An article from the archives seems just as relevant today as it did when originally written 10 years ago! This came on the heels of a detailed exploration of the slap technique. Enjoy!  

Over the course of the past several installments of this column, you might have noticed that the various musical examples and exercises have involved a relatively high notes-per-measure factor, in order to demonstrate some of the more advanced applications of the technique.

This got me thinking about the whole idea of busy-ness vs. sparseness: the appropriate degree of density in our bass lines is dictated by a myriad of factors, including the musical style of the tune, the orchestration and instrumentation­, what other instruments are in the ensemble and what are they playing, as well as the subjective matter of musical taste, etc.

It cannot be overemphasized that the parts we play should be musically in context with the particular song—unless the intent is to do something quirky or weird, of course!  Few things are as painful to encounter as the inexperienced bassist forcing funk licks into a country tune, or the guy who absolutely can’t resist the temptation to demonstrate his command of 32nd-note altered scale patterns during a contemplative ballad!

This chart is for a song entitled “Mary’s Song” from a project I’m currently recording with my wife, Gina (a vocalist and songwriter). This tune is a vocal & piano ballad, and the lyrical subject matter is emotionally heavy (written about Gina’s mom’s passing several years ago).

With the exception of the transcribed bass line at the bridge (rehearsal mark “C”), the remainder of the tune—yes, 56 out of 64 measures in the song—involves nothing from the bass. Tacet. At bar 25, the bass line emerges to subtly build the dynamic level under the piano for the brief passage before fading away again at bar 33.

The arrangement and overall emotional statement would have been trampled had I opted to incorporate a bunch of licks, and would frankly have been impaired had I even tried to imply some sort of groove during the section. The most appropriate thing to have done in the tune, bass-wise, was to play whole notes & half notes on a fretless bass tucked in the mix behind the acoustic grand piano. The challenge before me was to place them and phrase them in just the right way to enhance the tune without distracting.

Let us be encouraged this day to always seek to bring our best musical discernment and taste to our various playing situations, and make it a goal to only play as little (or as much) as necessary to most effectively serve the tune.

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