What are you thinking when you're jamming with other people?

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by Garret Wheeler, Nov 7, 2019.

  1. Garret Wheeler

    Garret Wheeler

    Mar 1, 2016
    I started on bass, but a couple years in I started mixing in some guitar. Now I play guitar, bass, piano, and I sing. From my perspective each instrument calls for a different approach when it comes to the actual notes you play, but my overall goal is usually to accompany the group I'm playing with.

    When I first started on bass I was on a mission to be a shredder because I was afraid I wouldn't get noticed playing alongside really good guitarists. As a result I spent a long time building up my chops, but now I find myself laying back almost 90% of the time. To be honest, that usually sounds better. This concept doesn't apply solely to bass, but to every instrument I play. If I'm playing with someone who wants to play lead, I usually let them do their thing and try to support what they're going for.

    Even though I practice more now than I ever have, I focus more on timing, note choice, and overall accompaniment than on straight up shredding. I do still keep my chops up, but I try to use them at the right time. How do you all approach playing with other people?
    dpaul, pcake, dramatwist and 2 others like this.
  2. Nashrakh


    Aug 16, 2008
    Hamburg, Germany
    In most jamming scenarios I've been in, others have relied heavily on me to provide them with structure. So if you have a structure (like most jazz standards do, or blues, or jamming on a pop song), your primary objective (doesn't that sound cool?) is to let the others know where they are within the form at all times. Beyond that, do what you want - but the basic idea is the same as the conventional wisdom you find everywhere else: outline the chords. How you do that depends wildly on the genre or the style, and open to experimentation if your peers like it.
  3. When I shred, I sound good.
    When I play in the pocket, the whole band sounds good.
    Oddly, kesslari, AGCurry and 6 others like this.
  4. Malcolm35

    Malcolm35 Supporting Member

    Yep, find the groove and don't step on toes. To the question what am I thinking about --harmony.

    To do that I need to be following the active chord, and to do that I need to know or have an idea of what chord progression to expect.

    Once I have that which chord tones are needed enters my thoughts.
    byacey and Garret Wheeler like this.
  5. Kro

    Kro Supporting Member

    May 7, 2003
    New Jersey
    Stating the obvious here (I think), but shredding has its uses. As one tool among many, it works great as a tension builder leading up to an eventual explosive return to the groove! :bassist:
    pcake likes this.
  6. dramatwist


    Sep 27, 2019
    ...my approach to bass has always been "it's a bridge between guitar and drums" and it has served me well...
  7. pcake

    pcake Supporting Member

    Sep 20, 2011
    Los Angeleez
    if you browse TB, you'll find a LOT of bass players who get hired for a band not because of their amazing chops but because they have great timing, their equipment always works, they arrive a few minutes early for rehearsals and shows and they're easy to get along with. a star player can be great to listen to, but a player who can make the songs sound their best and doesn't need to flex his/her ego is gold.


    how i approach playing depends partly on genre. you don't pull out all the stops when you're playing blues, and while you may go crazy during your solo spot in a jazz number, that's not what you do for the entire song. soul and funk sound best with a bass that isn't trying to fill in all the space but, rather, is there to hold down the groove and add a little accent.

    OP, the idea should be to make the best sounding song possible, so unless it's called for in the song, i try not to play with guitar players whose main mission is to show off how great they are. that being said, there are lots of songs out there that are designed to show off the guitar player's chops and no one else's. i've had guitar players hand me a solo if there are two in the song, but i used to only once in a long while deliberately show up a very showy guitar player in a private jam, not a public one.

    years ago i had been playing punk when i auditioned for a really good local punk band with years of playing behind them. for the first time, i wasn't fast enough, which hadn't happened to me before. they were very nice about it, but i wasn't even close. i made it my mission to develop some serious speed after that.

    that came in handy for some types of metal, the bass and guitar play the same thing and they play it fast. i used to love doing that, lots of 8ths and 16th notes, but due to injury i haven't been able to do that for a while. will be going to PT for my hand, so hope to get it back.

    but there is no one-size-fits-all playing style imo. it depends on the style of music, the individual song and the other players. sometimes i play chords and some bass line to fill in if we're playing a 2 guitar song with 1 guitar. sometimes i shred. sometimes i play roots. sometimes i don't play on the 1 :D
  8. Garret Wheeler

    Garret Wheeler

    Mar 1, 2016
    I think that's the key to making good music. When the time comes I'm never afraid to step up and be at the forefront of the music, but I won't immediately start shredding during the middle of a guitar or keyboard solo. Too much going at once just doesn't sound good.

    The real magic always comes when everybody is laying back and playing together. Especially with funky music, I love it when everybody stays on the same section for a while. It really makes you appreciate the groove.
    dramatwist, Low84 and pcake like this.
  9. Garret Wheeler

    Garret Wheeler

    Mar 1, 2016
    The Secret To Playing Music! lol
    dramatwist and Groove Doctor like this.
  10. Spent


    May 15, 2011
    Upstate NY
    My band typically warms up with a jam, sometimes lasting 45 minutes or more. Since this is an original project, it does generate some good ideas. We record every rehearsal, start to finish. While jamming I often find myself playing a simple riff while changing the style in which I play it. I also focus heavily on timing; leading and trailing the beat at times. I guess I use the opportunity to work on technique.
  11. JRA

    JRA my words = opinion Supporting Member

    Spidey2112 and Groove Doctor like this.
  12. Samatza


    Apr 15, 2019
    I try to find the bare bones bass line that fits the song and that usually sounds the best. I always listen to the other members and try to play a line that will glue the whole thing together.

    Note choice, tone, timing and note length are generally more important than being able to play busy. In some songs playing busy works because it's a requirement of the song but even then the first four rules apply.
    dramatwist and Garret Wheeler like this.
  13. Low8

    Low8 Supporting Member

    Mar 30, 2014
    Lock in with the drummer as much as possible... but be willing to be that "glue" when needed.

    Don't play flashy.

    Come up with fun yet simple riffs/grooves that everyone can feast on.
  14. TheReceder


    Jul 12, 2010
    "What are you thinking when you're jamming with other people?"

    I wonder if Burger King will still be open when we're done.
  15. Tim Craig

    Tim Craig Supporting Member

    Feb 5, 2004
    Nashville area
    One time I was wondering if I flushed the commode and let the cat out.
    Spidey2112 and juancaminos like this.
  16. interp


    Apr 14, 2005
    Garmisch, Germany
    I am thinking of the smallest number of notes that will propel the song forward and provide a foundation for the other players. Then I try to play half of those notes.
    Oddly and dramatwist like this.
  17. Spidey2112


    Aug 3, 2016
  18. 9Thumbs


    Jul 3, 2013
    Near Boston
    I try my best to make the drummer smile. When it's good the drummer will feed me rhythms to bounce off of, or I'll do the same for him. The tiniest changes can really work a song
    dramatwist likes this.
  19. either:

    "damn, don't mess up, don't mess up, don't mess up... uh, hope they didn't here that, don't mess up again, don't mess up again"


    "ugh, now how the hell did I end up HERE."

    and, very rarely:

  20. MVE


    Aug 8, 2010
    Most music is a combination of three things: melody, rhythm and harmony.

    The music I like, is typically where each musician and instrument takes turns with each of those three elements in a balanced and harmonious fashion.

    As far as bass playing, know the chords of the song and outline them in a pleasant way that isn’t boring but doesn’t get in the way of either the rhythm or melody.

    its not rocket science.
    Malcolm35 and Garret Wheeler like this.
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