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.