Strictly Bass Blog #01 – I Was Tricked Into Playing Bass!
With 15 my plan was not to become a neo soul solo bass player. I wanted to be the next Kurt Cobain. The first two kids I met who were also interested in music were two brothers. One of them played guitar and the other one drums. Hesitating at first, I decided to pick up the bass. My desire to playing in a band was bigger than playing the guitar. What made it even better was the fact that they didn’t have a singer. So I got to sing and play bass. What is really cool, too. Ask Lemmy Kilmister, Sting, Paul McCartney, Les Claypool, Mark King… the list goes on. I also figured that I might only be playing bass temporarily. As soon as we got ourselves a dedicated bass player, I’d be playing guitar again.
In the beginning playing bass felt like a boring, dumbed down version of playing guitar. I remember the day I got my first bass. I got it handed down from the original bass player of the Scorpions. His first bass, a 1972 Fender Telecaster. Not that I had any appreciation for that, back then. I just wanted to start practicing. Anyhow, he gave me the bass and I got really excited and told him: “I already know how to play a song: Brainstew by Green Day.” All I really knew was how to play it on guitar. So I replicated that on the bass. Playing power chords on the bass with a big proud smile in my face. Only to be crushed, right at that moment.
“Dude, you don’t play chords on a bass. You play one note for each chord the guitar plays.”
“Dude, you don’t play chords on a bass. You play one note for each chord the guitar plays.” This instrument was not easy to fall on love with. It already had two strings less than a guitar and on top of that you only get to play one note at a time? I couldn’t believe my ears! I felt like I was tricked into playing bass!
Thanks to Lars Lehmann this perspective was changed quickly. I got really lucky having him as my first teacher. He showed me another side of the bass and introduced me to bass players like Victor Wooten, Jaco Pastorius and Les Claypool.
To be fair, I wouldn’t have called myself a bassists for the first 3-5 years of my musical career. I played an instrument called bass. Never aiming to fulfill its function in a conservative fashion. Thanks to my first band being a progressive metal band, it was basically asked for. Which was amazing, as I was able to try out everything I could think of. All we wanted was to sound unique. Doubling the guitar riff was a sin. The more complex the bass part, the better.
Form Follows Function
Only years later, when I started getting into jazz, funk, blues and reggae I discovered the beauty of a simple and solid bassline. The bass and its role in music is generally very functional. It is comparable to bauhaus in design. “Form follows function”. A bassline is seldom the decoration of a song. It’s the fundament that everything else rests on. A fundament should be rock solid. Something you can rely on. It needs the right materials in the right spot or the building will collapse. Translated to musical terms this means the right pitches at the right times. All relating back to the bass.
For the first time I made conscious decisions about note lengths. I started analyzing every note I played. Each note was supposed to have a reason for being played. Once I was at this level of precision, I realized that any instrument and any music style is equally complex and hard to perform at a high level. Because, the rabbit hole of conscious decisions that you can make about every single note goes very deep. It’s definitely worth checking out, but also easy to get lost in.
Love & Bass