When learning bass, give the drummer some… respect!

“Man, if you find a great drummer… you’re set.” 

By Jon Liebman
Week of December 6, 2021

If you’re familiar with any of my bass books, if you’ve been following my blog, or if you’re subscribed to any of my online resources, you’ve undoubtedly heard me clearly delineate the role of the bass player:

We lay down the foundation for the band. We set the groove. We make the music feel good.

I also make a point of mentioning that we seldom do those things all by ourselves; we do them along with the drummer.

The topic came up during an amazing conversation I had recently with Trey Gunn, past member of King Crimson and a bunch of other groups, published as this week’s FBPO interview. When I asked Trey what advice he had for someone who wants to learn bass, he couldn’t say enough about how much he loves playing with a good drummer. 

Drummers play such an important role in a band, especially where bass players are concerned. A crucial component of learning bass is to be sure you’re not taking the drummer’s contributions for granted.

While Trey’s widely known for playing a lot of “fancy” stuff, as he calls it, not just on the traditional bass, but on the Warr Guitar and Chapman Stick, when it comes to making music, that’s not his biggest priority. Rather, he looks to the drummer.

“I feel like, man, just sitting in the groove, playing the groove,” he says. “The best thing a bass player can do is play with a great drummer.”

Chances are you’ve heard others make comments to that effect before. But how much appreciation do you really have for what the drummer does? The drummer is your partner. You and the drummer need to work together, laying that foundation and creating the right feel for the music.

Some bass players become fixated on the drummer’s foot as it hits the kick drum pedal. 

I had a jazz improv instructor once who constantly stressed the importance of playing along with the “splang-a-lang” of the ride cymbal. 

Other bass players find themselves automatically leaning into the backbeat on the snare drum.

Whatever it takes, make sure you’re not doing your job in a vacuum. A huge part of being a bass player is working in conjunction with the drummer.

“I mean, that’s how we get our good feel, playing with a drummer,” Trey says. “Man, if you find a great drummer, I would say that you’re set. You’re set.”

What about you? Have a thought on the subject? Leave a comment below and let me know what you think. In the meantime, check out my interview with Trey here.

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