I wrote this for my son Ethan, who early in his career asked me if I had any helpful tips for bass players. He hasn’t asked me for advice about his bass playing since. I’m not quite sure what that says about my treatment of the topic.
I. The bass goes with the kick drum. In an ideal world, they would not be available for purchase separately.
II. Play to make the drummer sound as good as possible. Let him set the rhythmic agenda. If he feels he has to fight you, the band can’t sound good.
III. Make the singer or lead instrument comfortable. If they’re happy, chances are that everybody else will be, too, and the music can go forward.
IV. Stay out of other people’s registers. (This should be easy for you to do because your instrument goes lower than anybody else’s.) If the first seven frets were enough for James Jamerson, they probably should be enough for you.
V. Cheerfully repeat the same notes over and over and over, if necessary. (It’s often necessary.) If you can’t do this graciously, find another instrument to play and spare the rest of the band the agony of listening to you.
VI. Think before you play something extra, then think again. No one ever complained about the bass player not playing enough fills.
VII. Learn how to sing at least well enough to hold a harmony part. At some point in your career it will get you a gig you really want.
VIII. If there is a keyboard player, always be aware of what his left hand is doing and play to complement it rather than making it muddier. Sometimes a full and frank discussion of the issues is necessary.
IX. Know the melody, harmony, and lyrics of the song, but don’t feel overly compelled to display your knowledge at any given moment.
X. Bass players are like referees; if nobody notices you and everybody is enjoying themselves, you’re doing your job.