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Start Your (Creative) Engines! by Steve Gregory

Start Your (Creative) Engines! by Steve Gregory…  The worship bassist is an interesting animal.   Insert a nature documentary voice-over here:

“Here we see worship bassists in their natural habitat – the church.  Highly skilled in interpreting others’ works, the worship bassist’s primary role is to support the worship function. Our team has noted that, over the span of several months, there were several songs that the worship bassist would be required to play week after week.  Full of determination, the worship bassists would carefully navigate a course that included both inspiration and excitement, while not straying too far from the original music.  Yes, interpretation is a major function of the mighty worship bassist – a magnificent beast to witness in person.”  

Does some of this ring true for you?  We are often asked to interpret songs and, in many cases, to reproduce songs in a careful manner.  Since our role is to provide a setting for worship, radical derivation from the original song is not often needed.  More often than not, staying true to the original is necessary to allow our congregations to quickly recognize, sing along with, and worship to the music we present.

This is a difficult task for many reasons, but a big issue that needs to be addressed is one of creative atrophy.  It is very easy to see a weekly set list that contains songs that you know like the back of your hand.  When many of the songs are also based on steady, root-based pedal lines, the creative part of our brains can be neglected.

This is not to say that interpretation is not important – quite the contrary.  What I am pointing out is that there is a trap of rote reproduction that worship bassists must be aware of and avoid.  When worship bassists become ensnarled in this problem, three symptoms can be seen.  First, interpreted songs sound lackluster and emotionless.  Second, when called upon to be creative (when a newly written song is presented to be “fleshed out” by the band, for example) the artistic resources are slow to respond and difficult to tap. Third, there can be a bothersome sense of lack that overcomes the player and exhibits itself in lowered energy and attitude.

The last symptom recently bit me.  My worship team had several weeks during which the worship material was very familiar.  I felt a restless hunger to stretch, but I was not finding a way to feed that hunger.  I was complaining about the “creative muscle cramps” I was experiencing to my friend Dane, who was able to empathize with my position.  Dane’s suggestion was simple and spot-on:  find a way to be creative every single day.  In other words, make sure you are constantly exercising your creative muscles so that, when they are needed, they respond appropriately.  Also, keeping your creative juices flowing will ensure that your interpretations are fresh and energetic.

So, the first exercise in creativity is coming up with exercises for creativity!  Here’s a short starter list:

  • Use a looper to set up a basic chord progression.  Play different bass lines to the loop or find lines to layer on top of the track.
  • Take a song you know well and learn another part.  Be able to play the vocal line or the lead line, for example.
  • Play over a song with a completely different bass line – if the song is a slow ballad, try playing a sixteenth note pedal.  For a fast song, play only in quarter note triplets.
  • Find tracks without a bass line, whether a songwriter’s demo or a song that wasn’t recorded with bass, and create a part.
  • Turn the sound off on your television and play along, interpreting the scenes on the screen.  What does the basketball game sound like on bass?  How about something from Animal Planet?  Antiques Roadshow?
  • Write a song that is inspired by a piece of visual art.
  • Take inspiration from your reading or quiet time and interpret passages and verses on your bass.

Come up with your own exercises – the possibilities are endless!  Flexing your creative muscles will keep them ready for action and will infuse your interpretative playing with new energy.  You may even find that there are parts of the “same old song” with which you could do something different and, dare I say, be creative?

I would love to hear your stories of creativity and worship bass!  Let me know if you’ve beaten creative apathy and what you did to do it.  You can always reach me on Twitter (@sgregorybass) or in the Bass Musician Magazine Community!

Until next time, I hope that your bass playing is blessed and that you can bless others through your bass playing!

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