.
  7. Malcolm35


    Aug 7, 2018
    Call attention to the root, lock with the drummer and don't step on toes.
    Now lock with the drummer, I tend to ignore his fills and just keep the basic beat going - so when he comes back he has something to come back to.

    Yes I was amazed to hear our drummer say that he listened for my basic beat. Course I think we all listen to each others playing so we can all be on the same page.
  8. jerry

    jerry Too old for a hiptrip Gold Supporting Member

    Dec 13, 1999
    Locking in is good for getting work,;)
    DWBass likes this.
  9. Joe Nerve

    Joe Nerve Supporting Member

    Oct 7, 2000
    New York City
    Endorsing artist: Musicman basses

    I try to stay open minded, write intuitively, and play whatever my gut tells me is best for a song.

    For some reason, even though I've heard these songs about a billion times :), I'm starting to get obsessed with this guy's playing style. I LOVE the way he plays. He doesn't really lock or groove, but he he makes these songs work, in a way that I think is really original, unique, and well... underrated. Have a good listen, even if you heard the song as many times as I did :).

    And pretty much everything he does is in that style...

    Haroldo and JimK like this.
  10. JimK


    Dec 12, 1999
    ...love Joe Schermie. He's coming outta the '60s R&B skool.
    Three Dog Night is still one of my favourite Pop bands.
    Haroldo and Joe Nerve like this.
  11. Biggbass


    Dec 14, 2011
    Planet Earth
    My strategy is to follow the kick and the toms and fill with the fills.
  12. Haroldo

    Haroldo Supporting Member

    Aug 31, 2005
    North Shore, MA
    Por que no los dos?

    Context is everything.
    JohnArnson and Brad Maestas like this.
  13. DWBass

    DWBass The Funkfather

    Not sure what you're hearing but he's totally locked in and grooving.
  14. In huge measure this depends on the genre you're playing.
    Nashrakh and JohnArnson like this.
  15. Joe Nerve

    Joe Nerve Supporting Member

    Oct 7, 2000
    New York City
    Endorsing artist: Musicman basses
    Yeah. I agree. But in a unique way.
    DWBass likes this.
  16. JohnArnson


    May 28, 2019
    If there was only one kind of music, sure.

    I am of the opinion that it is situation dependent and making up strict rules that should always be followed is totally pointless and will only hurt the best interest of the music played.

    There are no rules in music and not all music calls for the bass to lock in with the kick drum, though most more traditional pop and rock music will work well this way, most, not all.

    A bass/drum duo though as an example wouldn't work well on this recipe for instance.

    Forget the rules and serve the music.

    If the music calls for you to lock in with the kick drum by all means stick to that, if the music is better served otherwise by all means don't lock with the kick and do what fits the music instead.

    Thinking there's one definite answer seems like a really bad excuse for being lazy to me and as a total misunderstanding of what music is.

    It seems as absurd to me as to claim all music sounds best in the key of C major.
    Last edited: Jun 10, 2019
    Nashrakh likes this.
  17. blastoff99

    blastoff99 Moderator Staff Member Supporting Member

    Dec 17, 2011
    SW WA, USA
    This thread is making me wish I could remember what a very experienced jazz musician said to me once about tempo vs time (not timing, time), and whose responsibility is what (drums or bass). It was fascinating but I didn't completely understand it, so I didn't remember it. If I get up the nerve to give him a call, I'll report back.
  18. Unless you're playing some free form jazz/exploratory aural experimentation, locking in with the drummer is an essential part of being a rhythm section. How you divide the chores of fills versus holding down the fort is up to you. Trade off fills, go sparse and leave the flashy stuff to the soloists, or consistently spice things up without stepping on each other. The point is that there has to be an anchor at all times, without that it's mayhem. Switching off who plays anchor at any given moment isn't that important, it could be rhythm guitar while you and the drummer have at it, just as long as there is a constant reference point to the rhythm. Some acoustic gigs sans drums are really fun because you can do whatever you want without the fear of causing a rhythmic train wreck. You are the beat and the source of any counterpoint. Depending on the musical maturity of your bandmates, switching rhythmic roles within a song can not only be fun for the band, but a jaw dropper for the audience. It takes planning and isn't easily done on the fly unless you're familiar with each other's habits. If you plan on staying in your lanes, just lock in and be done with it.
  19. Brad Maestas

    Brad Maestas Sono est omnia Gold Supporting Member Commercial User

    Nov 26, 2003
    Petaluma, CA, USA
    Luthier and Instrument Tech at Kala Brand Music Co.
  20. I've found it depends: If your drummer is a busy player, that leaves less room to explore on the bass.
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