Typically when teenagers and young adults decide to form a band, the lead collaborators play guitar, and one may sing. The next step is finding a drummer, because someone has to carry the beat. Once a drummer is found, the new band will either grab someone who can fill the bassist role, or one of the members will double over to that duty when necessary.
It’s strange that the bassist is one of the most overlooked instrument players in modern music (at least from the listener point of view; bands usually actively seek strong bassists because they recognize their value).
Bass players are important in not only the chemistry of the band, but are integral to creating a solid overall sound. Bass players worth their salt are even more impressive, but unlike guitarists, how many standout bassists can you name off the top of your head?
That list may include the likes of John Paul Jones (Led Zeppelin), Flea (Red Hot Chili Peppers), Geddy Lee (Rush), Les Claypool (Primus), John Young (Dream Theater), and many more. We haven’t even mentioned Sting. Yet even science has shown that bass players are one of the most important contributors to the music experience and shouldn’t be left out of the cultural discussion.
Researchers at McMaster University in Canada have found that one reason why the bass lines in many songs seem to disappear into the melodic structure, leaving the higher pitched notes more recognizable, is because the lower tones in a rhythm are easier for the brain to understand. So if the bass line isn’t doing some funky lick (ala Flea), it’s harder for our minds to discern where the bass line is flowing from (not taking into account some of the more modern production styles that give more credence to bass lines).
With our brains intuitively synced with lower frequencies, this gives more credit to great bassists for keeping the rhythm of the low end of the sound in tact. When that frequency is broke, a la a sour note or an off-beat pluck, suddenly the entire groove of the song can seem thrown off. This isn’t as noticeable even when a guitarist might make the same mistake, or a drum beat his slightly early or slightly late. Yet, because of the low end registry, we’re able to detect the bass flow much more succinctly than other instruments.
For trendy folks, it may be “All About That Bass,” but for bands and musicians, the bass can’t be left out of the equation. For this reason, among others, let’s make a conscious effort to give more credit where it’s due. Keep up the great work bassists!