googled06bb313055e587a.html Rock N Roll Rehab for the Control Of Rock and Roll Starring Greg Piper and The Tooners: The Second of Several Blogs on Having a Successful Band - Bass

The Second of Several Blogs on Having a Successful Band - Bass

Bands are built from the bottom up. What I mean is that your bass player is more critical than you may know. It has been shown that if you take a band that is completely in tune and then slightly detune only the bass player, the effect is that the whole band sounds wrong. It is, in fact, very obvious to the audience. This not as true for other instruments. This effect is apparent in orchestra’s, big bands, jazz trios, pop and rock. It used to be that everyone had to tune to the piano, because it was hard to retune it or it came with the room. Now we have options. In the earlier days, basses like the Fender Precision Fretless Bass were popular because the fretted basses were not necessarily in tune with themselves and many rock and jazz players were classically trained, never had any frets and tuned by ear.

When testing a bass, I’ll use an electronic tuner and go up the frets one by one on every string. You would be surprised how many instruments are not built properly, especially inexpensive ones. There are some string adjustments, but you can’t fix misplaced frets. The less expensive the bass, the more you have to test the exact instrument that you plan to buy. If you already have a bass, go through it with an electronic tuner anyway. Even though one set of notes may be out of whack, you can sometimes use alternate positions to play the same note, but more in tune.

The next thing to consider is that the frets are all at the right height. Again you assume that they are all the same, but it’s not true. If you take an architectural level or some other serious straight-edged rule, you may see that some frets are lower or higher than others. This affects tuning only slightly, but plays havoc on your technique and speed. Try a different bass or talk to someone who is used to reshaping the fret metal without harming the neck.

Now that we’ve eliminated the instrument variable, let’s talk about the human variable.

Most people think that drums are the primary timekeeper. Wrong. If you have a bass player that can’t keep time, buy him or her a practice metronome. If they still can’t keep time, they don’t belong in your band. The drummer may have the big personality, but here, the bass player rules and the drummer must be a follower if the bass player is really good.

I’ve analyzed bands that have told me, “That’s our sound, man. We’re a train wreck.” Our tempos are all over the place” or “Our tempos follow the song”. “That’s our signature sound, man.” OK fine, but I can’t help you. In a strict, classical, artistic sense this is art and they’re right. Consider John Cage’s classical piece using 12 radios on a stage, all tuned to different stations. That’s an iconic piece. There are many examples of “art”. If you want to be a serious iconic artist, you also may starve for your art. By the way John Cage also knew how to do music the traditional ways. If you can only play “train wreck” style, you are limited as an artist and aren’t likely to hired by anyone, because you don’t make them sound better.

I was at the NAMM show (National Association of Music Merchants) about 15 years ago when I was stopped in the aisle listening to someone demonstrating an electronic snare that triggered a different bass note each time it was hit. It was a bit mechanical, but sometimes it sounded like a band with a rhythm section that really cooked. It showed clearly what happens when a drummer and bass player played perfectly in time. I was able to watch the waveforms on an oscilloscope and see that the leading edges of the waveforms were perfectly aligned. That was the sound of Duke Ellington, many small jazz groups, most hard driving rock and country bands. Those rhythm sections cooked. Now I had a better understanding.

In real life, on stage, the bass player usually syncs with the timing on the kick drum because, especially in the lower registers of the bass, there is a need to have the overtone structure (the higher sounding structure of the strings) match with the leading edge of the kick drum. If you were to play only the lowest bass notes and set up the bass sound with no treble so that the strings had no initial pop or treble to them, the delay in the wave propagation to the audience would make the bass player sound like he’s behind the beat. The entire wave can be 16 to 32 feet long and without some treble, the human brain has trouble finding the leading edge of the sound. Playing in the mid-registers is usually not as big an issue in this example and the fundamental of the note being played is closer to the note from the kick drum. So the bass player must be dead-nuts on tempo-wise and it’s up to the drummer to align the waveforms of his instrument to the bass notes by being a careful listener and making tiny adjustments that become second nature after a while. That’s one reason why the best players get the big bucks. They listen constantly. They make you sound so much better and say “Wow! What happened? This sounds like a different (but better) band.”

Randall Peede


Directors Clip, Inc.

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