Why did you play that?

Just give the music what it needs!

By Jon Liebman
Week of March 15, 2021

“Don’t talk unless you can improve the silence.” 

That quote, attributed to Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges, is one of my favorites. I especially like how that message can be applied to all kinds of contexts, including, of course…

Learning bass!

The topic came up in this week’s FBPO interview with former Jethro Tull bassist Jonathan Noyce. The way Jonathan talks about appropriateness in playing bass is so matter of fact, so second nature, that it comes across as a given, which, ultimately, it should be. 

Regardless of where you are on your journey of learning bass, it never hurts to be reminded of what we’re supposed to do as bass players, and Jonathan sums it up beautifully.

Think about it. What makes a great bass player? 

Someone may have all the bass chops in the world, but if those chops are not applied appropriately, when they’re truly needed, well, maybe that player is not so “great” after all.

“I don’t like things to be too dominant,” says Jonathan. “I think it’s just a question of it being the correct thing.”

In other words, just give the music what it needs. 

As I often say, if the song needs you to go 1-5, 1-5, then give it the best 1-5, 1-5 you’ve got! 

If the music is best served by your playing whole notes, make them exquisite.

And yes, if an incredibly busy funky R&B fill is what’s needed to help the song, then go for it.

The important thing to understand when learning bass is what to play and what not to play. And that comes from experience and seasoning, little by little.

The concept can also extend to your choices of bass, strings, effects, etc., making sure they’re all chosen for the right reasons.

“If you need something that is a fully roundwound sound,” says Jonathan, “then that’s fine. It’s a question of being appropriate.”

Always keep that word in mind: Appropriate.

“Always!” says Jonathan. “Absolutely.” 

Don’t forget, your job as a bass player is to lay down the groove, lock in with the drummer, and make the music feel good. Always keep in mind what the rest of the band – and even the audience – is expecting from you.

“The most important thing,” says Jonathan, “is to serve the music. Always.”

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 Jonathan here.

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