And by bass I mean the guitar.
I haven’t picked up the instrument in god knows how long, but I took lessons for 5 years since my 13th birthday when I was given a very green, Irish looking bass that I named Paddy (how original). It was a change from my violin lessons that I had taken for about four years before. My musical tastes were changing, I was becoming more interested in rock music and quite honestly I felt that my violin lessons were going nowhere. I was ready for a new challenge.
So I took up bass because I was advised it was a natural step from the violin, rather than playing the six-string guitar (also my sister was learning guitar and I didn’t want to do the same as her. Ahh sisterhood).
This post is going to be a personal ode to the four stringed instrument of awesomeness. Because by becoming a bass player, I realised there was never enough appreciation for it. Like the drummer, the bassist would be seen as the ‘loser’ of a band: whilst the singers and guitarists would be the ones getting laid, the bassist would be forgotten about. As a typical bass is four stringed, it would be called the ‘easy’ option compared to a six stringed guitar (NB: 5 and even 6 or more stringed basses exist.) There are hardly any bass solos in songs, bassists don’t commonly sing, and so it can be mistaken for being boring.
Of course this is far from the truth. Together the bassist and the drummer are the backbone to a band’s music: they define and keep the rhythm going. Which is quite an important role. A band is not always run by the lead singer or guitarist: Steve Harris of Iron Maiden, Paul McCartney of The Beatles, both were/are key members of the band, and are both iconic in their own right.
And bassists are cool. The bass plays a big role in jazz, blues and funk music- the groove in these genres can leave you closing your eyes and just enjoying the sound, or wanting to dance full of joy to be alive. Bass players on stage rarely go crazy, we’re just too laid-back. An old instructor once commented on how bassists compared to guitarists are generally quieter and more chilled out- which is needed with some playing techniques as you have to allow your body and most importantly your hands to relax. Watching an highly skilled bassist perform is a great sight as they can play with so much ease, as though they had accidentally found themselves on stage.
The techniques and sounds you can achieve with a bass guitar: plucking, slapping, popping, tapping… The instrument really allows creativity to come forth, (although dedication can lead to slightly deformed thumbs…). Practicing scales over and over again, whilst important, is repetitive and boring, but a true joy of playing an instrument is to make up your own sounds and medleys.
Learning to play the bass is not easy. When you’re practicing a very fast-paced song, it’s difficult to quickly change frets and to pluck the strings as they’re more wide apart than on guitars, and the strings are thicker. If you want to play music that is more blues, you generally pluck without a plectrum, which hurts. Any stringed instrument creates calluses over time, but of course when you’re a beginner it’s too tempting to simply give up and stick to picks. No instrument is a walk in the park to learn to play (except maybe the recorder), least of all my beloved bass.
Perhaps ‘bass is best’ is a rather ambitious statement. Throughout my youth I have had a go at not just the violin and bass, but also the keyboard, harmonica and guitar. My dad plays guitar and my sister plays guitar, saxophone, clarinet and accordion. I come from a family that appreciates a diverse and eclectic knowledge of music, and so I know that every instrument holds an important, unique and beautiful sound. But I argue that the bass guitar is an amazing and under appreciated instrument. It has been a driving force behind important music genres, and iconic songs and bands- after all, music would be lost without a beat.
Below are some songs that I really love, mostly due to the bass rhythm.