Let me start by saying that I am not a bass player. I play around on my guitars a little, I like to think I can sing a bit. So why am I contributing to this node, you may ask? Well, I think I have a few reasons that you may be inspired to pick up a bass guitar - and none of them are 'because guitarists are wankers'...

There are a multitude of instruments you could choose to learn. From the mundane to the bizarre. The common to the rare. There are some instruments that lots of people try to learn, such as the guitar, or to a lesser extent the piano. Being committed to becoming skilled at playing an instrument such as the bass guitar is a more difficult road. Let's face it - it's hard to sit in a corner at a party, and bash out a tune on the bass. You're not likely to win over hearts with a rambling bass line. There needs to be some inspiration, something more than looking cool, being able to impress people with your ability.

Have you ever been listening to a song, that after a while, slows down, quietens to almost silence. The band slows, perhaps the singer is adding a special magic to the sudden open space. Then slowly, it builds. Bit by bit, the volume swells, the tension mounts. You're listening, as it seems to be increasing in urgency for an impossibly long time, and you're just waiting for the inevitable explosive release, practically begging it to happen. And that release is probably an explosion of drums, bass, guitar - pretty much every instrument the band has on stage. And you're just blown away...it's exultant.

Without that build up, the release simply doesn't exist.

Without the bass guitar, that build up isn't half as powerful as it could be.

Normally, the bass doesn't take centre stage in a band. It's not the instrument that stands out so much in the mix - people in the crowd may not be able to pick out your part in the song as a whole. They would, however, notice if it wasn't there. Perhaps they wouldn't be able to pick what was missing straight away, but just know that it needs something more. That's the thing about bass guitar a lot of the time - it's not the stand out sound, but it's a vital component in so much music. Think about a band you've seen, that sounded really good. A band you've seen that struck you as just being together, with a professional sound. I bet that the bass player wasn't making too many mistakes when you heard them. The guitarist may suffer from the odd blooper, the singer may not hit every note perfectly - but the rhythm section had their shit together.

And that's another special thing about bass guitar - you're a member of the rhythm section. Pretty much just you, and the drummer, providing the drive, the backbone for a song. Guitar heroes sound weak and thin without you. They may be the greatest shredder in the history of guitar, they may be the most gifted guitarist the world has ever seen. Without that rhythm section though, their playing lacks depth of sound. Together with the drummer, you get to lay down the foundation for a great song. Unlike most foundations though, you have the ability to change what's been built above you. Imagine that you're the canvas of a great painting, with the other parts of the band being the layers of paint, combining in a work of art. But in this instance, the canvas has the ability to change the colour of the paint above, and reveal a new image, previously hidden. I see this happening in song when there's a guitarist playing a certain melody, or riff, and they're repeating what they're playing a number of times. One of those moments where there's passion, and emotion in repetition. You could close your eyes, and totally immerse yourself in sound, letting it wash through your mind and body. Then the bass player changes the notes they're playing, or their key...and suddenly, the guitar sounds totally different. The music as a whole seems to have shifted completely, and I think it's one of the most incredible things in music.

Bass players make this happen.

So why should you take up the bass? Don't take it up so that you can you dominate the stage, playing intricate bass lines all night long. Don't play it because you want people to leave, your name in their minds, overcome with awe at your brilliance. Don't take it up because you're trying to prove a point to all the wannabe guitarists, and singers, proving your superiority through your non-typical instrument of choice.

Play it because when you start to hit those notes, and your sound slots perfectly into the song as a whole, you just feel like you're floating above the stage - and you can't stop a stupid grin from splitting your face. Play it because, even though many people don't appreciate the place your sound assumes in their favourite song, you know, and you take pride in your part of something wonderful. Play it because when you do, it makes you feel alive.

Play the bass guitar because when you pick it up, and your fingers come into contact with those thick steel strings, it feels like your soul has found a voice.


This wu was originally written to provide a subjective, and constructive view on this subject, as opposed to the somewhat anti-guitarist writings that used to inhabit this node. The whole thing died before I had a chance to post - hopefully these views have a little more longevity! And if any bass players think I've got it wrong, I'd love to hear from you.

You should take up the bass because it's fucking COOL

That, and the world needs more talented bassists. I once heard a rumour (skongshoj's uber-credible sources strike again) that for every bass player, there is something like six to eight guitarists. You have to know how to deal with rumours in the underground music world, and since a good part of them can be traced back in a straight line to their origin in the bedroom of some stoned freak in a Morbid Angel T-shirt, this usually involves a pinch of salt. Frequently, several kilograms of the stuff. Still, from my own experiences in the music scene, it could well have a ring of truth to it. On a related note, drummers, especially good ones, are even rarer. Should you ever find one of the good ones, have him surgically joined to your body while he's out cold, you'll be wanting to keep him at all costs. Since drummers have a well-earned reputation for knowing how to party, and since the drummer always gets laid, you'll be thankful for your new Siamese twin.

But I digress. The reason why so few people bother with an instrument like the bass is most likely that no one ever listens to the bassist anyway, so the Way of the Bass Player is a hard and sometimes depressing one to tread. It takes an even combination of balls, ego and a healthy dose of prescription self-loathing to even start on it. People remember their local guitar heroes and the shreddin' solos on their favourite records, but nobody ever notices that killer bass line. The reason for this is well within the realm of physics and psychoacoustics, an electric bass is a whole octave deeper than the guitar (and bass lines are frequently, but not always, played with the deeper notes of the instrument anyway), and the human ear has more difficulty noticing deep sounds than bright and high ones. To add insult to injury, most album producers (fortunately, this usually does not apply to stage sound crews at live shows; those folks usually have their shit together) are criminally brain dead and turn the bass so low that you'll be needing studio equipment or the Spider Sense to be able to hear that the thing is playing at all. Especially if there's two guitarists playing at the same time.

You won't be impressing girls with your monster bass lines, and there won't be a lot of people noticing you. When you tell someone that you play the bass, the usual response will be something along the lines of "my condolences, I didn't know". The legacy of Jimi Hendrix is that the bass player has all but disappeared from the minds of music listeners -- ironic, since Jimi's bassist Billy Cox was quite an artist in his own right. Still, this is useful, since it means it's easier to sneak subliminal messages into our bass lines and TAKE OVER THE WORLD.

Eh?! So why the fuck SHOULD I take up the bass guitar?

First, you need to get rid of the habit of calling it a "bass guitar". It's a bass. If you want to call it more, call it an elecric bass, or even an axe. A bass guitar is basically a 4-stringed acoustic guitar with a bigger body and tuned lower, whereas an electric bass is more closely related to those big fucking wooden things you see in classical orchestras and jazz bands (it plays the same role in the lineup as those things. They're called double basses, contrabasses or upright basses). Besides, it usually has connotations of "a lesser guitar, played by people who can only handle four strings", and you don't want that now do you?

Second, your role in the band is a critical one. If you're any good, your band will love you. Seriously, expect marriage proposals. Your role is arguably even more important for the band than for its listeners, since you'll be the dude tying the music together. The drums are a pure rhythm instrument, and they will be laying down the pulse of your tunes. The lead instrument, whether it is a guitar, saxophone or even a bloody keyboard, will be handling the melody. Your task is to make a link between those two sections, and while rhythm section is usually what your job description will say, a good bass line relates closely to the melody. Much of the best heavy metal is composed by bassists and guitarists working together (every single Black Sabbath song until Geezer Butler's departure was "composed" by Geezer playing a bass line, and the others falling in when they figured out what to accompany it with), and the same applies to most rock. If people can't hear the bass, you can be sure that they'd notice if it wasn't there, in which case your music would be as boring as a World Wide Web Consortium Working Specification, and I'm reliably informed that therapists use those to put amphetamine wrecks to sleep.

The few listeners you'll get who actually listen to what you are playing are a special bunch; an elite breed among music aficionados. They're a minority, and they know it. Most of them are either bassists themselves, or they're long-standing music freaks who are capable of picking out whether the guitar has a bone or graphite nut through four layers of effects at a distance of two miles, with enough brain power and listening accuracy left to enjoy the groovin' bass line and notice that little blooper the drummer just made on his ride cymbal. You'll hate them to begin with, since they'll be pointing out your mistakes to you after the show. You will also love them, since they listen and they care. If you do well, you will become a god to these people, even more so than any guitar hero could ever dream of. You have ignored instrument points, and that's important to these people (you'll most likely notice yourself becoming one of them when you're on the other side of the stage). Don't count on picking up a million groupies, bassists are cursed by God, and when He created groupies, he equipped them with an extra sense that allowed them to notice the curse and steer clear.

A musical feature the bass has over the guitar in hard rock and heavy metal is the fact that most often, the guitars will be playing through heavy distortion to give them that cool, aggressive sound, while the bass is usually played dry (ie. without effects), or at most with a touch of chorus. This means you'll be playing "pure" notes, which can be used to a very good effect in combination with those heavy guitars. Listen to any Kyuss, Queens of the Stone Age, Tool or even good old Iron Maiden record to see what I mean. Some, usually black metal bassists, regard this as a bug, and slap a heavy distortion pedal onto their rig (fortunately, this means that they become patently impossible to hear).

Should you become a GOOD bass player

You've mastered the bass. Your preferred instrument is a six-string fretless, you tap like Stu Hamm, you slap like Les Claypool, you solo like Cliff Burton, you have the speed of Steve DiGiorgio and the stage attitude of Steve Harris. There's no such thing as a bass hero, but if there was, you would be it.

You still don't have a million fans like your band's guitar shredder does, and you don't pick up 1014 attractive and willing members of your preferred sex per weekend like the drummer and lead vocalist do. Fortunately, you don't care anymore. Having walked the Path of the Bassist to the Palace of Wisdom, you have become a paragon of quiet self-confidence, and the fact that you so thoroughly enjoy playing the instrument you love and everyone else ignores is enough for you. You don't dominate the stage, nor do you even wish to anymore. Those days are long over. You have your audience, but you'd be satisfied even if it only included yourself.

That's why all the good bass players always stand there on stage with goofy smiles, their heads bobbing around, and generally looking as if they're having the time of their lives.

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