How to Help Your Bassist…

Playing the bass is a ton of fun, almost addicting. OK, it is addicting and most of us who do it aren’t going to rehab any time soon. Good groove is infectious and there’s nothing like dropping the bottom end out of a note and feeling the electric breeze on the back of your pants as you stand in front of the amp. Oh, and by the way, it’s not a bass “guitar”. It’s an electric bass which just happens to be shaped like a guitar, mostly, but not always. Just thought I’d throw  that in.

Yet we need help from the guitarists in the world, especially at a jam when everyone is new and we’re trying to figure out how we can make you sound even better with a good dose of vitamin “B” for bass. You sound “tinny” without us and we bassists, well we just don’t have the notes or chords you do to round out the sound. So let’s get together and figure this thing out.

First, don’t assume we know your music. We may, we may sometimes even know it better than you do, but there’s a gazillion tunes out there and we just won’t be able to pick them all up in less than 30 second. Don’t forget that the songs you play are “your” songs. You liked them. You practiced them. Sometimes you wrote them yourself, but they may be entirely new for the bassist. Plus, of course, they will have your own touches, your own keys, your own inflections about which the bassist who shows up at your jam will have little or no clue. Solution? Bring some charts to share, you know, words and chords and such. You’ll give us a good head start and it will help all the other folks in the band who are as clueless about your work as we are.

Second, throw away your capo or give us charts with the ACTUAL chords you play. Don’t simply say “Well I play this in A with a capo six and you can figure out the rest.” With practice we could, on the spot is more difficult especially considering that your average jam bassist, myself included, is a semi professional at best. At least give us a few seconds to get ourselves situated on the fretboard before you start in. Or you can ditch your capo and learn more chords. Either way we can make it work.

Third, please buy and use a metronome. We can’t tell you how many times we’ve chased a performer all around the time signature because they’ve not actually listened to their own rhythm. Most reasonably decent bassists have a clock in their heads, it’s a necessity for playing the instrument, and when 4/4 doesn’t actually mean 4/4 we know it, do our best to reel everyone in, and if that isn’t possible we try to cover for the bouncing ball. We know, you get caught up in the moment, we do too, but the moment will sound a lot better if you play in a time signature from this planet.

Finally, a word of thanks. When it all comes together its very cool. There’s nothing a bassist enjoys more than to be on stage and listen to a great guitarist soar off into the clouds knowing that we’re their wings. We love the low hum, the pounding drive, the octave jumps. We don’t have to be stars but we are essential for the stars and we get a quiet satisfaction from this that only the people who do it share.

Yet don’t forget we’re not simply accessories, we’re artists of our own kind and all the best stuff happens when we’re allowed to be in on the program. Talk to us sometime, you might be surprised what we know, how musical we actually are, and you may even learn something every so often, just like we learn from you.

See you on stage.

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