Very few musicians start their professional or hobbyist music career on bass as their first musical instrument. The likely precursor to the bass – especially electric bass guitar – is the six string guitar, either acoustic or electric. While certain professional or advanced bassists may have started on the piano or some type of wind instrument (like the trumpet or saxophone), most bassists in genres such as rock and pop cite the guitar as the genesis of their bass playing.
For the survey of this particular article, let’s assume that we are rock bass players who started with a bit of guitar playing. Perhaps this article’s scope may discourage advanced bassists from reading further, but this writing may certainly apply to “garage-band” type of bass players. Note: garage-band refers to amateur bands with a raw, unpolished style that form and rehearse in any available practice space.
Let’s look at a few general reasons which cause some bassists choose to play the bass:
•Limited ability or interests by the bassist in other primary musical instruments, e.g. guitar
As previously stated, most rock and pop bass players started on the guitar. These players tend to plateau with their guitar playing skill and consequently their interest in the guitar wanes out of frustration. These players may be adequate guitarists while practicing music alone. However, these novice guitar players notice their limitations while jamming with other guitarists or full ensemble bands. While some players may still enjoy playing solo, they come to realize that they are not suited to play the guitar in a band setting.
•Lack of interest by other musicians in the local music community
Most aspiring musicians gravitate toward lead instruments, such as the guitar and its leading position in rock and pop music. The guitar’s allure is that it can potentially provide the player with notoriety due to its central role in guitar driven bands. Physical science can tell us that the guitar resonates at a frequency easily heard by the human ear (thereby attention grabbing), yet more telling is the psychological perception of guitar. Simply put – guitars get you noticed. By contrast, the bass is generally a support instrument which means it does not get the attention of the casual listener like the guitar does. Hence, the bass is the less popular choice among beginning musicians when compared to the guitar.
•Lack of specialized bass playing technique by other musicians in the local music community
The bass is a physical instrument. It is heavier than a guitar, it has thicker strings, and the bass is percussive. This unique physical nature necessitates particular techniques. In addition to supporting the instrument’s weight, the bass requires strength and stretching in the player’s fret board hand and strong picking or plucking with the player’s strumming hand. If a guitarist employs guitar techniques to the bass, the quality of musical output will be substandard. Unless dedicated to proper and effective bass techniques, a musician may not be inclined to play bass.
•Limited ability or interests of other musicians in the art of bass playing, i.e. traditional role of the bass in a band
Bass playing is certainly not limited to traditional roles, but the bass must serve the songs and the band at the most fundamental level before it can push creativity. Bass can be as simple or complex as the artist chooses. Before all else however, the bass must serve the following functions: time – play in time as co-anchor with the drummer; groove – play with a rhythmic feel and natural swing, and; pocket presence – this should be the product of time and groove, which is experienced rather than described.