On a recent Sunday a young woman brought her 4 year old son, who has been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), to one of our services. During the service, the child was sitting down, standing up, standing on the chair, looking around, wandering several seats away from his mother, picking up a bulletin, talking to everyone around him, etc. This continued while our worship team played, but something odd happened when I played the bass solo section on Hillsong United’s “Salvation Is Here”. To his mom’s amazement, he stood up and stared at the stage, completely focused. As the solo section continued he told his mom, “Look at that guy Mom! The music is running through him! The music running completely through him! That is what I want to do!”
Two things struck me when I heard this story. First, the fact that my playing could affect a 4 year old – and one that suffers from ADD, no less – is astonishing and flattering. I’ve played for some tough crowds before, but I can honestly say that the 3-5 year old market, with their natural tendency to critique things as they see it without a filter, is intimidating. (An adult reviewing my playing: “The use of the Lydian b7 was an “interesting” choice and I’m sure you’re not happy with the cleanliness of that 16th note run”. A 4 year old’s evaluation: “You’re a stupid-head!”…*Ouch*)
My second thought was that while we may not recognize the impact our playing will have, the chance to affect people should shape our attitude toward worship bass. The 4 year old was telling it exactly as he saw it, so we know the impact that was made. What we don’t know is how our playing will influence the person in the service who is depressed. Or the person who is searching. Or the person who is wondering what their friend, who invited them to church, got them into. Or the person who wants to celebrate their relationship with God. Each person in the worship service could have his or her life changed by our playing. When we start to think of the impact we have as worship bassists, the seriousness of our role becomes obvious. I know that a bass player doesn’t “get it” when they tell me about the playing they are doing and add, “oh, and I’ve got a church gig too”. This is the wrong attitude! The church job is truly important and is difficult to do well! (And a church gig for 3-5 year old kids? Whoa…)
In order to break down this responsibility into manageable pieces, I’ve created a list below of “be’s” for the worship bassist. Before presenting the list, I do want to say that I’m writing these not from a “holier than thou” position; rather, I came up with these as things that I personally need to do consistently.
• Be present. This can be tough, but worship bassists have to leave the static of life at the door. When you are playing, nothing but the worship experience matters. I know that I’ve had to stop for a few moments and let bad traffic, monthly bills, spilt coffee, and other life irritants fall to the background before going on stage. Carry your bass on your shoulder, but don’t let life’s worries rest there too.
• Be passionate. Playing worship bass is all about passion! If you are willing to be present, then you can pour everything into the service. I personally make it a goal to have nothing left when I leave the stage. Why hold anything back? I challenge you to try it during your next worship set – if you need a nap afterwards, that’s a good sign!
• Be a humble servant. Being humble can be difficult to balance with presence and passion. As I talked about in my last article, worship bass is all about supporting the worship environment. Sometimes that flashy lick is truly cool, but doesn’t support the worship environment. You may think you are “feeling it”, but you have to remember: it’s not about you! Pour your passion into the worship, not into promoting yourself.
• Be prepared. This is critical! The fact of the matter is that being under prepared is a sure way to deflate the worship experience. Those in the congregation absolutely can and will sense when the bassist is not prepared. Listen to the music, learn the music, and practice the music – ahead of time!
• Be willing to work on your skills. Yep, I’m echoing every bass teacher you’ve ever had: practice! You have to keep your skills sharp in order to bring your best to the worship experience. There are great ways to focus practice time to fit into 30 minute or one hour blocks, so marathon sessions aren’t necessary. As far as practice material, make sure that you use your time for technique, theory, transcription, and other items that aren’t categorized as “stuff you already know”. For even more specific material, look no further than this magazine – I personally devour every issue to learn as much as I can from this amazing staff!
• Be serious, but not too serious. I’ve spent about 1000 words painting the seriousness of being a worship bassist and indeed, it is an important job. Having said that, you can’t let a sense of responsibility creep into becoming a state of obsessive, over analytical, stressful, non-feeling mechanics. For example: I was playing a song that opens with a bar of sixteenth notes, followed by a bar that contains a sixteen note rest, followed by sixteen notes for the remaining space. Somewhere in that run, my plucking hand decided it didn’t want to play one of the sixteenth notes in the second measure. The flub was shocking and embarrassing – I had played simple patterns like this a million times and my ears heard the mistake loud and clear. My natural tendency would be to stew over this for the rest of the song and perhaps for the rest of the service. When I looked out at the crowd though, hands were raised, people were singing, and they didn’t notice or care about the sixteenth note that meant so much to me. Don’t let the call to seriousness pull you away from your mission: to create the worship environment.
Being a worship bassist is a rewarding but challenging job. It’s easily one of the most amazing gigs out there because you can make a lifelong impact. How do I know? I heard about this guy (who may or may not be the writer of this article) who was establishing himself as a bass player, but was being bumped around in life and was searching for something. The girl he was dating took him to a church where the bass player obviously took his job seriously, because the playing that day led to a life changing turn to God and a dedication to playing worship music… (Thank goodness Dave Combs was a worship bassist who “got it”.)
Until next time, I hope that your bass playing is blessed and that you can bless others through your bass playing!