Insight into the role — and responsibility — of being the band’s bass player
John Kitchens, Guest contributor
Most people assume that lead guitar is the most important position in a band. While there’s no denying the fact there every band needs a lead guitarist, one could also argue that the bass guitarist is the most critical position. When they perform the way he or she should, everyone else in the band will be able to play their instruments smoothly and accurately. On the other hand, if a bass guitarist makes a mistake by hitting the wrong chord or note, it could throw off the entire band’s rhythm, leading to a disastrous show of epic proportions.
While nearly every band has one, few people know what purpose a bass guitarist serves in a band. They aren’t there to bash the drums or jam out to some funky guitar riffs, so why are they even a part of the band? To understand the answer to this question, you have to go back to the basics of music production and bring all the elements of a band together to form a song. Bands rely on some sort of rhythm to maintain a beat that everyone else can follow and use a guideline for playing their instruments. Playing a solo instrument by yourself isn’t extremely difficult, but when you have to stay in sync with three or more members, you need a rhythm to follow, which is where the bass guitarist comes into play – to create a rhythm for other members to follow.
Not only do the lead guitarist and drummer need to follow the rhythm produced by the bass guitarist, but so does the vocalist. In fact, this is where things can get tricky, as they must frequently alter their playing to catch up or slow down to the vocals in a song. If the vocalist lets out lyrics faster than what the band is used to playing with, it’s up the bass guitarist to try and slow the rhythm back down so that everyone else is on the right page. In the music industry, this is known as linking harmony and rhythm. Whether you’re playing rock, country, jazz or hip-hop, you need to link your harmony and rhythm together in order for your band to play in sync.
A lot of the time spent playing the bass guitar in a band will be trying to sync up with other members. While you’re ultimately responsible for connecting the harmony and rhythm, you’ll inevitably be changing your beat to help out others in the band. For this reason, you’ll need to pay close attention to how others are playing their instruments, especially the drummer. The drummer in the band has the ability to hit hard bass notes that must be timed just right with your playing to flow cohesively with one another. Not only should you be paying close attention to the drummer, but he (or she) should be watching you as well. Playing in a band is a team effort that requires everyone to watch and listen to one another and help out when necessary.