FUNCTIONS: WHAT IS THE BASS FOR? (excerpt from book)

I’m excited! This is a chapter from “An Introduction To Bass” – my first book about bass. I believe that I’m ready to contribute in music this way. Hope, it will be helpful and interesting for you, guys \m/

“An Introduction To Bass” is a free book, it can be got by AVanguard members in a few weeks.

One more thing. English is not my native language, so grammar and punctuation suck sometimes. I’d be thankful for your linguistic suggestions and corrections via e-mail 🙂

Functions: what is the bass for?

by Andriy Vasylenko

There’s a determined place for every musician in orchestra. The room for instrument is a relative concept, but some common bounds do exist. So, the first chapter is dedicated to the role of bass in modern music and some rules about that (which we’re going to violate all the time 😉

Bass function 1: filling lows

This function has two sides – frequency and tonal.

The crown of bass on the map of frequency is low. This is the basement for middle and treble – territory of guitars, vocals, keyboards etc. Very often bass sounds deeply in background, pretty indistinct and hard to get for ears. But try to get rid of bass – and the mix is falling apart because of lack of lows.

Every instrument’s got the whole bunch of frequencies, some more and some less. Different parts of bass guitar diapason are in charge of different sounds: body, vibration, clarity, click etc. Special case – equalization of solo bass, because here you have to move it forward, that means to “steal” some guitar-vocals Herzes. There are also undesirable frequencies of sound defects, like mud and squeak, and conflicts with other instruments, especially drums and guitars – it’s better to avoid all of that. In general, place of bass in mix is a matter of taste, there aren’t very strict rules.

In the sense of tonality, there’s one paradox. On the one hand, bass has to sustain guitar in low tones (oftentimes, bass is doubling guitar in octave lower). On the other hand, we have more than 3 octaves on 4-string bass fretboard, including a lot of guitar notes. What we have to do: use only third of fretboard and not to invade into guitar “possessions”, or reveal bass possibilities at full steam? The truth is somewhere in the middle.

The voice crossing – so avoidable thing in the academic music – is one of the very strong means of expression. So it’s not a big deal when bass and guitar switching for a while. There’s a lot of examples of awesome balance between playing high and low, almost every great bass player in any genre did it (remember Billy Sheehan, Victor Wooten, Joey DeMayo…). The essential thing is to make it nice and proper.

Bass function 2: rhythm go-between

Bass, drums, and rhythm-guitar make rhythm-section of a band. The initial source of tempo and rhythm are drums. Next it goes to bass, and only then to guitar. Every of those instruments performs own variation of rhythm – the vertical of “drum-bass-guitar” is maintaining, After that takes place kind of cooperation, reciprocity in making accents and groove – the final corrections of the lines.

During the process of groove formation, the most work laid on bassist, because he must find a compromise between rhythm vision of guitar and drums. Moreover, in the bands with only guitarist, while the guy is soloing, bass player is in double charge both of bass and rhythm-guitar. In that case the compromise emerges clearest. Thus, a bassist has more obligations that some people used to think.

What do bassist has to consider in creating his rhythm part? Firstly, its mathematical element: tempo, time (4/4, 7/8 …), pulse (plain, syncopated, triplet, swing …), speed (playing 1/4, 1/16 …). Secondly, dynamical element: dynamic colors, accents. Thirdly, tone-pitch element: tonality, counterpoint, harmony etc. The last factor is not directly related to rhythm, but a mention in the context was needed.

Bass function 3: extra orchestration

A minimalistic bass line looks like this: a row of equal length notes, doubling the chords tonics in an octave lower. This orchestration solution definitely has the right to life, and very often this is the main way of writing bass lines. It depends on various things: genre, trend, inside-band traditions etc. But if you have some freedom to express yourself, why not to take advantage on this?

Bass guitar has a huge arrangement potential. Look at your bass: it’s got more than one string and a couple of frets, yes? Nevertheless, a number of amateur musicians they don’t use all of that, staying content with plain lines – match, but so dim one’s. Adding some color and flexibility to bass would be of service for overall sound anyway. It’s necessary to know when to stop, of course, but you’ll get it with practice.

How to liven a bass line up? Check out some ways to do that, which you can combine:
– use chromatics and other scale steps besides tonic
– write a full bass riff
– slight varying, alternative endings
– voice crossing
– ornamentation: harmonics, hammer-ons and pull-offs, slides, vibrato, bends, trills etc.
– muting, staccato, “dead” notes, pauses etc.

Bass function 4: leading and soloing

Bass solos are very versatile: from sonorous slap improvisations to fastest distortion licks. It’s caused by the diversity of bass techniques and quite wide range of the instrument. Not less important thing is the resourcefulness of bassists, which ruins all stereotypes. We know a lot of musicians since early 60th, the time rock music born, who set the bass playing on a new level.

First bass solos (not considering jazz double-bass stuff) related with the period of”British invasion”, for example, famous one from “My Generation” by John Entwistle (The Who). The trailblazers of applying sound effects on bass, like distortion and wah-wah, were Geezer Butler (Black Sabbath) and Lemmy Kilmister (Motorhead). Breakthrough of bass technique happened at the turn of the 70th and 80th, and it’s associated with names like Geddy Lee (Rush) and Steve Harris (Iron Maiden). Pioneers of guitar-style of bass solos: Joey DeMayo (Manowar), Billy Sheehan (Mr. Big), Cliff Burton (Metallica). Slap-n-pop technique has own heroes: Flea (RHCP), Victor Wooten, Marcus Miller etc. New era brought us more stars of bass like Chris Wolstenholme (Muse) and Justin Chancellor (Tool).

All of those guys couldn’t get enough from background bass being in band. Creativity and love for bass pushed them further to breaking the limitations and discovering new territories. And they all do play bass solos. Coincidence?

Wanna be heard in gray mob – shout once! In our case it means go leading bass, especially solo. The term “leading bass” invented alike “leading guitar” was separated from”rhythm guitar”. Leader is somebody who’s at front and leads others. In musical sense, this is a line on foreground, which everyone is listening to in the moment. Bass could do that, bass players are doing that.

I’m going to reveal some more stuff from “An Introduction To Bass” next week. I haven’t decided what exactly: picking bass, practice, bass skills… Will see =) Join AVanguard to be informed about that \m/

Tags: learning bass guitar, what is bass for, functions of bass, Andriy Vasylenko, bass guitar tutorial, An Introduction To Bass


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