“If I’m Not Bleeding, It’s Not A Good Show”

How hard (or soft) is your bass attack?

By Jon Liebman
Week of May 6, 2019

What a fun interview we published this week, with Chris Clemence (RapScallions, Screaming at Demons). When we got to talking about his technique and approach to playing, Chris proudly proclaimed that he puts all of his heart and soul into the bass. Commenting on his aggressive style of playing, Chris says, “if I’m not bleeding, it’s not a good show.”

On the other hand, just last week, we were talking with Henrik Linder of Dirty Loops, who cited Gary Willis as one of his influences. If you’re not familiar with Gary’s playing, he’s known for having an extremely light touch on the bass. In observing different styles of bass players and variations in technique, it’s truly amazing how bassists have come up with so many ways of getting their desired sounds out of the instrument.

But which way is the “right” way?

Bottom line: There’s really no right or wrong way to attack the strings on the bass, as long as you’re laying down the groove in a way that gets the job done, regardless of what style you’re playing. Think about Mark Egan’s touch on the fretless bass, compared to that of Ryan Martinie of Mudvayne, or Reid Anderson of The Bad Plus. Very different styles, very different ways of plucking the same four strings.

The point is further demonstrated in our online courses, where playing a reggae groove, for example, requires a different level of aggressiveness than, say, a blues shuffle or a funky R&B groove. It all comes down to knowing how to give the music what it needs. You (and the rest of the band) will know whether you’re doing it right or not.

What other bass players can you think of on the Spectrum of Bass Aggression, from “Super Light” to “If I’m Not Bleeding…?” If you have any other thoughts on the subject, share those too by leaving a comment below.

In the meantime, check out my interview with Chris here.

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Comments on “If I’m Not Bleeding, It’s Not A Good Show”

  1. Tom Winstead says:

    If I’m not bleeding… Wow. Haven’t heard anything about bass technique that I disagree with more. What that means is than there is ZERO dynamic range left to the fingers. Playing with a soft hand does not mean you don’t have attack, it means you have everything under your hand. I feel sorry for this guy’s basses.

    BTW–I never thought I’d get to see Gary Willis perform, but did at the Winter NAMM Bass Bash this year. Incredible touch–I’d say he is the masterclass on touch that I’d want my students to emulate.

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