Canadian Musician - March-April 2022 - Page 32

COLUMNS

The Misconceptions About Bass & Why It ’ s a Beautiful Instrument

By Charles Collymore

Imagine a beautiful summer ’ s day at the park : the sun is shining , the sky is blue , children are laughing in the distance with ice cream smeared all over their faces , and there ’ s a light breeze blowing against your skin . You find a tree to sit under , you pull out your speaker and start blaring your favourite song . As you lean against the tree and take in a deep breath to relax , you notice something .... the trees and the grass start to change colour . You take another deep breath in and you realize that they change colour again , almost as if the Earth itself is responding to your feelings and emotions .

As you begin to have different thoughts and feelings , you are convinced that the Earth is definitely responding to the way you feel and is supporting your every emotion . As the minutes pass , the Earth starts to take on a mind of its own and you find yourself flowing back and forth with it ; one minute the Earth is following you and the next you are following the lead of the Earth .
Being a bass player is exactly like this : finding the balance of supporting the feel and emotion of the rest of the band while also picking your spots to express yourself .
Being a bass player is kind of like being the Avatar : yes , you have your own traits , similar to Aang being an airbender or Korra being a waterbender along with being able to control the other elements . One thing they all share , however , is the ability to tap into the traits and abilities of the other elements ( in this case , other instruments ) so incredibly well that they evolve into something far greater than what was once perceived .
Some of the bass ’ main responsibilities in a band setting are to lay down the root notes of the chords and help drive the rhythm of the song forward while locking in with the drums . Bass , though , continues to evolve and shows more and more that it can handle the job of laying down chords , creating rhythmic patterns on its own similar to the drums , and can play beautiful melodies and solos with exquisite phrasing and feel . While other instruments are able to achieve this goal as well , bass ( with absolutely no bias at all ) does it best . An experienced bass player knows how to read the room ; they know when the low C on the fifth string is a better choice in that moment than the C on the A string . They know when adding slapping and popping will help give the music that extra grit that it so desperately needs in that moment . And most of all , a great bass player knows when too much is too much . Sometimes the best choice is to just lay out and let the song breathe .
Take a minute to think of your favourite song , except without the bass . Feels a bit empty , doesn ’ t it ? Keep imagining for a little longer , though , and now add the bass back in . Feels amazing , right ? That feeling that you just felt ? That is what a great bassline does for the music and for everyone involved .
Despite the fact that the bass has a specific job that is primarily in the background , bass players are met with bizarre questions and comments like , “ Five strings ?! Jaco only needed four !” or the classic , “ Six strings ?! You might as well play guitar !” Funny enough , when guitarists play seven- or eight-string guitars or drummers have seven or more toms and cymbals on their kits , they are met with far less backlash . So , why is it that bass is met with such animosity ? In the mind of the average musician , bass is strictly meant to be a supportive instrument that plays the roots and follows along with the rest of the band . At the end of the day , the bass is an extension of the player . How they choose to express themselves – whether it ’ s their thoughts , emotions , and / or feelings – is for them to express and them alone .
When it comes down to it , the number of strings , keys , or drums on an instrument are simply tools to speak the language of music as you see fit . The bass is an instrument that , in the right musical contexts , freely bounces between being a drummer one minute , a piano the next , and a guitar soon after . While the role of the bass will always be to lay down the foundation in the music , being a living and breathing foundation that flows with the music and has its moments to shine will allow the misconceptions of the instrument to be shattered , and the beauty of the instrument to shine through .
Charles Collymore is a seasoned musician , composer , director , producer , and educator . Based in Markham , ON , Charles has established himself as a highly talented and well-rounded professional bassist .
32 CANADIAN MUSICIAN