How secure is the future for the working bassist?
Rich Menga, Guest contributor
March 12, 2013
If you were to examine the Billboard charts these days, you’ll notice there is a lot of electronic music there. Music that features no real bass guitar at all, but rather something which was programmed on a computer.
You may also have noticed some major acts (and even minor ones) that don’t feature an actual bass player at all, where some guy on the keyboard is on the side playing all the bass parts.
This begs the question…
Should you as a bass player be worried about being replaced by a keyboard?
One of the first major pop rock acts that did not feature a bass player and instead opted to use keyboards (or rather an organ) was The Doors. Did bands of the time suddenly kick out all their bass players and all use keyboards when The Doors became popular? Of course not.
And even though there are a few modern bands (both major and minor) that do use a keyboard instead of a bass player, are all the other bands dumping their bass players? Of course not …
… and they never will.
Bass is absolutely necessary for pretty much every style of music and works best when played by a real bass player to give the lower sounds actual personality.
You as a bass player understand that when a good drummer and a good bassist really have a groove going, there is no keyboardist on the face of the planet that can accurately recreate that sound from a keyboard. Sure, the keyboard guy may be able to perfectly reproduce the tone, but will the “flavor” be there, so to speak? No, it won’t. That keyboard guy will play bass as just another keyboard patch, and it will sound totally inappropriate for any kind of music where groove or “low-end feeling” is needed.
I mean, think about it. Would players with years of experience like Leland Sklar, Nathan East and Larry Graham still be working if they weren’t needed?
Bass players, don’t worry, you’re needed.
Also, here’s a twist:
Should a bass player own a keyboard?
As strange as this may sound, yes!
A keyboard is actually a very good tool for learning patterns and rhythms you otherwise would not have thought of just by using a fretted or fretless instrument. Even if you know absolutely nothing about how to play a keyboard, you should get one.
If you purposely seek out a low-cost “digital piano” (sometimes known as a “portable arranger”), this is a great tool to help develop new bass grooves on your own when not with your band. Having something with built-in drums and other accompaniment instruments is really good for “scratch pad” songwriting.
Heck, you might get so good at it that you’ll even put your keyboard player out of a job! 🙂