This article is a definite challenge coming from the musician’s chair that represents a musically “following” position (as opposed to leading one).
To better clarify, my role as a bass player is to take into consideration all aspects that are happening before, during, and after every song plays. The key word is “listen.” Hopefully everyone in your rhythm section has that wonderful, primary trait. Second on the list would be that he or she would only be concerned with serving the song – not themselves.
First, let me overly emphasize that I’m far from perfect, so there’s a very good chance that I might be the problem! Hey, bass players! It’s good to keep an open mind.
The first place to examine (again…from a bass player’s perspective) is the drum chair! With that being said, there are a few questions I should ask myself about my musical relationship with the drummer. Some examples might be, “Do I ‘lock’ with the drummer?” “Is he or she easy to play with or does it tire me out having to be in suspense about when the next downbeat may occur?” “Am I fearful that he’s going to ‘drop the ball’ and lose me in the breakdown (that dreaded feeling when there’s no tempo reference…just random tom-tom rumblings between cymbal swells)?”
I know it sounds like I’m asking for a lot, but in fact, drummers who “drive” responsibly really do exist, and I get to work with them almost every day. There is a quiet, yet massive authority in these near-perfect specimens of total musicality, so let’s give them a break and make inquiries gently.
Ask your drummer to always subtly let the band know where the tempo is in the quiet sections. During powerful sections don’t be the busy bassist, but if the drummer is playing random kick patterns that are too overdone you can smooth things down by playing longer notes over those busy kick patterns.
Encourage them to allow more space in the groove. This lets the music breath and makes the foundation stronger and more solid. Lastly, a drummer who plays with a click is a wonderful thing. I would ask your worship leader to suggest that. 😉
Guitar players can tighten things up by constantly tapping and re-tapping their delay times, even in a band that plays with a click. Even the greatest bands of human beings do what humans do: play like humans. Things are going to move around anyway. It’s key that guitarists listen to all the rhythmic elements while they are playing. This creates the much-desired, “glue” effect.
Practicing with a click always helps to build the internal clock, but remember to think “back-side” as much as possible. There’s a good chance that the drummer is gonna lay their snare backbeat “back” a little, and you should be strumming hard on the backbeats with him. If you rush those it can wreck a groove (and boy do we LOVE that washy, cool, atmospheric stuff you do…).
Oh…acoustic guitar players…there’s a reason the acoustic guitar is sometimes referred to as the “six-stringed high hat.” Listening to the drummer closely makes everyone happy!
Keyboardists! Thank you for all of your wonderful sensitivity and energy! Being mindful of consistency with dynamics can help solidify a rhythm section. Also, while learning songs as a band be sure to carefully analyze the sonic register that you occupy. Work with your guitarist to assign registers that you both play in from section to section of each song. Even changing the instrument you are playing can make a huge difference in the sonic spectrum (i.e., Rhodes to Wurlitzer). Most importantly, always make sure there is plenty of room left for the vocal. Pianos take up a lot of space!
There are plenty of ways to tighten things up, but one of the best ways to start is by changing your way of thinking to something like, “How can I play out of everyone’s way…?”
May God continue to bless the work of your hands, and be sure to take good care of those ears!