The Roll of the Bass

I see a lot of new Bassists that would appear to not really know what the main roll of the Bass is within a song.
It is not to shred all over the fret board and perform a myriad of solos and jump around on stage like an idiot, although you can find a lot of people that think this is the ultimate goal of playing Bass.

The proper place for the Bass is in the RHYTHM section of a band and keeps the beat and rhythm driving forward. The 6 string electric is in the LEAD section and performs the solos, arpeggios, acrobatics etc. If the lead guitar fumbles a couple of notes in a solo chances are most people will not notice BUT if the Bass fumbles the rhythm/timing the whole song falls apart.

I am new to Bass but not music and up until today I did not realize, and appreciate, how important the main roll of the Bass part was in a song until I came across this YouTube video that shows exactly how flat the sound can be without the Bass line. This is shown dramatically at 2:59 and 3:50 in the video.

This is my Ah-Ha moment for today and I thought others may appreciate it.


As my bass coach has drilled into my head many times, and I have implored on this forum time and time again: Your job as a bassist is to “Serve the Tune”. It’s not about being the star or showing off your skills, it’s about making everyone else in the band sound good. We don’t get as much credit as we deserve, but honestly, most bands would suck without their bassist.


While I generally agree, and I’m certainly not in the “bass shredder” camp, I hope we’re not defining a box for all bass players to fit in :thinking:


Honestly I think this is situational. There’s plenty of bass artists who are the star and drive the band. It all depends on the specific band situation and frankly saying there is just one role to play seems like a narrow view here to me.

The key is to know what situation you are in :slight_smile:

Exactly, except I don’t even generally agree :slight_smile:

I think this really depends on your band situation. When the guitarist told Peter Hook to follow his lead, Hooky was totally right to say “fuck off, you follow me!” - and the sound ended up being critical to their popularity.

And then there’s Geddy Lee, Kiyoshi, etc.

I think there’s lots of bands where it is critical to play the role of the support bassist. I just think there are also plenty where you should take the lead. And it all depends on the specific band and sound you are going after.


Not to mention Les Claypool. One of my idols is Chris Squire in Yes, and while he often played rhythm, check out Starship Troopers where is providing a counter melody to the guitar. Or songs where the bass and drums are in one time signature, while the keyboards and guitar are in another.

One of my favorite modern bands is Babymetal, where the rhythm is driven by the drummer, and the bassist does all sorts of arpeggios.

Really depends on the band.


This is probably the best way to think about it.

If serving the tune means to get out there and drive the band, then that’s what you do.

Sometimes it means stand in the back and play root-fifth all day. Sometimes it doesn’t.

Lots and lots of excellent bands where the bass player is the lead role.


@GanglyCloth said I hope we’re not defining a box for all bass players to fit in :thinking:

Of course not. As @howard said

I think @PamPurrs may have put it in more correct terms.


I was not saying there was only one role for the Bass to play.

I agree.

I agree.

The reason for my OP was to show beginners how important a role the Bass player has. Of course they can be the star of the show if that is what they want to do but as you said ‘it all depends on the specific band and sound you are going after’.


I think Polyphia’s GOAT is a good example here. Every single band member takes the lead at one point; but they all basically serve the song. Even when leading.

Paying attention to what the bass does when others are leading, or both the guitars when the bass leads - that’s also a great example of serving the tune by supporting your bandmates.

They pull off what amounts to four guitar solos, two drum solos, and a bass solo in that song, and it never feels like anyone is soloing. Because they aren’t.


What’s the role of the bass? The same like any other instrument, to make it sound good. Nothing else matters and is just a dogma.