Should The Bass Player Worry About Being Replaced By A Keyboard Player?

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?

Answer: No.

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! 🙂

Comments on Should The Bass Player Worry About Being Replaced By A Keyboard Player?

  1. Richard says:

    I’ve been trying to learn the bass for a long time, I never really seem to be getting anywhere with it. I have tried several other instruments and never really got on with them either. Recently a couple of fingers in my left hand went numb, that made it really uncomfortable. I dug out my keyboard and practiced my bass lines on that, I found it far more comfortable than I even had playing a bass guitar. I now want to play bass on the keyboards. I don’t want to be a keyboard player. I want to play exactly what I played on the bass on the keyboard and that’s it. I want to develop that side of playing as well. I know that purists wont necessarily like it, but who cares, you only live once, I’m still trying to find something I’m good at!!

  2. John says:

    For context, I started when I was a kid as a classically-trained pianist, quit to spite my parents, then took up bass in my early 20s, and reconnected with piano and keys in my late 20s. I don’t play bass so much anymore, but I dearly and deeply love the instrument.

    The passage of this op-ed that opens with:

    “Bass is absolutely necessary for pretty much every style of music…

    And closes with:

    “…it will sound totally inappropriate for any kind of music where groove or “low-end feeling” is needed.”

    …is only half true. It is true for a shitty, half-assed keys player that you don’t want in your band anyhow.

    A good keys player will care deeply about the needs of the group’s sound, and if given the opportunity to play the bass role, they’ll want to get in the pocket with the drummer, and will take a lot of care to get the right patch, and often create their own. And if you’ve ever heard a good keys player on bass, you wouldn’t say that you can’t get a good groove with keys bass.

    All that having been said, no, bassists aren’t going anywhere. Just because you can do the job of bass with a (good) keys player doesn’t mean that every band is looking to eject their bassist. Music is art, the great thing about art is that there’s no right or wrong way to do it.

    Besides, the supply of guitarists who think they’re going to be the next Satriani shows no sign of running out, so there will always be more bass gigs than bassists. 😛

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