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3 Half Myths About Bass Playing!

Discussion in 'Music Education - Share your knowledge here!' started by Florin, Mar 20, 2020.

By Florin on Mar 20, 2020 at 11:58 AM
  1. Florin

    Florin Warwick Forum Administrator Staff Member

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    guitar_bass_guitars_musical_instrument_hands-214594.jpg 1- THE TONE IS IN YOUR HANDS!

    We hear that a lot, and it is NOT a myth, IF we are talking about experienced pro bassists. They have their sound in their head, and a huge arsenal to shape the sound from left and right hand technique, they are able to deliver consistent sound with almost any gear without even thinking about it. However, for a less experienced bassist, good gear can deliver great tone with the technique he/she already has. For a beginner it is a good approach to try as many instruments as possible, find one that feels easy to play and deliver good consistent sound, stick with it and make music.
    It was a quote on a jazz method I studied, in the preface- "Buy the most expensive instrument you can afford" I think this is a great advice for somebody trying to take bass playing to a little more serious level. This approach helped me for sure in the beginning, while I have to admit it happened more than once to track bass for major radio releases using a less stellar bass I happened to have in my home studio at the time.

    TIP: Look for a bass that feels easy to play, even if it doesn't have a great setup. This is usually a sign that you have a good match, and you are creating a good sound without strain.

    2- YOU HAVE TO DEVELOP PERFECT TIMING

    This is true, it is a measure of your accuracy, it helps you be a better player. However in the real world of bass playing, the real skill is to "breathe" together with the band. There is no such thing as "perfect timing" most of the musicians I know have their own way of playing, and our role as bassists is to understand that and follow their lead. Especially drummer's lead. Drummers often have their own repetitive way of attacking notes, sometimes before the beat, sometimes after. Many times they will slow down a bit before a part of the song changes, and the measure of your skills is not how perfect you play in time, but how tight you play with the drummer.
    TIP: Pay attention to drummer's hi hat. That's the only element in the drum kit that has a controlled note length. Try as much as possible to match your note length with the way the hi hat opens close.
    Or how a friend explained to me once: If the HH goes "ts ts tssssssss ts" you go "boom boom boooooooom boom" :)

    3- YOU HAVE TO CUT THROUGH THE MIX

    This is true. The bass is a very important instrument in a band. It makes people dance, and if you are creating smart basslines, it can bring a sweet counter melody to the vocals, in most bands being the only other "single note" instrument (try to see that as a strength)

    However, be aware that the bass is probably the biggest/ fullest instrument in your band. It is all over the place, so it is probably the hardest instrument to mix. It is best to leave this decisions to the only guy that has an overall view of the band's sound- and that is the sound/mixing engineer. He/she will make sure the lows blends in nicely with the kick, the low mids are not overwhelming other instruments that have the fundamentals there, and the high mids will not fight with the vocals. And to make things worse, there are different approaches to different venues, the main goal being in the end to have a great sounding voice, with a great full band to support it. While being a very important instrument, bass guitar is pretty low in the food chain when taking about sound placement. It has to do his part, and create space for the rest of the band.
    What to do? Make sure you deliver a clean full sound, with no drastic changes that can be undone as overcompressing, overboosting frequencies, etc. So you give to the mixing guy the full spectrum to work with. Use your amp to feel comfortable on stage, but deliver a "workable" sound to the engineer, otherwise you will be the first one to be burried in the mix.
    TIP: If your style is requiring a distorted sound, make sure the engineer receives clean full sound below 170- 140 HZ. Split the signal in two with a crossover, leave the lows clean, distort the mids and highs only. Or send two channels, a clean and a distorted one, so the engineer can do the same thing with Lo Passing the clean signal and Hi Passing the distorted signal. You don't want both- clean and distorted signal in the lows area, and most likely the distorted sound will sound weaker than the clean one in the lows. The sound engineer will appreciate the liberty he has now to match the kick with the bass, which many times is the hardest part of the mix, and will make you sound better in the mix.

    Please let me know, if you agree or disagree with this in the comments below, and share your insights, I want to learn from your experience.
    Stay safe!
    Cheers,
    Flo
     
    Rehan, Bassist4Eris, Hector and 2 others like this.

Comments

Discussion in 'Music Education - Share your knowledge here!' started by Florin, Mar 20, 2020.

    1. PizzaFiend
      PizzaFiend
      Wholeheartedly agree!

      A couple comments on Half Myth 1: I agree that generally, "...the most expensive instrument you can afford" is solid advice, synonymous with "you get what you pay for", and "never let your gear hold you back". But I've played some pretty good inexpensive basses too. One of the issues with the inexpensive, mass-produced instruments is one of quality control. One example can be quite good, while another of the exact same model and brand can be nearly unplayable. So yeah; "it is a good approach to try as many instruments as possible". It definitely pays to try before you buy. I also feel that you should buy the bass that you want the most because you're then more likely to play it often, and keep playing it over time. I've played some basses that were wonderful to play and sounded fantastic, but just didn't care for the looks (yeah, this coming from a Buzzard player :rolleyes:). The best instrument is one that gets played, and played a lot. :)
      Last edited: Mar 20, 2020
      Bassist4Eris, Florin and Hoggles like this.
    2. BrusselsBass
      BrusselsBass
      Thanks Flo for sharing these thoughts.

      That's a fantastic topic and I wonder why so few jumped on it yet. So I stick out my neck...

      For the tone, I agree and would even bring it down to the fingers (even plucking with 2), and the instrument brings in vast varieties (that's why we hord them, ain't?).

      For the timing, I would slightly disagree:
      there are fantastic examples how to play against the rhythm: think about Jymie Merritt's solo on 'Moanin ... , or the Bootsy funk lines.

      Cutting through depends on the context/what you play (dominate or part of): Niels-Henning ├śrsted Pedersen complements Oscar Peterson, he fills and plays another melody line over the piano melody (all the things you are).

      So many more things to learn - thanks again!
      Last edited: Mar 20, 2020
    3. DiMarco
      DiMarco
      Playing against the rhythm is also timing, no?

      I still believe tone is as much in your gear as it is in your fingers. I find active basses VERY forgiving compared to passives and am able to express myself through force, timing and right hand placement on the string much more on these passives. So tone is not only in the fingers, it is 50/50 in my mind. It is true that some people can make any instrument sound bad though so who knows. *Giggles*

      Perfect timing depends on what you consider "perfect". In some music types pushing or dragging gives that lovely tension and atmosphere. - as long as you do so on purpose! Do experiment with that. I also think playing completely in the pocket sounds different from being quantized for perfect timing so there is something going on in that department. Human feel is what it is called I believe.

      On the cutting through the mix bit I agree completely... But there is more. Some instruments, like a Precision don't just cut through but actually seem to glue the other instruments together in the mix. Do you know what I mean? A Warwick is way harder to get right in the mix as it sounds so very very articulate compared to the P. This brings us back to tone being in the fingers - the P bass debunks that myth. It clearly is not that simple and definable.

      But then what is it that makes a bass player a good one (not talking technical skill levels here)?

      I think every person is born with a certain feel for groove that you can not be taught. It is part of who you are.
      Kinda like some people finding it very easy to learn other languages and others are great at solving mathematical problems.
      You're either born a bassist or you are not. Sure anyone can be taught to play up to a certain skill level, but they will never 'feel it' like the natural talents out there do.
    4. Bassist4Eris
      Bassist4Eris
      This is something that drives me a little crazy. I think a lot of people (not you) repeat this trope without understanding it. It basically means two things: one, good technique is the baseline to producing good tone; and two, a variety of tones can be achieved through technique alone. These things are 100% true. But when I hear people make claims about the varying bone densities of different people's fingers contributing more to their tone than their gear does, I really want to scream.

      This trope becomes especially controversial with the effects pedal crowd. I think a lot of this controversy comes from confusing the terms tone and timbre. One can acknowledge the impact of technique on tone, while still allowing that altering one's timbre with effects is desirable in certain circumstances. In other words: no one seriously thinks that technique can create fuzz or chorusing or whatever, and when effects users get defensive on this subject, they are fighting a straw man.

      I would argue that you have to develop elastic timing. But developing very good metronomic timing is the foundation for that. Once you can hold a beat steadily, you can experiment with the pocket.

      But I would add that most people have decent timing naturally. You hear a lot of non-musicians sing out of tune, but most people can clap along with a song fairly accurately. I think in many cases the biggest impediment to playing with good rhythm is simply technique. For example, if you heard me play a bass, I like to think you'd consider me to have good timing. But on guitar, my skills are much more rudimentary, and sometimes my strumming hand gets a little tangled up. So based on my guitar playing, you might think I have bad timing. But what I really have is bad technique.

      It's really helpful if the whole band understands how to EQ for the mix, IMHO. Much like basses sound good at home with the mids scooped, but need those mids in the mix, sometimes guitarists can develop a home habit of cranking the low end on their amps, which can be hard to break them of in a band situation.

      For originals bands, this actually goes a step farther, into part-writing itself. As a funk-oriented guy, I can tell when a new guitarist isn't going to work out when I ask him for E7 and he starts strumming a big ol' open E7 across all six strings. Funk bass often has little embellishments in the bass part that go up into the guitarist's lowest range. So the guitar needs to focus on the higher strings and frets to stay out of the way of the bass. In other genres, the focus is less on the bass, and now it's our turn to stay out of the guitarists' way. I think it's important to think of the whole when writing tunes, and apply some musical common sense.
      Last edited: Mar 21, 2020
      PizzaFiend, BrusselsBass and Florin like this.
    5. Rehan
      Rehan
      @Florin you are a very wise man and bassist. Thank you for posting this. :)
      PizzaFiend likes this.