When coming up with a bass part for a song there is always so much to consider. Let’s attempt to break this down into no particular category and in no particular order. 🙂 All kidding aside, let’s try slow, medium, and up-tempo songs as starting points for examples. Also, let’s talk about them in the order of a typical worship set.

UP-TEMPO

Usually during Sunday morning worship, the worship set begins with an up-tempo, rockin’ eighth-note song. Let’s assume that the intro begins with the whole band playing from the beginning. The first thing most of us have to decide is whether or not to use a pick. The main thing to consider (for me) is, if there are guitar players in the band, how many are there? If there is only one he’s probably going to need help in the “pronounced-eighth-note” department, so have your pick in hand and possibly dial in a little distortion – but not too much. You will be a big help when the guitar player starts playing lead. Remember that with more distortion you get less foundation. Yep…the bottom typically goes away a little and you will lose punch.

If you can find a distortion pedal with a “mix” or “blend” control on it, this will help. It allows you to split the bass signal into wet (affected) and dry (unaffected) sounds, thus allowing you to control the amount of fundamental, untainted bass sound in your tone. This is very important to consider for the optimal bass sound for a song.

If you have two or more guitar players in the band you’ll probably want to stay out of their way and pluck with your fingers, concentrating on the sub-side of the sound spectrum. This is a more foundational method of thinking/playing and will suit your band’s lineup better.

MID-TEMPO

You might want to start dialing back any edginess that you have dialed into your tone. Put the pick down (or cut back the top end of your sound) and go for a mellower tone. Do not add low end! If you do it can completely change the soundman’s mix and he will simply turn you down. If you cut a little top, he might actually turn you up a bit. It’s funny how that works!

SLOW SONG/BIG BALLAD

Stay with the same tone as with the mid-tempo song. Begin to pluck more toward the neck. Your sound will become slightly bigger, adding sonic support. Be sensitive to the format of the song. If you are playing at the beginning at all, think about using your higher register so as not to overpower any motif that may be played by guitar or keys. Also, try shaping your notes a little, leaving space between longer notes – just a little – and don’t pluck as hard. Save your lower register, “big” notes for the last chorus of the song (if you’re playing a 5-string with the low B, now is the time to use it). If there is a breakdown section, you may want to consider using chords to complement that particular section of the song. You could try tenth intervals (major or minor third, depending on the chord) or double-stops (root and fifth). There are many other useful bass chords that can add color to a “down” section of a song.

Most importantly, listen to everything going on around you at all times. Be sensitive and flexible. Pick your time(s) to shine with the utmost tastefulness, and you will contribute the most. Overplay, and you may inhibit the worship experience for many. God bless you as He blesses the work of your hands!

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Gary is a session player/producer/writer in Nashville, TN. He plays for many recording session accounts and home recording, as well as project production, writing, and arranging. Email him for questions, comments, or scheduling at garylunn@me.com gracechurchnashville.com

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