Locking In: A Team Effort

BoH's picture

Abstract:
As bassists, we cannot afford to loose sight of our most valuable skill--locking in and establishing the foundation of the music.

Body:
As bassists, we must have several skills to make us well rounded, the most important of which (in my opinion) is the ability to lock up tight with our drummers and lay a solid groove. Now, before you start to think I am a purist who wants to confine bassists to the dark corners of the stage, you are mistaken in your assumption. I am as much into expanding the instrument's role as I am in keeping a traditional mindset.
The bass is the bridge between melody and rhythm. As such, we must concentrate on two aspects of making music. The drummer can concentrate on keeping time and only on keeping time because of the nature of his instrument. The guitarists, keyboardists, and horn players can give their full energies to creating harmonically rich and exciting melodies. However, as bassists, our job is two-fold. We must keep excellent time, no question about it. But we also must know how to create rich melodies and harmonies as well.
This is our curse, but it is also our blessing. The easy part of bass is playing the notes. Why do I say this? Simply because almost anyone who plays bass is familiar with driving root notes and playing with simplicity. However, even the easiest of bass lines will not come off well without some committment to a good lock up with the drummer.
My drummer, Geoff, has commented many times about our working relationship. He told me a few days ago that he feels like we are one instrument. He went on to explain that we are so complimentary that when he steps "out of the box", I automatically, without a thought, hold down the foundation so the rhythm is not lost. Likewise, when I do a fill or run to accent and color the music, he stays rock solid. Even during improvisational work, we never stray from that formula. I also firmly believe that our friendship is a critical factor in our success as a team.
A word on personal relationships. I have played with drummers in the past that were merely co-workers. It is not that two total strangers cannot lock up well, but familiarity with the other person personally puts me more at ease with them and therefore, from a mental standpoint, I feel more comfortable with them.
The whole secret to a good lock up can be summarized in three points:

  1. Know yourself, know your instrument--no matter how advanced or inexperienced you might be.
  2. Keep things simple until you feel comfortable with your drumming partner and what he/she is doing. The drummer should feel the same way.
  3. Finally, be humble. We are team players with our drummers and should keep that mindset. Let the melody instruments keep and hold the spotlight and go off on their necessary assignments. You and the drummer should hold the song together. Stepping out is an acceptable practice, but only when done tastefully and in keeping with the feel and/or purpose of the piece you are playing.

As usual, these are merely my opinions. I have been on bass for over 24 years and these are just a few things I have learned from playing with some good musicians. I hope this translates into benefit for you as well.
If you have any comments, please post them. I'd like to hear what you have to say. Thank you for your time. Now, pick up that bass and let the creative energies flow from your mind to your fingers. Be the BASS that you can!
Bo

Comments

Great lesson

Very nice work, Bo.
I agree with all your points, but I find nr. 2 & nr. 3 the hardest to follow. Keeping things simple in a new band/member setting takes a helluva lot of confidence. Most people (and I'm guilty of this) will try to impress their band mates with some fancy playing when they first meet. Great job on the lesson, keep 'em coming.

Thor

BoH's picture

Right

Yes, I agree with you. Getting into a new musical situation also stimulates my need to play a little more showy. One thing I learned is to calm down and keep it as basic as possible.

To me, it is sort of like a first date. You certainly do not want to ask her to marry you the first time out. You must be a perfect gentleman and let it be about her and not you. Haha!

Bo


Low B, or not low B? That is the question!

Bo


You don't love me, you just love my FINGERSTYLE!
Peavey T40; SX/Squier P-bass; Spector Legend 5
Roland Bass 30 Cube

Hehe

The first date-analogy fits perfectly. You don't want to make it about yourself, and at the same time you don't want to give away all your "tricks" in one go. Gotta keep it interesting for both parties.

Thor

BoH's picture

Latest Band

Recently, I started up with a new band and I remembered this. So, on our "first date", I did everything I could to keep my playing very tasteful and basic. I didn't do my normal load of fills, nor did I step out very much. Playing with a new drummer, I wanted to get a feel for how he played and his drumming "personality".

Having practiced together a couple of times, I now feel free to take my liberties. I find our chemistry to be very complimentary.

Bo


Low B, or not low B? That is the question!

Bo


You don't love me, you just love my FINGERSTYLE!
Peavey T40; SX/Squier P-bass; Spector Legend 5
Roland Bass 30 Cube

Bo,Great stuff, as always!

Bo,

Great stuff, as always! I was particularly taken with the line "The bass is the bridge between melody and rhythm." How true, and yet I had never actually thought of it precisely this way. Thanks for your insight, and goodonya!

Kelly

There is no substitute for proper technique!

There is no substitute for proper technique!

Spiky1's picture

Solid

The electric bassists I admire the most are guys who play simply and "serve the song" but also have the ability to add a flourish at the right time (without overdoing it).
If they are locked solidly with the drummer and pumping the groove 97% of the gig, but are occasionally improvising, slapping, doubling the vocal melody, playing ultra-fast, but tasteful runs, doing counterpoint to the main melody etc. about 3% of the time; those guys give me goose-bumps!

When it comes to jazz and the upright bass I love guys who improvise wildly non-stop! Guys who run precariously along a dangerous cliff-edge, even if they fall off every now and then.

Fat man, fat bass.