Too Many Notes?

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by FirewalZ, Dec 22, 2015.

  1. FirewalZ


    Aug 14, 2014
    S.E. Michigan
    OK, so Im in a "Classic Rock" band that is doing well at the moment. I have on occasion been "accused" of playing too many notes or too busy, this is usually from older guys who came of age in the 60's (I'm 44) so I've always assumed they simply have a different idea of what a "bass" should or should not be doing. Now I dont tap, almost never slap, but I do play more "chord" tones and cross over into counter melody at times. My response is usually something like, "while I 100% agree with and promote the "less is more" approach, I am first of all a musician, I play the whole instrument and am simply playing what comes out". I am certainly am not flying off the handle soloing all night long, however I am always grooving, and in this setting, possibly just a bit more of a dominant player than what some are expecting from "just the bass player". I am not trying to be busy or simple just me. Anyone else have this problem or have heard this as well?
    wisconsindead and bassrich like this.
  2. BassChuck

    BassChuck Gold Supporting Member

    Nov 15, 2005
    I used to, until I realized the music was more important than my 'self expression'. Spend some time reading some Zen literature if you'd like. Find joy in making other people strong. Learn what makes the ensemble sound best. There is peace in supporting.
  3. FirewalZ


    Aug 14, 2014
    S.E. Michigan
    This is true. Ill admit that I'm probably being a bit to self expressive. I have a "Corporate" type day job and don't need to play for a living, I do it more for fun and realize I could simply be experimenting and stretching to much:)
  4. LeeNunn

    LeeNunn Supporting Member

    Oct 9, 2012
    Charlottesville, VA
    One advantage of imitating the original bass line is avoiding comments like that. I agree with BassChuck that it's easier to play fewer notes as you age. When someone takes a solo, I try to support it rather than compete with it.
    Fxpmusic likes this.
  5. FirewalZ


    Aug 14, 2014
    S.E. Michigan
    Great advice. These are concepts I have embraced and promoted myself, its a good reminder to refocus.
  6. TedH


    Dec 6, 2014
    Westchester, NY
    Record yourself playing then critique it. Many bass instructors advocate the approach of "provide only what the song needs, nothing more, nothing less." You specifically note chord tones and counter melody, which on bass are easy places to do too much, so that could be part of it. For classic rock, these are not the most common approaches, and often for good reason. They are more common in jazz and walking bass, so perhaps you are doing some style mashup that detracts from the song melody. There is also a difference between an active bass line and a busy one. Active "can" be good; busy is never good.
    hrodbert696 likes this.
  7. jallenbass

    jallenbass Supporting Member Commercial User

    May 17, 2005
    Bend, Oregon
    Probably the busiest I would go for in a classic rock scenario would be Tom Scholz' playing on the first 2 Boston albums. If you're going past that then I would say that, yes, you might be too busy.
    Johnny Crab likes this.
  8. FirewalZ


    Aug 14, 2014
    S.E. Michigan
    100% agree. I think this is a more recent trend for me, these days I listen almost exclusively to Jazz and its probably just coming out in my playing. I just need to be more aware and connected and shift my focus back.
  9. christpncher


    Mar 25, 2008
    Chicago, IL
    sometimes people want rockin' without the groovin'. ive had a BL insist on nothing but down-strokes for a R-n-R band.
  10. LowNloud1

    LowNloud1 Commercial User

    Jun 11, 2012
    Wilmington NC
    I am a hobbyist making stone picks that I sell but mostly give away. They made me do this anyways.
    It's a matter of how much is too much. I listen to a player like Jeff Ament of Pearl Jam and he throws in a fill or two here and there but not overstated. Tasteful, in my book. Augmenting a bass line by subtle changes in timing or playing a 2nd bass line that works well with the tune can make as much impact as a bunch of flourishes that last a couple beats then are gone.

    I find that subtle variations on bass lines that enhance a tune, can add edge to a fast song.

    Check out this isolated bass on Alive, especially towards the end where he plays the same progression but adds the octave. Subtle but powerful.

    Last edited: Dec 23, 2015
  11. two fingers

    two fingers Opinionated blowhard. But not mad about it. Gold Supporting Member

    Feb 7, 2005
    Eastern NC USA
    Recording the show, even if the quality of the recording is awful, is actually a great idea!

    Another thing to keep inone is this. There are some songs where the bass line is part of what made the song a hit. "Sweet Emotion" by Aerosmith comes to mind. In a song like that put your "need to be creative" in your pocket and play the line that made it a hit. I'm other situations you may haveore room to mess around.

    Another thing to consider is WHEN during a song are you adding stuff. All the way through while totally disregarding what else is going on? During guitar solos which might piss off the guy whose time it is to shine? During the verse of a song when the vocals are carrying the storyline of the song? There are times in many songs where you should stretch out, and other times when you should hold it down and let something else carry it along. If you are doing the intro to the Billy Idol version of "Money Money" then poopie up and pedal on E because that sets the mood of the song. Just because there isn't much else going on that doesn't mean it's bass solo time.

    Lastly, what is the mood of the song? If you are playing "Wonderful Tonight" just let the notes ring and quit adding garbage that need not be there. Even if you think it sounds "pretty" I assure you you are taking away from the song rather than adding to it.

    Yes, there are times you can and should go nuts. But all night during most songs "expressing yourself" does more harm than good. Why don't you try singing some if you simply have to "let it out".
    Dee-man and corndog like this.
  12. FirewalZ


    Aug 14, 2014
    S.E. Michigan
    This is true as well, things have to grove and you can be so safe as to be boring. However I do think there needs to be a balance and the line can easily be crossed
  13. hrodbert696

    hrodbert696 Moderator Staff Member

    I spent my first few years trying to be able to play faster better more, then the last year training myself to hold back and play less. I was joking with my mom over Thanksgiving that I've been working on playing more complex rests rather than more complex notes (she didn't get it). "Serve the song" is a cliche, but it's a good one. The fundamental thing to remember is that not all songs need the same thing. You can kill a song by overplaying. You can also kill a song by underplaying. It also depends on who else is in the band and what they're playing. If you have a trio covering a song that was originally recorded by a six-piece band, there's more room and probably more need for you to fill in, in a way that covers all the parts that aren't there. If it's the other way around and you're in a six piece covering a song that was originally done by a trio, you probably need to be super restrained.
    static0verdrive likes this.
  14. How many piece band?

    More players = leave more room for the others.

    When we gig with our piano player I keep it simple and down low. With no piano I fill out some of the missing range the piano would be taking but still leave room for the others.

    I'll say it again, the guy I replaced was a better player than me by far, but he was selfish. Do what works for the whole group, if you need more, start your own group.
    waveman and red_rhino like this.
  15. denhou1974


    Mar 6, 2008
    Technology is better now. Chances are those old guys just couldn't really hear what the bassist was doing back in the old days. Now that they can it sounds like overplaying.
  16. Whousedtoplay


    May 18, 2013
    It's a very subjective topic about a widely-spread "issue".

    Is Geddy Lee playing too many notes?
    What about the bass-line of the 16th notes from Muse - Hysteria, etc...?

    Even if you post numerous songs of your band's music, you'll get various responses about your bass playing.

    (P.S. When many years ago, one of my favorite bass players, Marcus Miller said, "With age, we tend to say More with less", I was impressed, but...
    I'm still waiting for Marcus Miller to record that "More with Less" album.)

    Anyway, without hearing any of your band's compositions/songs, let's move from a very subjective and controversial topic to some "cold" facts.
    Here is how I see it:
    It means, you have gigs - you are a GIGGING BASS PLAYER (Congratulations), but...
    Somebody from the audience - NOT GIGGING musicians or just some listeners "accused" you of playing too many notes.
    To sum up.
    I'd rather be successfully gigging and playing MORE NOTES than be in the role of a listener commenting on other Gigging musicians about playing "Too many notes.
    Technicality likes this.
  17. FirewalZ


    Aug 14, 2014
    S.E. Michigan
    This is all great advice that I have practiced and preached in the past myself.....Taking an honest look and a bit of self analysis, I have probably been overdoing it a touch and I think there is a fine line that is sometimes difficult to tell when crossed until after the fact(why the heck did I just play that?:). I had started playing again about a year and a half ago after nearly an 8 year break. In that time period I have been working on rebuilding lost strength, dexterity, finding my "tone" and overall improvements, its easy to see how I could be overdoing it in the process. The good thing is that I will have plenty of opportunity to work on it and simplify things a bit.
    Whousedtoplay likes this.
  18. jjmuckluckjr


    Mar 24, 2015
    The girls ain't dancing to the lead guitar, son.
  19. Jazz Ad

    Jazz Ad Mi la ré sol

    This is going to sound horribly pretentious but, as soon as I became good, nobody ever complained that I played too many notes.
    A part of becoming good involved working on my ability to express more with less notes. I aim at what works the best, sometimes I'm super busy, other times I play straight 4ths and am equally happy with both.

    Now if everybody in the band thinks you play too much, you probably do. It happened to me.
  20. FirewalZ


    Aug 14, 2014
    S.E. Michigan
    Thanks and for the record it was only a few comments from a few older musicians in the audience and at first I chalked it up as a "generational" thing, as bass playing in general has evolved since the 50's and 60's and I came of age in the progressive 80's era. However as mentioned previously, upon self reflection I find it to be true to some degree and will work on it.
    Slorra440 likes this.
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