Throughout my years of playing music, I have run into to other musicians who don’t understand the importance of bass guitar. I’ve even had some point out that bass is merely a “secondary instrument” tasked with a supporting role. While that may not be entirely untrue, this kind of thinking reflects a lack in understanding of how crucial bass is to the success of any band.
Don’t get me wrong – there are many others who have pointed out the importance of bass – btw…this type of opinion is usually found in accomplished, skilled musicians who actually understand music. But it still seems and feels like we often get less credit than we deserve. So I feel the need to stand up for myself and my fellow bassists, and point out why bass guitar is the most important instrument in a band.
Here are a 5 reasons that support that argument:
5. Bassists Have the Key
If you’ve learned to play bass, you understand the importance of playing in the right key of a song. When learning a song it’s almost a requirement for bassists to know the key. Bassists play notes – not chords. And when get a note wrong it stands out – it can’t hide behind other notes in a chord. So when I learn a song, I always want to determine the key. And when I rehearse a song with a band, I am the one everyone looks to for the right key. Others may be playing out of key – but never me. Bassists know the key, and stay in it – and in doing so always lead their band mates in the right direction!
4. We’re in the Mood…for a Melody
Drummers play rhythm. Guitarists play melodies. Bassists play both! And not only do they play both, but they are the “glue” that binds the rhythm and melody together. When Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh was asked how he came up with his bass lines, he explained that he essentially plays rhythmic melodies in order to create the foundational feel of a song. And if that doesn’t convince you that bassists play melodies, maybe this quote from the great James Jamerson will…“I’d hear the melody line from the lyrics and I’d build the bass line around that. I always tried to support the melody. I had to. I’d make it repetitious, but also add things to it. It was repetitious, but had to be funky and have emotion.”
3. Lean on Me
Perhaps the most important job of a bassist is to play a supporting role. Here is a quote from world-renowned bassist Flea… “The stronger that the bass can support other instruments, the more the other guys can shine…As a bass player, you’re laying the foundation, you’re making the bed, you’re giving the ground for everyone else to dance upon.” So when I say “supporting role” I don’t mean secondary, or anything less than important. Our job is to make others sound better. And by making everyone else sound better, the band as whole will inevitably play and produce good music…which should be the underlying role of any genuine musician!
2. We Are Heard!
An article written by LiveScience.com publishes the results of research done to determine which sounds people hear most and follow when listening to a band or song. And shocker…we humans are innately drawn to the low-end sounds produced by the bass guitar. The article titled “Why That Bass Beat Moves Us” does a good job of explaining the science behind this – so read it for details. But what it basically says is that people are moved more by rhythmic, low-end sounds than any other sound in music…So remember this when you or someone else is playing the bass. While other instruments may be seem to get the “glory” the low-end is what people hear, and what moves them!
1. Bass Players are Know-it-Alls
Bass players are band leaders that know and play it all – the key, the melody, the rhythm – their part, and the parts of all other band members. It’s the responsibility of the bassist to keep everyone together and on track throughout the entirety of a song. Whether or not you are a fan of Justin Timberlake, you cannot deny that he has an incredible band. It consists of dozens of players and singers who are all very accomplished musicians. And the director of the band is…bassist Adam Blackstone – just one example out of many, of bassists who are in charge of their band. To emphasize this point, I challenge all readers to study the most successful and popular bands throughout history. And in more cases than not, what you will find is a great bass player who is the foundation, the leader, the director, and the glue that holds everything together.
So I hope you as a bass player (or someone who plays any instrument) can gain a little insight from this article to help understand the importance of bass. Furthermore if you play bass, try to surround yourself with those who already understand how crucial the bass is – hint: these will be those that are knowledgeable, and accomplished musicians. And the next time you come across those that like to belittle the importance of the bass guitar, run a couple of these points by him or her – educate them so they understand why the bass guitar is the most important instrument!