Using Taste to Back Up Singers and Soloists
As previously mentioned, bassists are usually relied upon to play a supporting role. This is just the unvarnished truth. Although some electric bassists have developed their skills to such an advanced degree that they can transcend these limits (Jaco Pastorius and Victor Wooten are two examples), most bassists are relegated to an accompanying role. What often separates the best, in-demand bassist from the lesser player is one simple trait: taste.
Some players seem to always know what to do. Others seem to make their fellow musicians feel musically crowded. No musician wants to play with someone who doesn't have musical courtesy. This musical courtesy, or empathy, can take the form of keeping the volume of your amp at an appropriate setting or laying down a bass line that sends the right signals to a soloist. In general, some bassists intuitively know how to approach ensemble playing while others don't. Often young players have not developed all the musical character to know what to do. Musicians call these inexperienced players “green,” just like rookies in sports. What can be done to make the less experienced player sound like the seasoned veteran? Here are some secrets:
Listen, listen, and listen. You need to hear what everyone in the band is playing. If you can't hear the other musicians, you can't contribute in a meaningful way.
Turn down. You should try to play as quietly as you can get away with.
Keep great time. Everyone needs to stay in sync. If you play with great time, and your groove is solid and confident, you will be an asset to the group.
Know your parts. Execute your bass lines with confidence and style.
Know when to let the other guy shine. Don't fight for attention. You'll get your turn.
Know when it is your turn. When it is your turn, don't solo endlessly. Improvise as elegantly and succinctly as you can, then happily resume your role as accompanist.
Have fun! Remember the audience and your fellow musicians are feeding off of your vibe. Keep it positive!
A great way to learn the ropes is by performing with other seasoned musicians, especially great vocalists and hot soloists. Often these musicians understand that music is a mixture of art and commerce, and they excel at both. By feeding off of more experienced musicians you can learn how to captivate both the music aficionado and the average listener.