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A bassist or bass player is either the most revered or most pitied member of a musical group, depending on the genre. Because of the wide range of music types that utilize the bass, and the varying amount of talent required to be successful within each, bass is a highly desirable instrument for players of all levels. Alongside drummers, bassists are often the most accomplished musicians within a band, or an unemployment benefits queue.
Why play bass?
No one else wants to
History teaches us that what originated as the drawing of the shortest straw, has also been the beginning of many a great career. Take Paul McCartney. He's written some of the most beautiful and well-known bass lines in rock and roll, but not because he wanted to. No! This milestone was only achieved by a lot of punching, kicking, screaming, threats of desertion, shouts of "deserter!", tears, flowers, dinners out, and making up. When George Harrison joined what was to become The Beatles, the boys from Liverpool found themselves with three guitarists. George and John were just too stubborn to switch, so it fell to Paul to make the ultimate sacrifice. Selfish bloody bastards. But Paul showed 'em, didn't he? John got himself shot by a fat guy who blows up imaginary gnomes for kicks, Ringo's a recluse, and no one bloody cares about George. But Sir Paul lives on, dating hot models and actresses like a young rock star, and gets to be called a knight with out all that "chivalry" crap. You go, Paul!
You get gigs
Here's an example to illustrate the point:
- As a birthday gift, a father decided to get his son a bass guitar and some lessons. After the first lesson, the boy's father asked him how his lesson went. "It went great, Dad. I learned to play on the first 5 frets on the top string!" The father praised his son's efforts. The next week, his father asked about the second lesson. "It was cool, Dad. Today, I learned to play the first 5 frets on the second string!" His father once again applauded his son. The following week, his father again asked about the lesson. "I'm sorry Dad, I blew it off... I had a gig!"
This is only a slight exaggeration of the truth. You’ll probably need more than two lessons to get a good gig (hell, I needed four), but even if you suck there's probably some desperate group out there ready to beg for you to join them. Even without lessons, and never having touched an instrument, you may already be overqualified to play in a punk band.
IQ and musical talent optional
If lack of experience isn't a factor, why should lack of intelligence or talent be? Bass is a lovely, uncomplicated instrument. You only have four strings to start with, and there’s no rule saying you actually have to use them all. In fact, the world is full of players making an awfully good living doing the absolute minimum. Yes sir, with only a steady stream of monotonous eighth notes, you too could tour the world, earn millions, marry a supermodel, and be on the cover of prestigious magazines. Creativity? Optional. Songwriting ability? Optional. Just find a talented singer, guitarist and drummer to do the real work for you. Initially, they’ll do it all and still thank you for just showing up. Later, if fame and fortune comes, they’ll probably keep you out of some misguided sense of loyalty.
Not as easy as guitar, but the majority of bass isn't actually playing a silly instrument with steel strings the width of your thumb! It's all about looking cool. Since guitarists are incapable of this, it's up to you. Everyone knows that 90% of playing bass in a band is looking cool! Playing a the same few notes for about 3 minutes is a lot "harder" than strumming a guitar. Before you know it, you will be stealing the spotlight from the lead guitarist in no time!
You can pick and choose who to work with
Because there are 8 million guitarists for every bassist, you will work with a lot of prima donnas who think they play music when they really just play guitar.
Part of the beauty of being in demand is the ability to be selective. Your band needs you. You don't necessarily need them. If all else fails, they're expendable, like those cameo crew members on Star Trek. That means you can be a whiny, demanding, snotty faced prima donna, holding your bandmates at ransom for fear of losing you—although that’s a temptation we all face. It does mean you can escape a dead-end situation and find a more promising one with relative ease.
You can be a star but still avoid the spotlight
People don't think twice when they see the bassist lurking near the rear of the stage, behind the singer or guitarist. Or drummer. In fact, no one thinks twice when there's no sign of a bassist, because he's expertly camouflaged himself to blend in with the wall draping. For a bassist, its not only socially acceptable to be a wallflower, but in some situations—it’s downright encouraged. One less ego makes for a lot more room on the front stage. However, backstage – after the show – you can still tell the girls you’re "with the band" and cross your fingers.
Interesting note: In the Rolling Stones bassist Bill Wyman banged more chicks than all the rest of the band put together. Know why? That's right, bassist...
The shortage of bassists has been something of a boon for sad losers everywhere. In the olden days, dorks used to have to become engineers and programmers in order to have a chance at fame, fortune, and fabulous babes. In this new age of promise, even a nerdy, obese, slovenly oaf with body odor, lice, dandruff, and chronic halitosis, with the social skills of a table lamp and the IQ of a turnip, can be in-demand, successful, and lusted after. Just look at Wolfgang Van Halen. Rejoice!
You can wear a sock over your privates and generally act like a lunatic
Even if you weren't a social reject to start with, you owe a debt to Michael Balzary — an inoffensive, trumpet-tooting kid born in Melbourne, Australia. Thanks to him, it's now artistically acceptable to cover your one-eyed trouser snake with a white athletic tube sock, while bouncing around like you've inadvertently plugged it into a live power outlet. Of course, we are referring to the bassist better known as Flea, who made wearing ugly gitch and bass playing fashionable in one fell swoop. Hail to the Chief!
You can't play guitar
Many famous bass players have become famous due to their utter lack of guitar skills. For example Sid Vicious, who could barely even play the bass, imagine how shitty he would have been if he was a guitar player. But he picked up the bass and became punk's most famous bassist.
You're the drummer's girlfriend
While the guitar player has to practice at least 6 hours each day, you need to work full-time to support your untrainable, unmanageable, uncommunicative drummer boyfriend whose irresistible attraction to needle drugs, knife fights and fire necessitates constant supervision during all your free time. Why not make the most of your predicament by jamming along with his flailing and bashing?
Start by hitting just any bass string any time he kicks the bass drum. Eventually you will be able to anticipate this — he's actually quite predictable when you start paying attention — and will sync up perfectly. This is called playing "in the pocket", and having mastered the technique you can get gigs in local bands. Now it's time to learn notes.
The pentatonic scale has only six (6) notes and one is just a repeat; play these notes in any order you feel, or at random, always staying "in the pocket". Most modern listeners are chumps for pentatonic, and consider it "soulful" (which incidentally is why it's the only trick in Kenny G's bag), and you will be able to play along with any music popular since 1956. Vary this with a 1-4-5-1 — on bass it's a simple hand shift that any guitarist can show you, and any child could play. This and some kicky fashion will get you a paying gig in a real band. Ditch your drummer boyfriend at the nearest livestock auction to raise money for new clothes. (Note: the tube sock over the genitalia is not recommended for most women. Except Kim Gordon. Drool.)
Seriously, we feel for you. The only reason we constantly diss female talent is we're dudes with tribal loyalties to the ape who sleeps on your sofa. That and our inability to process emotion makes us envy and fear you. And all of us are in bands that need drummers.
- I mean seriously, we all know how easy it is
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