Difficult vs. Good

As I’ve grown in music and experience I realized a change in thought. Starting in bass, and music in general, the way I “measured” how good a player was was based on the technical ability and difficulty of what they played. This changed for me recently, because it is just one aspect of being “good”. I listen to someone like Yngwie Malmsteen or even Davie 504, and obviously from a technical standpoint they are really good. At the same time, it’s kind of soulless and not memorable. Yngwie from a technical standpoint can play circles around BB King. But BB would play something so soulful and emotional, you would just connect with it.

Some of the best bass lines aren’t difficult, but just tasteful and groovy. Krist Novoselik from Nirvana for example. Or how the Foo Fighters can write 100 songs that are all memorable and great songs.

So, pursue technical proficiency, but at the same time, one can be a great musician without it. Don’t let “I’m not as good as Davie504 at bass, so why try or put myself out there” be a reason you don’t go out on your own.

I dunno, thoughts?

11 Likes

This argument comes up often in different circles, my take is that there’s no better way, just different styles, do what you enjoy, what fits you

2 Likes

I’ve always ‘looked’ at how a player sound, not the technical ability. To me the sound is more important. Might be 'cause I always enjoy making music with others, in a band or just a jam?

1 Like

Buckethead is perhaps the best technical guitar player in the world today, but like Yngwie lacks soul.

I type this as I listen to Freddie King and Robert Johnson.

What is a good musician? One who touches and inspires the audience. Yngwie and BB fill different niches.

Although I will argue BB is the better musician. Yngwie has the technical chops, but from composition, arrangements, dynamics, catchiness, BB beats him hands down. BBs solos pop because he sets everything up prior.

Eric Clapton is perhaps the best example, old Slowhand himself. He conveys emotions with his notes.

3 Likes

Good points. I agree. Chops are good, but soul is it’s own skill. Play by feel vs. play because a 7th is a good note here!

1 Like

Yeah I agree with this overall sentiment. I think insane technical chops are very impressive but that’s not usually the kind of music I like to listen to. To me - music is all about conveying emotion.

Like one of my favorite bass players is Duck Dunn. He didn’t play many notes and rarely ventured beyond root-3rd-5th-6th in his lines. But man, they are so groovy and soulful, and laid the foundation for decades of popular bass playing from his time at Stax.

Of course that’s not to say you can’t be soulful while showing off top-notch technique and speed, but to me it’s not necessary at all.

3 Likes

For sure. I dig Remco, and he is technical as hell, but SSOOOO groovy. Victor even has very soulful emotional melodies.

2 Likes

Yeah Victor is first person I think of who’s mastered the technique/soul combo on bass. Kinda Jamerson too, but he has his own unique… um… technique.

1 Like

Both amazing bassists. James of course paved the way for players like Victor. One of my favorite Wootens is The Lesson. Such a cool groove using so many sounds the bass is capable of.

1 Like

Yeah I agree, I love Davie, he is super talented and funny, but his playing does nothing for me. I appreciate it on a technical level but not an emotional one. Fast slap and pop lines in general just bore me because everyone does them, for a while it gave me a low view of the technique because it seemed to be more about showing off than playing something that fits, thankfully I discovered Stanley Clarke and that changed. At the same time I do enjoy some prog-metal bands that are very technical and do lack some of that emotion I want. So I think it comes down to a balance of the two, but I definitely lean towards emotion as well.

2 Likes

It’s weird, Davie certainly has the ABILITY to play some really groovy and impactful stuff. And slap, even in the context of funk, it is flashy but adds so much to the songs and really carries everything. Flea does both, his bass lines to RHCP songs are often simplified relative to his ability, but are SO perfect for the songs…and the thing is that is actually PART of his ability level.

2 Likes

Great topic! Ultimately, we tend to forget that the bass is really a rhythm instrument first. Folks get so wrapped up on other aspects, melodies, crazy note selection, when some simple notes with a great rhythm can really set the feel for a song. Agree with the comments above about Duck Dunn. He kept his lines simple, but he used lots of syncopation, etc to create amazing bass parts. We are there to showcase the lead (whether it is a vocalist or say guitar player etc.).

3 Likes

When it comes to bass, I look for different things than guitar. For bass, I like structured foundation. Nothing beats a long bass note, a 12-bar blues, or a good chug for me. But for guitar, I tend to like the more crazy stuff. I’ve never really been a fan of bass solos to be honest, though I can appreciate the technical ability of those that do them.

That being said, soul and a connection with the audience is much greater than any technical ability. There are always jokes about how BB King didn’t actually do much technically, but he oozed soul and knew how to connect with an audience.

Of course, if you can do both soul and technical ability, then you get someone like Jimi Hendrix. I think that’s the pinnacle for me.

1 Like

I’d say every instrument can have different roles. Jameson was interesting because with a few exceptions, if you listen to a Johnny Cash song and what his bassists were doing (root, 4th 5th a lot) that was kind of the role of the bass. He managed to make more interesting and intricate bass lines that still held the rhythm down.

But you look at a band like Primus, bass is the lead instrument AND is the bass. But he still has his own emotional stuff and weird sense of rhythm and timing. It’s groovy while not just being a Davie type slap fest.

Part of it is structure. Riffs you repeat and return to. That’s it’s own skill, having a verse, chorus, bridge etc and coming back to them in the right order.

2 Likes

I think a lot of bass solos go either slap or try to emulate guitar solos…but there is a tonal character to the bass timbre that if used correctly is stunningly beautiful in lead and something the guitar wouldn’t be suited for well. This is a great example from Victor. Just absolutely beautiful and rich, moving stuff

1 Like

Agree completely, Stanley Clarke has some great examples of that too. I love the sound/timbre he gets on Bass Folk Song…

2 Likes

Yeah, Stanley is pretty amazing. There is a recording of him, Victor and Marcus Miller all playing together, and it is some great stuff!

2 Likes

Oh yeah, Claypool is a great example of high technique without sacrificing emotion, I think part of the reason why it works is because he experiments with such weird tones for his bass. Like on this song he is featured on (strobe light warning on the video), the music may not be your thing but the first twenty seconds get the idea across. It is such a crazy sound he is playing with. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UWkJghqMSpo

I love Claypool, but more when he’s playing his own brand of funk.

One thing I loved about Squire is he could play rhythm, but he could also harmonize. The Wurm is one of my favorite things Yes has done. Squire is playing the melody while Howe solos.

2 Likes

Speaking to the original subject, there are a lot of bass players that have become rich and famous by NOT being the worlds’ greatest bass player. The mainstream public, doesn’t have a clue who Tommy Emmanuel is, even though I believe he is the greatest acoustic guitar player alive, and the sole remaining person alive that is a CGP (Chet Atkins Certified Guitar Player).

I think bass guitar is wonderfully different than lead guitar, because as a former aspiring lead guitarist, you look at guys like Stevie, Jimi, Jimmy, Eddie, and Clapton as, “The Guy.”

I think with bass guitar, while it’s great to be able to shred like crazy like a Cliff Burton, or do the harmonics like Victor Wooten; but you can take a step back and come up with something that is more reserved, more supportive and it sounds better.

It’s sort of like the offensive tackle in American football; they don’t get highlights, they don’t get the babes, they don’t get much media attention…but ask a Tom Brady, or a Joe Montana how important they are. They make things happen in the background, and you don’t know how important they are until they aren’t around.

My philosophy (albeit I’m a beginner bass player), in playing is; if I have to play harder and I can make it sound good; fine. If it sounds better being more basic, fine too. Whatever makes the music pretty. I think a lot of people forget that, I dunno.

I’ve read a lot of rock and roll biographies, and some of the egos in the music business is so petty and childish, it fills me with disdain. Like what the Van Halen bros did to Michael Anthony. And from what I understand, Mike is a very well-liked, easygoing guy in the music business, and the Van Halens did him dirty.

Like dude, your bass player was just as important as YOU are. It’s one sound, one band. And each instrument is an integral part of it, in my opinion.

3 Likes