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Constructing the Perfect Bass Line

The one thing I enjoy after a great show is talking with the people who came out to see the show. Believe me, I’ve heard it all, and it takes all kinds to make up the human race- especially musicians, we’re a different breed altogether! Everything is subjective to differences in opinion. The best band, the best bass, and the right notes to play under a dueling guitar harmony… There is one thing that, much like arguing religion, no one can agree fully on; how to play the perfect bass line. (This same idea can be applied to guitarists looking for the perfect solo).

There are two extremes: overplaying (flying off the wall) or underplaying (just the root notes or basics). Both which have their place, and both of which can be over done. The subjective opinion typically falls somewhere in between the two extremes… but to what degree. Constructing a bass line is something you have in you, and takes a combination of having a playing technique that fits you and an ability to get a feel for the song and what the other musicians are doing.

There are two main things to consider when writing a bass line: The foreground and the underlying music. The foreground is the first thing that you instinctively listen to, be it a solo, guitar riff, drum fill, phat bass riff or whatever has the most going on that becomes the focus of attention. The underlying music supports the foreground, giving it the foundation it stands on; such as the riff a bassist and rhythm guitarist play under a lead guitarist’s solo. Both can be over done as I said. A prime example of overplaying would be a polyrhythmic homophony, which done correctly could sound cool and very technical, but chances are it would sound attune to a derailing train wreck if performed incorrectly. A perfect example of underplaying would have no degree of feel or improvisation, and just be boring. There’s a happy balance somewhere between the two, and what decides “where” should be the flow of the song, not an ego.

The roll of my bass playing on “The Assault” was to bridge the gap between guitar and drums to add a heavy weight to the guitar riffs and more follow-through to the kick drum. The style of Dark Shift is fast, heavy and aggressive. My bass is exactly in time with Tommy’s drumming, making the drums sound heavier and more aggressive. My bass is in harmony with the guitars, adding the low-end punch to very fast and aggressive riffs done by Lewie and Joel, (Ex: Listen to “Forever Night 2 – Into The Shadows”) sometimes leaving a deep, evil droning sound. It’s within that realm of support that I work, creating bass lines that take each song and each riff into consideration for a new level. Within each song, the guitars will go to the foreground with a heavy riff, and my bass supports the riff, giving it a solid floor to stand on. When the guitars move back from the foreground, I gain a little more freedom with the bass line to fill the song out instead of just filling out their sound. (Ex: Forever Night 1 clip –listen) I can move my bass closer to the foreground and move the flow of the rhythm more. When the floor is open, that’s when the bass can take the light. Pitch-wise, bass is a little harder for the ear to distinguish than guitar, to be noticed, we just have to wait our turn. Nothing grooves harder than a strong rhythm with technical heavy riffing on the bass when you can hear the different pitches!

It’s important not only to learn the scales and theory available for free here on Insane Guitar, but learn what note pulls in what direction and why. And being a bass player does not mean you play second fiddle, you can do everything any guitarist can do, but you have to know when, where, why and most importantly – how – to do it. Because within that balance of support of the guitarists and “pushing yourself to the foreground to show off” lies the perfect bass line that’s right for the song.

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