Have you ever been in a service where the band/worship team seemed disconnected from the congregation? Even outside of the church, if you see a band play maybe the drummer seems like he is on a different page from the guitarists or singer? The weak point you’re hearing is usually found with the bass guitar player. Now typically, bass seems boring. I admit, when I was a kid I wanted to learn guitar, because bass did seem boring, but the guitar player at the church I was attending wasn’t able to give lessons at the time, and the bass player was.
Since then, I’ve noticed most bass players (especially in church bands) are youth just thrown up on stage, taught the chords for a 4-chord song (1-5-6-4 stuff) and that’s it. They look nervous, stiff, and essentially, they’re in their own world.
On the other end of the spectrum, you have bass players who are too much. Ridiculous fills every chance they get, slides all over the place, and in most cases, sloppy. Neither of these benefit the band in any way. I understand that there aren’t always an abundance of bass players available, but they can be encouraged and need more experienced musicians to work with them until they get to a place where they are able and want to teach themselves to get better.
As I got older, I began seeking help from local bass players better than myself, watching Youtube videos of the greats; Mark Peric (Planetshakers), Victor Wooten, Jaco P, Les Claypool, etc, and learning songs that I couldn’t play (yet). One of the most influential lessons I had was from a guy that used to follow my pastor’s 80s Christian Rock band, that now played bass at another local church. Looking at him, you would in no way guess that he was a great bass player, but I heard him play in a live setting once, and afterwards my pastor introduced me to him, and said that I should sit down with him. When he played I wasn’t necessarily impressed, but the band was tight. When we sat down and he was just messing around as I was setting up, I realized he was good…very good.
He introduced me to a term I had never heard before – “Musical Communication”. If I had to define it in my own words, I would say that musical communication is the act of bridging the gap between the other instruments and vocals, by means of how and what you play. He proceeded to tell me that the easiest way to tell if you are musically communicating well, is the “head-bob” in the audience. People dance, “head-bob”, and overall move, to the bass…even if they think it would be the guitar or drums.
How to musically communicate well, you may ask? It’s often referred to as “sitting in the pocket” but basically, pay attention to the kick drum. Play your notes when the drummer hits the kick, and limit the unnecessary fills. Obviously there are exceptions, especially with slap-style songs or walks, but that one simple thing will cause the rest of the band to tighten up. All of a sudden the other band members find ways to compliment the relationship between the kick and the bass, and the drummer will be more consistent on the beats they play.
Listen to some up-beat stuff by Planetshakers, specifically older songs when Mark Peric was playing bass for them. His fills are insane, and the bass solo on “You are Good” is one of my all time favorites, but for the most part, he keeps it simple…stays with the kick, compliments lead guitar/vocal lines, and bridges the gap between the guitars and drums.
Secondly, pay attention to the dynamics of songs. My High School band director always used to say “Music isn’t just black notes on a white sheet of paper. The dynamics are just as important as the notes you play!” Dynamics refers to how you play the note. Is it loud, quiet, staccato (short), legato (long), is there a crescendo or decrescendo, etc. Then it comes down to what octave of the note you need to play sounds best in context? For example, if a song is coming to a quieter part with a minor chord, I’ll usually go for a higher octave of it, but if the song is building and getting louder and a minor chord is coming, I’ll usually go for a lower octave of it. Obviously, each song is different, but for this to work you also need to learn some music theory, which will always help you in the long run anyway.
This isn’t just for the sake of making your band sound better, but it also helps engage the congregation. After all, that is our job as worship leaders right? To lead people into God’s presence? Stay tuned for some videos focused on the bassist’s role in a Worship setting that I hope to record soon.