How important is the Bass Guitar in a Band?
When deciding between a guitar and a bass guitar, you may want to consider the popularity of each instrument. The general impression is that the guitarist is the star of the show while the bass guitarist is a ‘wannabe’ or a failed guitarist. This is not the case.
Most folks consider a bass guitarist as a background player who doesn’t contribute much to the music. They’re in the band just for the sake of it, right?
While regular music fans may ignore the role of a bass guitar, avid fans understand the importance of the underrated instrument. In simpler words, a bass guitar is an instrument that brings all the other instruments together to provide a rhythmic foundation.
Despite its unpopularity, a bass guitar is the most crucial element in a band. Even though you won’t often find a solo bassist, the instrument is still quite fundamental to any performance. Try listening to any music without the bass and you’ll find that it sounds a bit hollow.
Why is the Bass Guitar Underrated?
Before we move ahead to how the bass guitar is truly important, let’s take a look at why it is so underrated, especially in rock music. There are several reasons that contribute to this perception among the general public.
You’ll find that many bassists were former guitarists. While musicians have varying reasons for making the switch, the number one reason is that the bass seems easier to play. With this mindset, most musicians tend to stagnate their progress and do not look beyond their horizons.
As a result, some bassists tend to become weak links in their bands. They do not contribute to anything or change their style. When you play any instrument this way, it’s bound to be easier. True bassists, on the other hand, understand the importance of the deep notes and write bass lines that provide harmony and vibrancy to the music.
In addition to this, there is rarely any glory in playing the bass guitar. The general public does not understand the role of a bass guitar and thus, ignores the bass player completely. A great example is Paul McCartney from the Beatles. Many know his name but are unaware of the fact that he was a bass player.
With that being said, most musicians who play other instruments do respect and give value to the bassist as they understand his role. It’s the general public who is often unaware.
Responsibilities of a Bass Player
As a budding bassist, it is essential that you know what may be required from you. Not only does this help you perform better, but it also helps you assess your value and position in the band. Traditionally, there are two basic responsibilities of a bass player within a group:
Providing the Rhythmic Foundation
The bass helps provide the rhythmic foundation to the other instruments. Rhythm basically means the consistent pulse of any music. A steady rhythm or pulse is crucial to good music as it’s what differentiates music with noise. When listening to music, the beat is what makes you move your feet to the music.
Thus, a good bassist will help keep all other instruments in rhythm and provide a steady beat. Although the drummer is also responsible for the beat, a bassist should never depend on him. Ideally, your sense of rhythm should be independent and solid.
Supporting the Harmony
Not only does the bassist provide a foundation to the rhythm, but he also supports the harmony of the music. Harmony basically refers to multiple notes playing at the same time while still providing a pleasant effect.
Creating harmony when you’re playing a single instrument is effortless. On the other hand, when you’re playing with other instruments, it can be quite difficult. When these instruments play their notes, we tend to hear them relative to the lowest pitched notes, i.e. the bass note.
In fact, the effect is so severe that even if the other instruments play the same note but the bass is played differently, you’ll hear a completely different musical effect.
A good bass player can take cheery and bright sounds and turn them into dark and mysterious or harsh and ugly ones. This is why no band is complete without a bass guitar.
Why the Bass is Important?
Realizing the responsibilities of a bass guitar may have given you an insight on why the bass is so important in a band. The true importance, however, is how the bass affects listeners and how it helps them perceive the music other instruments play.
Generally, studies show that:
- Using a lower frequency helps our brain become adjusted to rhythm changes more quickly.
- Bass sounds are more associated with power and strength than higher frequencies, making them crucial for rock bands where the instruments need to have a dominating effect.
Studies show that more people respond to the rhythm when it is a lower-pitched instrument that plays it. This is because deeper bass notes have a unique effect on peoples’ minds and bodies. If you’ve ever been to a tailgate or a concert, you might have felt the deeper bass notes resonating through your body.
Several other studies show that your heartbeat often syncs with the beat of the music you’re listening to. This is only possible through the deeper notes. You can literally ‘feel the beat’. This is even more evident when you examine those who are hard of hearing. You’ll find that they can still dance in rhythm to the music as they can feel the beat without hearing the music.
Rhythm, harmony, and melody are the three most important elements of music. The bass player lays the foundation and provides support to two of these elements. That alone demonstrates the true power of the bass guitar.
In the end, it depends on you whether you choose to innovate and progress with your bass or become a background player just because it seems easy!