“Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.” - Plato
A bassist plays a central role in any band. Along with the drummer, they’re the cornerstone of the band.
Many people want to learn how to play a musical instrument but you don’t need to be a world-famous bass player to play in a band.
Here’s exactly what a bass player does in a band.
Why Bassists Are an Essential Part of any Band
We could say that bassists are to bands what bricklayers are to houses. Much like a bricklayer, a bassist will create a structure around what everything is built.
The bass guitar is an instrument that can add depth, rhythm, groove, and drive to a song.
Can you even imagine listening to Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd, Slipknot, or David Bowie without a bassline?
The deep notes provide an atmosphere that plays throughout the song and, along with the drummer, provides the rhythm for the guitarists.
The bass is both rhythmic and melodic and serves a double function:
- Keeps time with the help of the drummer.
- Plays a melody or bassline that will help the guitarist and singer.
According to a Canadian study, the human brain can distinguish lower frequency notes better than higher frequency notes. Studies also show that bass notes are more likely to get people tapping their feet than notes on a guitar.
In short, it’s an instrument that can help you follow the beat of a song. To show just how important all this is, you just have to listen to Cliff Burton or Jason Newsted of Metallica (on Orion or Enter Sandman) or Rex Brown of Pantera (on Five Minutes Alone).
You can see just how important the bass is on many Red Hot Chili Peppers songs with Flea on the bass: Californication, Snow, My Friends, and Can't Stop, for example.
Imagine these songs without the bass lines. The same is true for plenty of folk, soul, jazz, punk. pop, rock, prog, and metal songs...
Learn about the history of the bass guitar.
What’s the Difference between Bass and Guitar?
To understand the role that a bassist plays in a band, you need to know the difference between them and guitarists.
While a guitar has six strings, a bass guitar usually has four.
Bass guitar strings are tuned in fourths, meaning that each string is four notes apart from the next.
Standard tuning is as follows:
- 4th string: E
- 3rd string: A
- 2nd string: D
- 1st string: G
The neck of the instrument is symmetrical and usually cheaper than that of a guitar. A bass guitar is also an octave lower than a guitar, giving it a completely different role to that of the guitar.
Did you know that you don’t need to change your fingering as you play through a scale?
The bass player has to accompany the drummer in a rhythmic capacity while helping the guitarist in a melodic capacity. Another difference is that the bass has a longer neck than the guitar.
Bass Provides the Rhythm for the Music
The bass player is often hidden behind other musicians. However, the bassist and drummers are the rhythmic pillars of a band. If the bassist plays out of time, the audience will quickly notice. The bass allows the higher-pitched instruments to sync up melodically, especially during solos.
Take a typical three-piece rock group with a drummer, bassist, and guitarist. The song will be made up of chords played on the guitar. The bass will play the bass line which provides the pulse. They need to play the right notes at the right time. These notes will be related to the chords in the song. The bassist’s role is to keep the rhythm with the drummer. This is also why a metronome is a bassist’s best friend; it’s a great way to work on your rhythm and gain perfect timing.
You have to play the right notes at the right time.
The Bassist: The Keeper of Melody
The bassist is also responsible for the melodies.
Take the example of the bassline in Californication by Red Hot Chili Peppers:
- The bass reproduces and accompanies the guitar riff.
- The bassist follows the guitarist by playing the notes in time.
The bass is usually a monophonic instrument that plays the tonic of the chords with basslines that take into account the drumbeat and the guitarist’s melodies. Of course, this depends on the bassist.
Sometimes, the bassist is behind the guitarist accompanying them with deeper notes that their instrument can’t reach or the bassist provides the groove or a melody.
Take the famous bass riff in Metallica’s Orion, for example.
In many cases, the guitar can take a back seat to the bass (Red Hot Chili Peppers, for example), which is often the case with musical genres such as jazz and funk.
If the bassist isn’t happy just playing the notes that the guitar can’t reach, they might also support the rhythm of the guitar with a simple bassline consisting of regular pulses.
Learn about the best bassists ever.
Different Bass Roles in Different Genres
You need to understand that a bassist won’t play the same role in every type of band (metal, jazz, funk, prog-rock, punk, etc.) nor will they employ the same type of playing.
There are plenty of different techniques:
- Plucking technique
- Right-hand technique
- Floating thumb technique
- Picking technique
- Up and down picking technique
- Three-finger technique
- Position shifts
- Dead notes
- Hammer-ons and pull-offs
Then there’s slap bass. Slap bass immediately makes the bass a funkier instrument.
The finger plucking technique is quite common for bass players. It involves plucking the strings with your index and middle fingers with your thumb resting on the pickup.
Once a note is played, the finger will either rest upon the next string or the thumb until it’s called back into action. This allows you to play pulsing rhythms.
Be it an electric bass guitar or an acoustic bass guitar, you just have to get to practising that bass!
Discover the best basslines ever.
If you'd like to learn more about playing the bass guitar, there are plenty of great resources online. You can find tabs for different songs and video tutorials on YouTube that explain how to master certain playing techniques or how to play certain songs.
There are also plenty of physical resources like books and even lessons in music schools and conservatories. A lot of musicians teach themselves how to play and nowadays there are so many resources making it much easier for them to do it.
If you're still struggling after that or just prefer a more personalised approach, you might want to consider contacting one of the many talented tutors on Superprof. There are different types of tutorials available so there's something for every type of learner and budget.
Face-to-face tutorials are your traditional private tutorials between the student and a tutor. They're great if there's something specific you'd like to learn as the lessons will be tailored to you and your learning style. However, this bespoke service comes at a cost, meaning that this type of tutorial is usually the most costly.
Online tutorials are also just between a single student and their tutor but their tutor won't be there in the room with them. Instead, they'll provide their tutorial over webcam. While this isn't always ideal for hands-on subjects, if you have a decent mic, a talented tutor can teach you how to play bass without even being in the room with you.
Finally, you can also get group tutorials. With several paying students attending the tutorial, this type of tutorial tends to be the cheapest per person per hour. Of course, the tutor's attention is also divided amongst the students and they won't be able to tailor the lessons to a single student. However, in the beginning, this might be a good option as everyone needs to learn the basics and you don't want to spend too much money on a new hobby if you think you mightn't stick at it.
Luckily for you, many of the tutors on Superprof offer the first hour of tuition for free. This is a great way to get to know your potential tutor, ask them about their teaching style, experience, and qualifications, and iron out the finer details of the kind of tuition you'd like.