If you’ve ever been in a band, or if you love music enough to pay attention to how musicians talk about fellow musicians, then you no doubt have learned that bass players are kind of the joke of the music world.
It’s not that playing bass isn’t impressive, of course. Any time someone learns how to play an instrument, it’s impressive! However, bass lines in songs tend to be quite basic, often times consisting of a series of repetitive notes with little structural variation.
This can lead to some people wondering if a band even needs a bass player. And the answer to that is “it depends”.
What A Bass Player Adds
Naturally, every band is different and every genre needs different kinds of sounds. But that doesn’t mean every genre needs every sound in every song. A great example of this is the steel guitar, a mainstay of certain kinds of Country and Western music. Modern Country, by contrast, often leaves out the sharp twang of the steel guitar. It’s no less Country music, but it’s clearly not the same kind of Country music.
So what does a bass player add in specific? The bass line gives a structure to the melody, allowing the instruments playing the melody to have a solid base to explore. That way, even when those instruments drop the melody in order to play something a little more intricate or add some flair to the overall song, the very basic form of the melody is still playing. It keeps the song from suddenly jumping in tone and speed when other instruments lose track of where they are. And of course, it can also carry the melody, giving a low, rich sound to the song.
Why You Don’t Need One, Maybe
That said, a drummer can keep time just as readily as a bass player, perhaps even better. With a skilled drummer, the other musicians can easily tell how fast to go so they can all stay together. The drummer almost never carries the melody, but there’s rarely any need for it.
In addition, not every song needs an especially deep music line. Sometimes, having a second guitar allows you to play as low as necessary, fulfilling the role of the bass line but jumping up an octave or two. This results in a song that’s higher in pitch over all, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It depends greatly on what kind of music you play and what kind of sound you’re hoping to have with your band.