It’s not about the bass; it’s about the band

Playing a supportive role is a great honor

By Jon Liebman
Week of November 23, 2020

Anyone who thinks the primary function of the bass is that of a lead instrument had better think again.

We can talk all day long about Stanley Clarke, Billy Sheehan, Victor Wooten and all the other great soloists, but the main role of the bass is to lock in with the drummer, lay down the foundation for the band, and make the music groove. 

There’s no shame in playing a supportive role. On the contrary, it’s an honor. Without the bass and drums doing their thing, we’d have a bunch of shredding guitarists playing over – nothing.

The topic came up in our conversation with Mike Kroeger of Nickelback, in an interview with FBPO’s Gary Graff, published this week. Mike does a fantastic job defining what playing bass is. And what it isn’t.

“I’ve never really been that interested in being really flashy or really out front,” Mike says. “I just want to listen and understand what the song needs.”

That’s what playing bass is about. 

“Bass doesn’t need to be a lead voice,” he says. “It needs to be complementary and foundational, not lead.”

Then he said the most important thing of all: “It’s not about the bass; it’s about the band.”

As bass players, we have the power – and the responsibility – to make the music feel good. And we know when we’re doing right. We see the heads bobbing, the bodies swaying, and the people dancing…

“The difference between a band with a bass player doing it right and not doing it right,” Mike says, “is nobody can really put their finger on something’s wrong — but you know it’s wrong. But when somebody’s really doing it right, most listeners don’t recognize it specifically. You never hear, ‘Holy crap, did you see the bass player?!’”

Maybe he’s saying, for the most part, that nobody really talks about the bass unless the player screws up. If that’s how you feel, just smile, do your job, and know that you’re a major force of what makes the music feel good. Oh, and don’t screw up!

Supplying both rhythm and harmony, the bass is the glue between the drummer and the rest of the band. “When a band doesn’t have that right kind of flow between the bass player and everyone else,” Mike says, “you can tell the difference.”

How about you? Have a thought on the subject? Leave a comment below and let me know what you think. In the meantime, check out Gary’s interview with Mike here.

Comments on It’s not about the bass; it’s about the band

  1. Richard Anderson says:

    You are exactly rite. I go places an they will say let the bass player do a break but I just tell that it’s not something I just do. Yes I could do something for them but being in the spot lite is not for me.

  2. Skyflyer says:

    I’m 71 and a new bassist. I am absolutely enthralled with learning the bass (my wife would use the word, “obsessed).” My first audition was 2 months after I began noodling on a bass in my local mom and pop music store. I was nervous as “all get out!” I could barely make my fingers move, until I began to breathe and to relax. The rest went well, or well enough! When I apologized (don’t do that) for not doing well, he said, “you did just fine,” it occurred to me that he heard something that my mind and bundle of nerves did not…I played the groove he was looking for. This March 5 is my first gig, 4 months after first picking up the bass. I’ve been putting in the work, studying, practicing, working on technique, listening to great bass players in many genres. I know my role…to support the band. The song set is so inspiring and challenging that I was actually smiling and thoroughly enjoying the songs in my studio last night late, while I was practicing. Yes, practicing…3-4 hours a day. I’m not just a bedroom hobbyist anymore…which is still an amazingly fun thing to do! No, from March 5th onward…I am a bass player.

    1. Jon Liebman says:

      You have a great story, Skyflyer! Very inspiring. I know the gig is going to go well. In fact, hit me up on March 6 and let me know how it went. Thanks for weighing in.

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