Focus Track: Bass Guitar
The bass guitar is the groove section of the Worship Team. I wouldn’t go as far as to say, “It’s all about that bass”, but a well played bass guitar will get the congregation grooving better than any other instrument on the stage. Of course, in order for that to happen, it needs to be played well. If you are a bass guitar player, or a Worship Leader who is trying to speak their language and give them direction, here are some helpful tips to keep in mind (appearing in no particular order).
The fundamental frequencies for the bass guitar typically range from 41Hz to 165Hz, or maybe 220Hz. The bottom E rings at 41Hz. If you are using a 5-string bass, your low B rings around 31Hz. That is really low. Most Worship Team bass players won’t venture past the E note on the D string, which rings at 165Hz. Some more advanced bass players may find their way to the A note on the G string, which rings at 220Hz. With the bass guitar, there are a LOT of harmonics in play, so while the fundamental frequencies are in the low range, most of the musical frequencies are actually found in the low mid and hi mid range. The “soul” of the bass will often be found in the 400Hz to 800Hz range, and the “pluck” or “attack” may be anywhere from 1K to 3k. A great sounding bass will typically be found by cutting the unwanted frequencies from 40Hz to 3K, rather than by boosting the “good stuff”.
The bass player’s “musical buddy” is the kick drum. The groove of a song is often found (or created) by having the bass player pluck the notes of the chord progression identical to the pattern and rhythm of the kick drum. The bass guitar gives tonal expression to the kick drum.
Good dynamics are achieved by adding subdivisions between the kick pattern at big moments of the song. For example, if the kick drum is hitting on the first and third beat of each measure, then the bass guitar should also be plucking the notes of the chord progression on the first and third beat of each measure. In this case, they would both be playing half notes. That works well for a verse. However, when the chorus starts, the bass guitar player can add dynamics (making the song sound bigger) by switching to quarter notes, and plucking the notes of the chord progression on every beat of the measure, even though the kick drum is still hitting on the first and third beat. When the chorus is over, the bass player can switch back to playing half notes to match the kick. This will essentially help to bring the song back down, dynamically.
While your plucking pattern may seem simple and repetitive, it doesn’t need to be played in the same position for the entire song. A good approach to playing a song may include plucking the notes up the octave (on the first and second string) during the verse, and then down the octave (on the third and fourth string) for the chorus. Play around with how you think the song can best be musically communicated, and always listen to what the other instruments are doing. The bass guitar is not a lead instrument, but it can sure make a huge difference in the overall expression of the song. When the bass guitar is solid, the song just feels right.
Bass runs can be a lot of fun, and can really make the song groove, but they should be used sparingly and intentionally. Bass players are notorious for getting bored (probably because they only play one note at a time, and typically only use the bottom 2 strings). To counteract their boredom, an amateur bass player will fall prey to running amok. This is bad. Don’t do this. Admittedly, it can result in the bass player sounding really good, but the trade off is that the band ends up sounding really bad.
Because the bass guitar is being played all over the fretboard (remember that many bass guitarists only use the bottom two strings), it is imperative that the bass guitar player properly intonate their instrument. This means that they set the action and string length to ensure that the open string and the same string held down at the twelfth fret produce the same note (though an octave apart from one another). If this is not the case, it needs to be fixed! If it is not, all of the hairs on the back of your neck may rise up to give you the standing ovation that you deserve.
Artwork provided by my good friend, Brooke Gehman, an authentic and wonderful man of God, devoted follower of Christ, and an amazing husband and father. Brooke is a gifted Worship Leader, an incredible artist, and a Potter by trade (check out his website).