The Evolving Bassist by Kilian Duarte
Of all the living creatures that have scurried across the face of this big, blue planet we call our home, very few have been put through the rigors at such a rapid rate of expansion/advancement in knowledge than those who holding down the nether regions. And while scientists may find this conclusion rather ridiculous, if you ask any passionate, professional low end guru, they would whole heartedly agree.
Bassists hold a unique role in a band. While they are required to have the finely tuned rhythmic sensibilities of their drumming brethren, a greatly developed sense of melody and harmony are also essential to truly make the Bass come to life and enhance a piece of music. The responsibilities are great, with far less publicly acclaimed glory that is usually bestowed upon more popularly played instruments such as guitars and drums. The role of the bassist is truly an underdog role that holds together all the elements of a band.
As times and genres change, the challenges facing the current professional are quite varied and sometimes very demanding. The enhancements in Bass guitar manufacturing as well as the myriad of effects available to alter the instruments sound have both expanded the technical as well as the sonic range of the instrument. It is not uncommon for a bassist to be doubling on upright as well as electric at a gig, while also enhancing the lead parts with ever increasing roles being added to the player. Since the 1960’s, bass has been made to not only be plucked and bowed, but also picked, slapped, thumped, popped, strummed, and even e-bowed. The instrument has also reached extended range levels that are at the very least quite daunting.
So how does one get all these things under their belt without feeling overwhelmed? Well, first, take a breath (sigh), and realize you are only mortal. That being said, all the greatest bassists on the planet are just as human as you and I. Stress is the enemy. It can make things seem a lot harder than they need to be and can stifle your musical development. Make a list of priorities…what is most pertinent to what you will be playing in the near future, or what projects do you want to conquer. Take on these goals at a calm pace if you can. Once again, letting a small problem seem like a bigger one will only hurt you in the end. Breath again (bigger sigh), and start to play your instrument in ways that slowly but steadily take you out of your comfort zone.
For example, if you are a jazz bassist, learn a classic rock song you’ve always enjoyed, and vice versa. Like the great Victor Wooten says, “Music is a language”. Once you understand it, picking up all the different “dialects and accents” are just a matter of familiarization. A common mistake many players make is failing miserably at developing personal self confidence in their abilities. Evolution and adaptation demand persistence and a lot of confidence, so insecurity is the enemy. Many young players will hear songs such as “Donna Lee” or “A Show of Hands” and just automatically consider these things impossible…rocket science works of genius their inferior brains will never grasp. This is the key mistake that stifles growth. Both Jaco Pastorius and Victor Wooten are human beings, yes indeed very gifted human beings, but none the less people. A player must realize that the right attitude towards approaching something daunting is the key to overcoming it, and growing.
Now that you have your new found sense of confidence, its time to push things a little further. Play a style that you would never usually play but you enjoy, or at the very least tolerate. Try to incorporate the grooves into your vocabulary. This is one of the first steps in becoming a more flexible bassist which will help increase your gigs and develop your own voice. The next thing to undertake is working with different tones and sounds. If you can, buy a synth pedal to recreate hip-hop or dub step bass lines. Try out some reverb and delay pedals and experiment with some ambient music. The possibilities are endless, and now you’re evolving not only as a player, but as a full fledged musician. Start writing more music using your bass. Create lead lines, harmony, and rhythm all off the one instrument.
While these steps may seem rather drastic, remember, it’s only your lack of knowledge that hinders you. Embrace the foreign and the unknown and realize you are capable of great things. Slowly you’ll see growth, and you’ll begin to evolve into the modern bassist that is required in today’s fast paced world. Never give up, and keep on thumping.