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[personal profile] fleetfootmike
So... I spent the weekend playing bass for the worship band for our church weekend 'away' (the one two years ago was actually a weekend away, this one, for various reasons, was actually 'at home'). And I had a bit of an epiphany, quite aside from any religious eye-openings...

Y'see, I didn't, as such, identify as a bassist. One of my many email sigs, and my short personal profile on most sites, self-identifies me (usually in no particular order) as 'Perl programmer, Christian, guitarist, photographer, writer' (to which these days I add "wargamer"). However, the various church worship music leaders have a tendency to nab me as a bassist - this partly stems from the first worship band I volunteered for, which already had a guitarist, and to my ears desperately needed a bassist. Result, everyone goes 'oh, Mike plays bass...'. [Leading to considerable surprise when folks from church saw me cut loose on "The Chain" on guitar with Fleetfoot Mike at the LAST church weekend away, and even more when I deputised for the regular worship leader for a couple of Sundays in June on piano.]

I actually should have spotted it then, having identified the lack of a bassist: subconsciously, I had, but even spending a year playing bass for the Divisionists didn't bring it to the surface of the brain...  "It" being a fundamental understanding of what a bassist is for. I've sort of understood it, consciously, in pieces, but sometime during the weekend the pieces shifted and clicked into place, and I 'got' it, on several levels. Helped by having several people apparently *recognise* that the bass I was playing was fulfilling a role that had been noticed as missing in the past...

The world calls the drummer and the bassist in a band together "the rhythm section". I've said to James, several times, when he's been learning songs on drums, 'your right foot should be linked to the bassist's right hand' - basically, the underpinning of rhythmic accents is the kick drum and a good solid bass note. If one's missing, you notice. If both are missing, you *really* notice. As I've put it, 'the bottom drops out'.

There's more to it than that, though, and even now I find it quite hard to articulate. For all you play notes, a bass is a fundamentally rhythmic instrument: it's very much the pulse of the song, even more in some respects than the drummer. Even on a ballad, the 'one' (or wherever it gets pushed/pulled to) is (usually) yours, to keep the pulse going, often with a little pickup run into it (the bassist's equivalent of a little fill round the kit). Even if you only play the root of the chord, if you play it in the right places, you'll give the song a pulse, a heartbeat. 

Having said that, the other half of the job is just as vital. What you play, not just when you play it. Melody and harmony. OK, that famous riff of John McVie's on "The Chain" (the BBC F1 theme, if you've been on another continent for all of the last 25 years!) is overstating the case, but if you want a great example, stick "Go Your Own Way" on on a decent pair of headphones, and listen to that amazingly propulsive and melodic bass line in the chorus. Every phrase lands smack on the right note of the chord on the downbeat. Then try and imagine the song without it. Or any of a number of other examples.

People working out chords to a song will instinctively start with the chord rooted on the bass note - heck, [livejournal.com profile] stevieannie can't pitch her starting notes properly if she can't hear the bass! But yours is the power to suggest tensions, to imply motion (me, I'm a sucker for rising or falling bass lines...).  

Bass playing is about the whole thing, rhythm, melody and harmony, and you can't do it properly without all of them. People *respond* to bass lines at a very instinctive, emotional level, even if it's not consciously - heck. people write SONGS about it. We talk about groove, about feel. And both those words are a combination of all three, rhythm, melody, harmony: listen to (and I make NO bones about picking John McVie again, because the man ROCKS) "Miles Away" off the oft-underappreciated "Mystery to Me" by the Mac, once that fantastic bass groove kicks in at about 0:28. It has all three - it tracks Mick Fleetwood's bass and snare (boom chick boo-boom chick boom b-chick b-b-chick), but it wouldn't sound the same if John just plunked on the root note. It tracks the (admittedly simple, in the verse) harmony - that downbeat is the tonic of the chord, and listen from 0:50 how the bass line tracks the descending chords in the chords. And it has a great, cooking melody that ties the whole thing together. I defy you not to finish listening to that track and be humming 'dum dum dada dum da dadum dadada" for the next half hour. 

My name's Mike Whitaker.

I think I've finally figured out I'm a bassist.

[cue 'welcome to the dark side' comments from my assorted musician friends]

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