Being a Bass Player

Music works for me as an alternative to individualism, kind of a form of non-religious communion. A band, or most bands, work well when each member sacrifices some aspect of themselves–exercises some self discipline and restraint, and listens.  In a really good band, the players all know each other and are familiar with what each other person does well or badly. Each player is at every moment NOT doing all he or she is capable of doing. It’s a model of individual self-advancement sacrificed for the good of a group. We don’t get to act that way very often–everything pushes us towards self advancement, self aggrandizement, selfishness.

Obviously that’s not the only way music is experienced. There are virtuoso soloists; there are acts people go to to hear or see the front man, and they don’t care at all about the band. There are bass players who take a lead role. And there are bands where the interpersonal relationships are a living hell.

But maybe especially as a bass player, what I love is making the band work better. A bass player bridges the drums and the harmony: relates the rythmn  to the melody, lets them talk to each other. It’s a job or relating two different things, being in between.

There’s no better feeling than when it works well–everything seems easy, the band grooves, everybody feels like they play better, people want to dance. I once heard the difference between a good bass player and a mediocre bass player as being like the difference between going 80 miles an hour in a Ford Fiesta, and going 80 miles an hour in a Cadillac. Bass players famously get no respect, except from other musicians who understand the difference. Good guitar players are thick on the ground, but good bass players always work.

Typically I most like the bass players who don’t stand out–who don’t show off a lot, who don’t have a bright sound like a guitar. I like the players who knock it way down to make everyone else sound good. It’s like those ballplayers who never have flashy stats, but their teams always win. But really, I like all kind of bass players, the flashy guys and the solid guys.

at a local gig

Playing in a band is like an antidote to my professional life, which is mostly solitary and independent, with little or no collaboration. I can play a lot of guitar, but I’d much rather play bass


  • Mark Bower wrote:

    Well said! I feel the same way about my keys and back-up vocals.

  • Bjorn Anderson wrote:

    That is a spot on way of describing what it’s like being the bass player, it can be real relaxed some time but helping empower the overall sound your band creates is such a lifting feeling. I’m still pretty young and i know how to play guitar, but i play bass everyday instead 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email is never shared.Required fields are marked *