A boy came home from his first bass lesson. His dad asked him how it went. “Today we learned the E string.” The boy came home from his second lesson and dad asked him how it went. “Today we learned the A string.” The boy came home from his third lesson. Dad asked, “So did you learn the D string today?” “Nope. Today I had a gig.”
-Bass player humor
Similar in nature to my article Drummers, bass players are extremely important in our modern day worship bands. Bassists do not simply play the low note of the guitar. Rather they provide the chordal foundation for everything else that is happening on the worship team.
Bass is an instrument that has been around since the 17th century. Similar to the electric guitar, it was in the 1950’s that the modern electric bass came into mass production. The most important part of that instrument was the invention of frets allowing close to perfect pitch to be struck each time rather than a scaled pitch that used vibrato to come in and out of tune. It was in the 1960s when the electric 5 string bass was invented.
Tonally the bass is the most important instrument on the worship team. If the guitar player makes a subtle mistake it most likely will go unnoticed. If the bass makes a similar mistake everyone in the congregation will sense it. The bass establishes the root chord being played in a measure while simultaneously setting the groove or feel for a song.
A great bass player is going to follow the pattern being created by the drummer on his kick drum. The bassist may add additional notes in between kick beats, but he will most certainly always play a note when the kick hits. Beyond playing with the kick he/she will also help the band transition chords. Your sheet music may have a two bar phrase that is equal to one measure of Am and the other as an F. The bass may play a G note on beat 4 as he/she transitions to the F chord. The result is a fairly smooth sound for the entire band even though only one instrument created that passing tone.
Really good bass players will also be aware of the dynamics of a song. You can play a low bass note really hard or quite softly and have two very distinct sounds on the same note. Play a bass note an octave or two above its lowest position to create a lighter tone as well. A great sound is developed when both of those techniques are combined.
You may have a bass player on one of your teams who isn’t the most capable musician. It is true that some bass players are guitar players who couldn’t hang as a guitar player. Don’t discount those players! Instead, teach them to learn to play like a professional. Initially I would ask them to focus six weeks on just playing the root of each chord in time and as consistently as they know how. Once that skill is mastered, add making small transitions or bass runs. Recommend that they learn bass from a teacher or listen to some other bass players whom they admire and try to emulate them. Being around other great musicians has an iron sharpening iron effect. It’s proven!
As a last note, for some reason the bass player is always one who is picked out of a crowd (so to speak) and seen clearly on stage. It may be that they are playing such an enormous instrument, kind of like how you can always pick out a sousaphone in a marching band. That being said, bass players ought to work really hard to internalize their music. Doing so will allow more time interacting with the congregation from stage. It also helps to ensure that the correct root note is being played at the right time.
How do you view bass players on your teams? Are you making sure to invest in their abilities and help them to grow? What type of training do you provide? Were you aware of how important this instrument is? I would love to hear! Comment or private message!