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Last updateWed, 04 Dec 2019 3pm

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Let's Talk Bass: World's Most Misunderstood Instrument

Bass InstrumentWhat do a bass guitar and a lawsuit have in common? Everyone is relieved when the case is closed.

There’s no shortage of jokes about bass players, and this is mainly due to people who are unaware of the role of the bass in a band. Some may even think of bass players as lesser musicians.

The bass guitar is one of the most misunderstood instruments in a band because it is primarily a support instrument. It is easy to overlook the importance of a bass player when so much emphasis is placed on lead vocals and the melody of a song.

Jay Sweet, an Adjunct Professor of Music, bass guitar teacher, and owner of Sweet Music Academy, said, “A lot of people don’t hear the bass so much, but they would notice if it wasn’t there…Very often, people just think of it as one guitar player (the bassist) that isn’t doing as much as the other guitar player (a six-string guitarist).”

It can be easy for those watching a band perform to think that the bass player isn’t doing much when bassists rarely take the spotlight.

To be a bass player, you have to realize that your contributions will usually be underappreciated in most musical audiences. You have to be self-confident to know that although your basslines play a crucial role in supporting your other bandmates, many people in your audience will not understand your role in the band.

So, why become a bass player? What role do they have in music and what importance do they hold in a band setting?

Sweet said, “The bass player provides the foundation. Very often, we have to drive the band rhythmically but also provide the lowest harmony note that sets up the chord changes or provides harmony in the song.”

He also noted the symbiotic relationship between the drummer and the bassist. He said, “If a bass player rushes a little bit or is behind the beat, it definitely changes the entire feel of the song.”

Bass players supply support, like how the military uses the air force to propel their ground forces to victory. In this regard, these low-end gatekeepers have a lot of control over the harmony and timing within a song.

Sweet said, “[Playing the bass] allowed me to be versatile and play with a lot of great musicians. It’s given me a lot of opportunity that I’m not sure I would’ve had if I had stuck with a different instrument.”

There are a plethora of guitar players because society tends to idolize them more so than bassists. Think of how many guitar legends you can name and then try to name some bass players! Due to this, bassists are in relatively short supply, but may also have an easier time getting gigs.

 Sweet illustrated this notion by telling an old joke about teaching someone the bass. He said, “The first week the student comes in and you teach him the first string, the low E. The second week you teach him the notes on the A string. And then, you don’t see the kid again for three or four weeks. He shows up again and you say, ‘Hey man, where have you been?’ And then he says, ‘Oh! I’ve been busy doing gigs!’”

Sara Wojciehowski, a senior music industry student and gigging bassist, described an important consideration that can pose a challenge for bass players when they’re crafting their basslines.

She said, “There’s a fine line between overplaying and underplaying as a bass player. You have to be willing and open to putting others first. Be generous and give support, but definitely don’t be afraid to add more melodic elements to your playing.”

Bass players generally tend to have a richer musical knowledge than other members of a conventional band, according to Sweet. He explained that since bassists have such a large role in harmonizing, learning music theory is essential for those who aspire to be serious bass players. Sweet also mentioned that there is a special relationship between low-end brothers and sisters.

“Bass players seem to have a camaraderie that a lot of other musicians don’t seem to have. I think it’s because we are not as competitive and able to find work easier,” said Sweet.

Mark Rodriguez, a senior music industry major and lead singer and guitarist for a punk rock band called Drive Kid, started out playing guitar but later picked up the bass.

He said, “It was kind of a natural evolution to pick up the bass. It was around the time I started to make my own recordings and I felt the bass was essential to make my recordings sound more complete.”

One word that is often associated with playing the bass is “groove.” There is a special feeling when bass players immerse themselves in the groove. Sweet described this as something that’s particularly difficult for one to understand without having experienced it.

He said, “It’s like an unspoken or un-qualifying thing. It’s just the groove, it’s the feel.”

The future of bass playing looks promising as Sweet described a recent trend he’s seen at his music academy.

He said, “Interest in learning the bass has increased due to the prevalence of bass-heavy hip-hop music in popular culture. A lot of younger students hear those basslines and I’ve noticed a revived interest in learning the bass.”

PHOTO COURTESY of Jeff Crespi

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