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What's the deal with "simple bassists"?

Discussion in 'Band Management [BG]' started by Dexterzol, Aug 16, 2019.

  1. Dexterzol


    Apr 11, 2019
    So I posted a fairly active thread here a day or so ago. It got heated, and I admit that I made myself sound fairly arrogant, but it got me thinking. What's the deal with this traditional mindset that I personally feel is so incredibly self-defeating?

    Not even talking about my thread in particular, just an overall attitude I've seen across TB, where flashy solos, embellishments and whatever is seen like "showing off" (is that even a bad thing?), or "noodling".

    I've seen a lot of people talk big about "if you wanna get paid", yet all I gather is that the context almost always involves a bar band playing covers over and over and over.

    It's frankly bizarre to see so many people restrict themselves with BS like "no money above the 5th fret", "bass is support only", "why not just get a guitar" and all the variations. It's insulting to their own potential, and sort of encourages the stereotype that bass is the instrument for underachievers.

    It's like the entire musical universe consists of oldies and country music to these folks. I get the distinct feeling that you're either bumming out a root every few seconds, or doing some exotic mixed-scale sweep-tapping in the middle of a song, which is not the case.

    It's like there is no middle ground. You either pluck a single note or two, else you're overplaying. Anybody have thoughts on this?
  2. Torrente Cro

    Torrente Cro

    Sep 5, 2013
    There are overplaying and overplaying ;)

    Sometimes if you overplay you can loose groove, silence and pauses are essential part or rhythm.
    I had a rhythm guitar player that couldn't stop his right hand and he was in a band only because he was a friend of a lead guitar.
    Also - more instruments there are in band, I tend to play bit less and in lower registers to leave space to others.

    Other than that - many times I just enjoy to overplay :D
    Eric_71, Mr_Moo, Arnel M. and 32 others like this.
  3. eJake


    May 22, 2011
    New Orleans
    If you want to be a busy/flashy bass player no one here is going to try and stop you. It's a personal choice. Personally, my favorite type of bass line is not really busy.
  4. charlie monroe

    charlie monroe Gold Supporting Member

    Feb 14, 2011
    Buffalo, NY
    I read and participated in the other thread. Pretty sure the only one who talked about roots and fifths was you.

    Serving a song doesn’t have to mean that. It means contributing an appropriate line. You came out of the gate like a steam roller in that thread.

    Listen to some great players like Jamerson. Is he busy? Depends on your definition - maybe. Does he serve the song? I say yes - he practically invented it. He certainly isn’t pedaling the root.

    If you had substituted the word melodic for busy there wouldn’t have been any discussion.

    The word busy has a negative connotation around here but that doesn’t permit you to run with the logical fallacy that if you aren’t playing busy you are plunking at the 1 and 5.
  5. RumbleMan3


    Apr 14, 2018
    It’s finding a balance. There’s no groove in just sitting on root notes the whole song (but some stuff like slow ballads or love songs don’t really focus on ‘groove’)

    But playing too much makes things sound busy. It sounds a bit fake and forced, musically, and makes everything a little harder to hear in the mix too, including the main groove, those beats that should be accented.

    Some people think that “serving the song” means to play just roots and fifths every half beat. Nothing wrong with a fast lick or fill here and there, in fact, it adds to the groove factor and makes the song musically more interesting... but it only detracts from the song and loses that groove/rhythm if it’s not in the right context. Some songs require fast complex bass lines. For example, I like to look at Bernard Edwards. Some may say he’s a busy player, but it is musically appropriate, and it would in fact sound odd without those upbeat, consistently flowing basslines in CHIC’s pop/soul songs.

    Context is key!

    It’s not busy just because he is playing a lot of notes. On those tracks, he is serving the song, and he never sounds out of place or awkward.

    Then on the other hand, being restrained in your playing does not make you unmusical or uncreative. If thats what serves the song in the best way, then that’s how you play.

    Knowing what notes to play is one thing, but the art of Bass playing is knowing when and when not to play. Never underestimate the power of a pause/rest when used correctly. Sometimes it can be more powerful than a note.
  6. Spidey2112


    Aug 3, 2016
    Analogous to often underestimated water boy, the support role we fill is one of hydration.

    Take away the bass, in either holding down the low end or soloing, and the band will end up high-and-dry, and I don't mean in a good Def Leppard way.

    I bet there are quite a few in this forum, and elsewhere, who let their playing do the talking, instead of the written word...

    ... see 'humble', in the dictionary.
  7. Spidey2112


    Aug 3, 2016
    IMO, this should apply to every band member, and not just the bassist. :thumbsup:
    Edarnott, AJQH, Crazy_Jake and 35 others like this.
  8. RumbleMan3


    Apr 14, 2018
    Yeah at the end of the day, what might feel musically right to someone, might not to someone else.

    Personally, I listen to basslines in songs from artists like MJ, Jackson 5, Stevie wonder, Chic, Diana Ross and think that those bass players craft their basslines in the best way. To me, when I hear them, I think they serve their songs in the best way... they keep it clean, not too busy, but still with a strong element of groove and keeping the listener locked in too. It’s all flowing, in harmony. That’s how I want to play. And I’ve come to realise, the secret is all in your ear. All you have to do is listen to the rest of your band, and you will just feel the right groove naturally

    You can’t help but just dig how the bass interacts with the drumbeat and the rest of the band in some of those artist’s songs.

    It’s a hard thing to describe, but in known it when I hear it, and I think... THAT is groove, that is what bass playing is!
    Kokoman, EdO., Mastermold and 6 others like this.
  9. 1st Bass

    1st Bass

    May 26, 2005
    Forest Grove, OR
    No one ever complains about the drone pipes not having something interesting to play. They support everything the piper does with the chanter.

    Same in a choir, whether it is 80 voices or more. The bass is the foundation for the whole sound...in orchestras, in "a capella ensembles"...virtually everywhere. Bass solos are uncommon, but not unheard of, in all those milieus.
  10. AlexBassMP


    Feb 5, 2014
    A couple of years ago I used to go every friday to an open jam. There was a guy who played incredible and very talented...but usually I got more calls than him after the jams because he was a pain in the a** tryin to put his playing over the rest of the band.

    I play in two bands and I still get calls to join projects...

    Usually we don't use all the words we know to say something...Sometimes a few words or sentences are enough to be heard and understood by others. Keep this mindset in your playing and everybody will want to play with you.
  11. two fingers

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

    Feb 7, 2005
    Eastern NC USA
    It's two different approaches to music. People get into music for different reasons.

    Some people want to entertain others. That's their main goal. They either play covers or write originals specifically to appeal to the masses.

    Then there are people who get into music as a pure creative outlet. Sure, they hope others like what they do. But if they don't, no big deal. That's not the point.

    Rarely do the two meet up. But it does happen.

    So what are your goals @Dexterzol ? Do you only want to write YOUR favorite music? Or are you after a mainstream approach to build a following?

    Take bands like Rush and Yes. Some of their highest selling songs were the simplest of their libraries. The highest charting song Yes had was "Owner of a Lonely Heart".... arguably one of their simplest and pop oriented songs. Rush? "Tom Sawyer" and "Tine Stand Still" probably had more mass appeal than most of their other songs.

    Mr.Big was formed by a bass player, guitar player, and drummer KNOWN for being some of the fastest and most complex player in the business. Their only hit? "To Be With You".

    Here's a list of the top 100 songs of all time (I'm assuming in the US).

    The Biggest Hits of All: The Hot 100's All-Time Top 100 Songs

    While many have MEMORABLE bass lines. Most have very SIMPLE, grooving bass lines.

    Short version: There's no "wrong" way. But there are ways that work better for different goals. I've been at this live music thing for over 30 years. Wanna get butts on the dance floor or up against the stage rocking out with you? Groove. Yes, rock and metal can groove.

    Also, there's a thread around here specifically asking for our favorite busy bass lines. Head over there and smile. There are LOTS of great examples of songs with busy bass lines.

    As I have said in a lot of Off Topic threads, different approaches and world views should NOT be translated as "hate". Even if I feel VERY strongly about something, thay doesn't mean I "hate" you or your way if you feel very strongly the other way.

    Lastly, most of us have a "serve the song/groove" approach. One minute I'll be playing 1/8th notes on a G for five minutes with a big grin on my face playing Sly "Everyday People". The next minute I'll be hanging on by my fingernails trying to keep up with the bass line and vocals of a Rush song. I love both. Most here love both.
    Mr_Moo, BluesOnBass, timplog and 27 others like this.
  12. socialleper

    socialleper Bringer of doom and top shelf beer Supporting Member

    May 31, 2009
    Canyon Country, CA
    The "simple is better" thing is white wash for complacency, nostalgia, and familiarity bias. You will read this in one sentence, then read something about Jaco, Geddy Lee, or Jamerson the next. Those are/were very busy players, but busy in an acceptable way. Because these are established players, it is Ok that they were occasionally wanky players. People praise Entwistle all the time, ignoring that he did solos live a lot.
    You have one group of people that just don't like playing that doesn't fit into their box of preference, and then call it busy or lacking groove. That is utter nonsense because both are completely subjective.
    Then you have you cover players and hired guns that have been around the general public audiences for too long. They know that if you aren't playing to a music fan, just a room of people, their musical taste is rubbish, and if you play anything even remotely interesting, you risk interrupting the Matrix. An unspoken truth that Joe and Jane Average are philistines that are dumb AF can't be articulated. People like trash, so you give them trash to make money off that trash. (See pop music and current box office sales. )
  13. Dexterzol


    Apr 11, 2019
    Fair enough. You make some good points, but even Rush and Yes's most famous songs aren't simple. What I'm talking about is the mind-numbingly repetitive stuff. The basic oldies stuff. Hell, Owner of a Lonely Heart is a fairly complex song when you break it all down. The bass hangs on to the fast keyboard flurries, it has that decently busy Motown thing going on, not to mention their other most famous songs are Roundabout and Heart of the Sunrise, basically lead bass at it's finest.

    My problem lies with the attitude that bass is just the "engine room", and that we're all just gracious people that leave the cool stuff to the other players. No way, man. Doesn't have to be prog metal, definitely doesn't have to be 0-0-0-1-0-0-0-1-0-0-0-1
  14. Dexterzol


    Apr 11, 2019
    Exactly! People worshiping Jamerson, spouting this stuff like he wasn't the direct ancestor to Jaco, Entwistle and McCartney. Hell, even just talking about Entwistle - I've heard him mirror my exact thoughts. He despised traditional bass playing, he loathed Magic Bus and basically embellished his way through every song.
  15. Ric5

    Ric5 Supporting Member

    Jan 29, 2008
  16. Dexterzol


    Apr 11, 2019
    Also, to answer this quote directly, my goal is to write mainstream stuff. Being mainstream doesn't necessarily translate into watered-down garbage, despite today's trends. I like catchy stuff, specifically catchy basslines - and nothing is less catchy than a one-note bassline. To go back to the Owner of a Lonely Heart thing, that bassline is simple enough to be digestible, but catchy as all hell - that's what I wanna do, with some super-busy stuff sprinkled inbetween
    Platano Muse and Mili like this.
  17. Kmonk


    Oct 18, 2012
    South Shore, Massachusetts
    Endorsing Artist: Fender, Spector, Ampeg, Curt Mangan, Nordstrand Pickups, Korg , Conquest Sound
    Playing correctly is simply a matter of doing what is right for the song. Sometimes, less is more and sometimes you need more movement.

    Personally, I have never liked solos unless it's something short like 20 or 30 seconds and is an important part of the song. Some solos actually detract from the song, especially if they are too busy when most of the song is simple. Shredding, regardless of the instrument does nothing for me. I've never been impressed by how many notes someone can fit into a measure. When I'm at a concert and the members of the band start taking their long individual solos, I use that time to go to the rest room, get a drink or something to eat. Most of these solos are nothing more than self indulgence on the part of the artist. It's the "Look at me, look what I can do" attitude that I can't stand and most of the players are using effects to make it sound like they're playing more notes than they are actually playing.

    I play all over the fretboard. Sometimes, my playing is very simple and other times my playing is very busy. It really depends on what is needed for the song.
  18. teh-slb


    Sep 21, 2018
    I used to think about this until I realized that (a) thinking about it is no better than arguing about it, and (b) I'm just feeding my own insecurities. Then I stopped thinking and, coincidentally or not, my playing and confidence skyrocketed.
  19. buldog5151bass

    buldog5151bass Kibble, milkbones, and P Basses. And redheads.

    Oct 22, 2003
    Do I have thoughts? Yes. Rather than pre-conceived notions about busy/simple being good/bad, just serve the song, even if it is "boring" to play.

    Motown had very simple lines (My Girl, Papa was a rolling Stone) to virtuoso, and everything in between.

    Allman Brothers went from roots (Statesboro Blues) to complex.

    Entwistle was known for playing some of the most busy lines out there, but also played Squeeze Box.

    you are there to entertain others, not stroke your ego.
  20. AlenH


    Jun 18, 2019
    'you are there to entertain others, not stroke your ego.'


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