Bass guitar is criminally underrated. Casual music listeners don’t really pay attention to the bassline, let alone know the name of the bassists of their favorite bands. While it may seem like the bass guitar is an unnecessary accessory in a rock band, this couldn’t be more wrong. Bass is a much more crucial part of music than you might think.
So what’s the big deal? Why is bass so important? Bass guitars are low in pitch, which is more difficult for the human ear to hear, but they produce the essential driving notes and rhythm that tie a piece of music together.
In this article, I will go through the five main reasons that bass guitar is important and dig into why it is underrated in the first place.
Fundamentals of music
To fully understand the importance of bass guitar, we must look at how bass fits into music at a fundamental level.
Here are the three pillars of music:
The melody is generally led by the lead guitarist or lead singer of a band. This is the catchy part of a song that you would generally sing along to. Although some bass players will experiment, the bassist will rarely play the melody of a song. Instead, bass is used to support the melody.
Think of a guitar or piano chord. When you play two or more notes in unison, you are creating a harmony. Bass is the backbone of a harmony because the lowest note in a harmony helps define the chord.
Rhythm is defined as notes being played together in time. Bass guitar has a low, punchy sound that allows listeners to physically feel the beat of a song. Without a bass guitarist, the drums will sound flat and thin.
5 reasons bass guitar is an essential part of a band
Bassists are often the most overlooked member of a band. But why are they important?
Number one: The lowest note in the chord is the most powerful
In music, the bass note clarifies which chord is being played. For example, a guitarist plays a standard C Major chord (C-E-G). The bassist has the option to play the C root, which would define this chord as a C Major chord, or they can play an A, which would define the chord as an A minor 7th chord.
Our brains hear the other notes in a chord in relation to the lowest note, so the bass has a crucial harmonic function.
Number two: Bridging the guitar and drums
Bass guitars are unique because they play notes but also act as percussion instruments. This dual harmonic and rhythmic function allows bassists to serve as the glue that holds the band together.
Number three: Unique rhythmic function
The drummer is the primary percussion player in a band. Still, the bassist is an essential part of the rhythm section. Bass guitars produce low-frequency notes that create vibrations that are easier to feel than to hear. If you have ever been to hear live music, you probably have felt the bass in your chest due to the power of the low-frequency notes. You may even subconsciously tap your foot to the rhythmic beats of the bass.
Number four: Expanding the range of the band
Guitarists have a limited low range. They are technically baritone instruments, meaning they have a low register, but they cannot completely fill in for a bass. Bass guitars expand this range by an octave (or more for 5-string basses).
Number five: Holding down the song’s structure
The rhythm section of a band is tasked with holding down the beat and progression of a song. Doing so allows the guitarist and singer to concentrate on the melody and guitar solos.
Why are bassists so underrated?
Bass guitarists are not as appreciated and loved by fans as lead guitarists and singers… but why?
Not as flashy as guitar
Bass is essential for many reasons that I have listed above, but bassists are not centerstage musicians. Bassists don’t play flashy guitar solos or lead the melody, so they go unnoticed. During a live show, everyone in the audience focuses on the singer and the guitarist unless you are watching the Red Hot Chili Peppers, of course!
Hard to hear
Bass is also hard to hear. As I said above, you can feel the bassline better than you can hear it. So, while the bass is present and the music wouldn’t sound the same without it, the bassline is often overlooked.
Just listen for yourself!
These famous songs don’t sound nearly as powerful without the bass guitar.
Is bass easier than guitar?
A question many musicians will wonder is if bass guitar is an easier instrument to learn and master than guitar. Guitars have more strings and play more complex technical parts than bassists in general. Bassists also play fewer chords than guitarists. However, bass strings are harder to fret than guitar strings, and bassists must have a strong sense of rhythm. Technically speaking, bass is easier than guitar, but both instruments have unique playing styles and require completely different skill sets.