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Why do we solo?

Discussion in 'Ask Steve Lawson & Michael Manring' started by MrTeatime, May 17, 2002.

  1. While I was talking to my self in the shower this morning, I asked myself this question. I came up with all sorts of response that I can no longer recall but it is an important question, yes?

    Although I haven't actually written anything myself, I don't think I would write many solo's. To me the bass just isn't a solo instrument, although it very well can be. To me it's an instrument that provides a building block for the rest of the band, and sometimes you can build your own solo's from that too.

    For me, I think if I ever did a solo (which would likely be in 1 of about 20 songs) it would need to really snugly fit the context. And I think it would be really mellow or groovey, likely no slap/pop. I think a solo without slap/pop could possibly be a challenge in itself, because its a technique that can often be linked to a bass solo.

    Anyway, I'd like to hear everyone elses reasons for writing a solo. Just give your own opinion on why it works for you. Please don't speak for the masses or criticise others opinions. If they want to solo for ego benifits its fine by me :D

  2. wulf


    Apr 11, 2002
    Oxford, UK
    Hmmnnn.... to me, the bass isn't just a solo instrument (rather than "just isn't"). For some undefinable reason, bass is the instrument that 'speaks' to me - it must be love :p

    I can fully appreciate the supporting role of the bass and enjoy doing that a good amount of the time. However, when the musician in me wants to sing out a tune, it's the bass that will be my chosen medium of expression.

  3. Steve Lawson

    Steve Lawson Solo Bass Exploration! Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2000
    Birmingham, UK
    Mr Teatime

    Do you mean playing a solo in a song, or writing completely solo material?

    Either way, I'm not aware of anything in the world the could or should limit what I can do with a bass - it is after all, nothing more or less than a plank of wood (or wood and graphite) with some strings attached, with some sort of electonics attached to it to amplify that. If all someone wants to do with that is hit it with a frozen dead badger, that's fine. There are no rules anywhere ever that suggest that that is anything other than another way of making a noise with a bass (animal rights considerations notwithstanding) - so working back from there, any aspect of music that you want to play on a bass is fine - low notes, high notes, groove, abstract noise, percussion, chords, melodies, solos, twiddly bits, fast stuff, slow stuff... there are no rules at all. If someone thinks I shouldn't do that on a bass, I'd say 'ok, don't call it a bass, call it a baritone fretless guitar if you like, call it a custom electric 6 string cello tuned in fourths'... I really don't mind... :oops:)

    music is about noise, noise attached to intention, and often to expressing emotion, feeling, thoughts, ideas and sometimes to support the wording of a text...

    The limitations you seem to place upon your own playing Mr Teatime are fine, if that's where you see your bass playing be. While there's nothing in the world to stop anyone making any noise with bass, there's also no rule that says you can't just play Stax tunes note for note, or play punk with a pick or play a detuned 5 string in a black metal band. No rules. Taste is fine - there are lots of things that I like or dislike, but my taste doesn't ever affect the correctness of anyone else's approach to the instrument...

    AS for your initial question - it is an interesting one, but would you ask a sax player the same question? how about a guitarist or a pianist? All of them are just objects designed to make noise. Any noise you want to make is cool by me... :oops:)


  4. maxvalentino

    maxvalentino Endorsing Artist Godin Guitars/ Thomastik-Infeld

    I must totally agree with Steve here. There are no rules, or limits, on musical expression. When I first began playing bass, I felt that there were almost unlimited possibilities as to what I, or anyone else, could do on the instrument. As I began to explore those possibilities, the more I was met with resistance from other players (and yes, even from other bass players). I was told, in no uncertain terms, that I could not do that on the bass. I was even fired from bands for daring, or at least trying, to throw chords, melodies, or more complex harmony into an arrangement!
    Just when I was begining to believe they were right, I had the good fortune of seeing Jonas Hellborg and John McLaughlin perform as a duo. The things Hellborg did with his bass, the artistry and expression, convinced me I was not wrong. Thusly I threw my headlong into the exploration of what out instrument can do MUSICALLY (that last word is of major importance).
    And, now I am a solo bassist....a position I arrived at mostly by default: unable to find musicians who were recpetive to the challenges to preconcieved notions of what bass could be which I presented.
    Playing solo has been a most illuminating experience, yet I must say I miss the dialogue and interplay with other musicians (fortunately, I still play quite a bit of "normal" bass, too!), and hope to rectify that by getting togteher a trio or small group of players who can likewise challenge the paradigm.
    Looping, btw, has allowed for some interplay and dialogue within the context of a solo bass performance, even if that dialogue is with myself....
    And, for what it is worth, bass is a term that has little to do with our instrument. It is more a reference of a sonic realm (tenor, alto..soprano...treble). Our instrument possesses one of the widest of frequency and dynamic ranges and is capable of creating rich sonic tapestries, floating melodies, jarring atonal washes, or brutal bone-crushing seismic blasts.
    Personally, I would never dream of telling a keyboardist to play only the white notes, use only his/her right hand, or to tell a guitarist to only play open position chords....yet many feel obliged to place limits on the potential of the bass (viol, guitar, or, in Steve's case, other).
    Experimentation and exploration is imporatnt for art. It allows the art to grow and remain vital. In the words of a much wiser man: "He who is not busy being born is busy dying".
  5. I guess I meant playing a solo in a song. Solo material is a bit different.

    However, I think you may have misunderstood my question a little bit. How do I put this... In my case, when I enjoy listening to a song, its usually because of the atmosphere it creates, which is due to the music. Lyrics come a distant second but if they're good, hey thats great.

    So I would play in the same way. I would attempt to build the atmosphere using my instrument, which is basically my own form of expressing myself through music. Having said that, if I was playing a low, mellow song, I probably wouldn't be tempted to solo because of the mood of the song. If I did solo, it would need to fit the context of that.

    So if I was to answer my own question, I guess it means I would only play a solo when the mood suits it.

    As for hitting instruments with a badger... well, if thats what you want to do then thats your opinion and I did ask for it. I never said you should limit yourself on my account, and I don't believe I am limiting myself anyway. If limit myself to playing something mellow or moody because of the type of song I play, then I'm merely forcing myself to be creative in a different way. I have plenty of time to play the upbeat badger smashing tune some other time.

    As I said, I was asking for your own opinions and I got them, but I think the context of my question was a little misunderstood.
    Looks like I misunderstood the context of this forum being for questions about "solo's" anyway. :rolleyes: :D
  6. Chip


    May 2, 2000
    this is probly the shortest post in the thread but....
    i wrote a few solos for school (that were marked), and i wrote 1 more just cos i made up a few riffs that sounded good, and i remembered them.
    but i dont really write solos anymore, i just improvise, its more fun, and you can show off more :p
  7. Steve Lawson

    Steve Lawson Solo Bass Exploration! Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2000
    Birmingham, UK
    >>To me the bass just isn't a solo instrument, although it very well can be. To me it's an instrument that provides a building block for the rest of the band, and sometimes you can build your own solo's from that too.<<<

    Mr Teatime,

    it's this bit that people are reacting to - you are classifying the instrument in a certain role, that on purely physical grounds doesn't exist. How you use a bass in music is purely a matter of taste. What you say in your second post about fitting with the mood of a song is fine - that's what any instrumentalist in any band has to do. It may well be that in a certain setting low end is needed, and if no-one is there to replace the sound of your bass guitar while you play a solo, then in may not be appropriate, but that's a function of sonics and arrangement, and not neccesarily built into the instrument that we play and love as a function.

    If you view 'your role' in the music that you play as a non-soloing one, that's cool - there are loads of settings in which I play where soloing isn't what I'm asked to do - no-one else could cover the low end while I was soloing, and so unless we're in the studio and I can overdub, I won't be doing much of it. In other settings, I play very little in the way of bass lines and use my fretless 6 stringed amplified Modulus plank to play tunes and create atmospheric sounds, leaving the very low notes to someone else.

    I guess what we're trying to say (I'm pretty sure I can speak for Max and Wulf in this as well... :oops:) is that it's important not to mix up the function of a certain range of notes in a style of music with the notion of inherent nature of an instrument. There's nothing inherent about the electric bass, so if someone found that in the music they were playing, the only sound they needed was artificial harmonics, that put it beyond the top end of a guitar range, and never bothered to use any 'normal' notes at all, then that's cool cos that's what their music is calling for... the instrument is a noise making machine that is hopefully subservient to the needs of the music, not the other way round...


  8. Expression? Ego? Maybe a combination?
  9. Steve Lawson

    Steve Lawson Solo Bass Exploration! Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2000
    Birmingham, UK
    Hi Squeegeebrown,

    What are you positing the expression/ego question in relation to? The desire to experiment? The quest for sounds that adequately match the 'message' or vibe of the music? Anyone who wants to play solo bass???


  10. Hi Steve, I was just trying to keep my response simple. I'll clarify somewhat for you. I actually have done one solo cd back in "99 and am currently working on my second. These songs come out as solo bass pieces because I feel compelled to express myself that way on my instrument. It's like being a conduit for a higher power which flows through you and comes out as music. Very stream of consciousness. The "ego aspect was directed, more or less at those players who just wank. Don't think however, that I am aiming any sort of condemnation at these folks. They are expressing themselves as well. It just seems to me that solo compositions come from a much deeper, maybe spiritual place than simple chops being put on display. Hope this clarifies things. Have a great day......
  11. wulf


    Apr 11, 2002
    Oxford, UK
    That's certainly where I'm coming from. As a bassist, it's good for me to understand what goes into various musical styles. However, I want to do more than just play cliches all the time.

    Whether to write a bass solo for a given song (both whether the song should have a bass solo or not, and whether it should be written or improvised) depend very much on the music you are exploring. Ultimately, any style of music is a set of predefined boundaries to roam within; how close you get to those boundaries is something to work out between yourself and the other people you're playing with.

  12. Thanks Steve, I understand what you are saying now and why you reacted to that part of my post. I was trying to avoid making a comment like that but I guess it happened anyway. :rolleyes:

    Thanks to everyone who has posted so far. In the past two days, from talking with my teacher and you guys, I've learnt a lot more about the world of music than I've learnt in two years.

    And Chip, its not the size of the post that counts, its how you use it ;)
  13. Steve Lawson

    Steve Lawson Solo Bass Exploration! Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2000
    Birmingham, UK
    Squeegee - that's much clearer, thanks very much. And I feel quite similar about solo playing. It's certainly not a 'hey, duuuuude, check out my chops!!!' thing for me at all... It is, possibly, partly, about control freakery - doing it all myself, and taking full responsibility for all of it. It's also, in some ways, a self discovery thing - working out what I can do, how I can interface the stuff I hear in my head and the things I am able to do with a bass guitar (that being my instrument of choice...) - I guess it's just an attempt to soundtrack the inside of my brain, with the hope that some other people might like to go on holiday there once in while :oops:) (not too get too 'John Malkovich' on you...)

    please feel free not to keep things simple in the future - I'm more than happy for people to write at great length here (if I wasn't, I'd have had Max arrested by now... :oops:)


  14. Josh Ryan

    Josh Ryan - that dog won't hunt, Monsignor. Supporting Member

    Mar 24, 2001
    Self expression is a good thing. Content is very subjective. Why do the people who claim to not "solo" always ask this question? Why do people like me have a big chip on their shoulders when it comes to defending the right of the bass to solo as much as any other instrument? If only Leonard Nimoy were here to help answer these unsolved mysteries....;)
  15. thrash_jazz


    Jan 11, 2002
    Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
    Artist: JAF Basses, Circle K Strings
    I don't think ego enters into soloing at all. To me, it's about getting a chance to say what you want to say. To use a bad analogy, it's like being in a group conversation and wanting to say something to everyone, as opposed to talking in the background.

    Better put, I personally want to solo when I hear a situation in which I feel I can offer more to the song than the limits of the "normal" role of the instrument would allow me to... and if it would fit in with the structure and dynamics of the song.

    I don't understand the "bass players shouldn't solo" mentality, either. I have never seen one good reason put forth as to why the bass (or any other instrument, for that matter) cannot solo; that's because I don't think there are any good reasons.

    If soloing isn't your thing, it isn't your thing. But, don't let anyone else tell you that it shouldn't be your thing - only you can tell yourself that.
  16. thrash_jazz

    Excellent post! It's the best answer I've heard so far.

    I'd just like to point out, that a lot of people think that I believe the bass isn't a solo instrument. I guess I did say that but it really isn't quite what I meant. I was trying to say its not an instrument that I would use to solo often.

    Also worth noting. Yesterday I was in a music shop, Clef music. Those guys are jerks. Anyway, I was trying that Danelectro Longhorn, and some of my friends were present. I dunno, but something must have clicked, because when I got home I felt really confident and just started slapping out stuff. Thats not me at all.... maybe I'm going through metamorphisis!
  17. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    I think there is a very easy answer to why we get these questions all over the forum and not just here! It's that the posters are listening to a very limited sub-set of music - basically pop/rock/metal.

    So this is a very small and limited area of music and given the history of music all over the world probably only accounts for much less than a fraction of 1% of all music?

    So - I might listen to some solo organ pieces by Messiaen, which are incredibly rich and sonorous, some Brazilian music with solo guitar and voice, a Bach cello suite, Indian percussionist etc. etc.

    The more music you listen to, the more you can see how "unlimited" your options are - if you limit yourself to a narrow range of popular music then you are going to have more fixed ideas in this area.
  18. thrash_jazz


    Jan 11, 2002
    Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
    Artist: JAF Basses, Circle K Strings
    Awww thanks, Mr. T! :)

    I am curious, though - why would you choose not to solo often on bass? Is it because you would choose not to solo much in general (no matter which instrument you're playing), or because you're perfectly happy to just play in the pocket?

    Bruce - I agree with you 100%! The only resistance I've ever encountered to bass soloing is in rock/pop type genres - and there, many seem willing to fight it to the death!
  19. It is exactly because I'm perfectly happy playing in the pocket. I'm a groove bassist. And its kinda funny... I've been mingling with some of the music community at the moment. I've met a few musicians slightly younger than me (I'm 20 so we're talking 19 - 17), and they seem to go out and get as many different instruments as they can grab without learning one properly.

    I'm just happy to play bass :D

    I kinda like that stereotypical image of the mysterious bass player who stands nearly motionless and just lays down the groove. But there is always the exception that disproves the rule, right? :)
  20. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002
    Do you mean to say that some people play bass with a LIVING frozen badger? Jeez, there's some sick people out there!!! ;)

    Why do we play solos?
    - Darned good question! Almost imposible to answer, I mean, why do we play music?

    I think the only reason for a solo should be to bring something (whatever 'something' is) to the music.

    Hmm, taking that analaogy a step further I'd say that it's like a group conversation that NEEDS you to speak out and say your piece for the benefit of the conversation, rather than WANTING to say your piece. A tiny picky details, sorry! As though your point is essential for the dierection of the conversation, it's just bursting to get out in the open.

    That analogy works in so many ways... when you blurt out some comment and make a total arse of yourself, it's the equivelant of a horrendously duff note!

    Me & solos. I like solos that work. I cant stand solos for the sake of them. Rock tends to have a guitar solo in EVERY song, which I think, in general is cack, but it IS almost a requisite of the genre... G'N'R without a Slash solo in every song? - NEVER!

    At my local (free) jazz club each player has a solo in every tune and within a couple weeks you get used to the players style and get bored of it. So why do they bother? - Becasue it is 'the done thing'?

    My hard-rock band (for all the numerous problems we have) are not big believers in solos. Our guitarist just doenst dig them, so we put together these sort of jams as a break rather than a solo if something is needed. I prefer it and think it works.

    On the same subject I bought the chili peppers DVD recently (stop moaning at the back!) and it has some awesome solos on it. Both guitar and bass. I mean truly great. They're pretty simple musically and there's certainly no surprises, but the feel is incredible and they are ALL totally relevant. I'm a huge fan anyway, depsite my age, 28 tomorrow! so I am a bit predjudiced admittedly., but I'd advise checking it out if you can.

    Bruce, interesting point about the different types of music. I must admit I tend only listen to variations of pop/rock/jazz, but every now and then a classical piece of music from a film will inspire me... and I notice bass will often have a few solo moments in a classical piece, especially in horror movies. I LOVE the idea of making music that isnt just 'happy-happy-joy-joy'.

    Anyway, back on track... I would play solos, given the opportunity, but I dont push for them now, because I dont think they're needed in my band(s) situations.

    Does a repeated phrase count as a solo? - I'd be much more likely to play this than some sort of free solo.

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