Of course, I am joking. Most likely you would never hear this question asked in a church rhythm section setting. But what if you did? As a bassist, how would you respond to it? Most importantly, how would you deal with it? Would it occur to you that maybe you should consider putting a plan in place to try and solve the problem…or would you just be offended?
When one of your musical/spiritual authorities pulls you aside and tells you that you need to improve upon something, the most important thing you can do is keep an open mind and a humble spirit (and be glad he/she didn’t tell you in front of everyone else!)
The first thing you should do is find out what the concern is. Next, devise a way to address the problem. And lastly, try your best to correct it. For instance, if your timing is the issue, be sure and ask if you are rushing or dragging. This is important to know! Dragging (playing way behind the beat) can cause a tension in the music that feels almost like the song is dying (for lack of a better analogy). Either way, the best way to deal with this issue is to practice with loops, a drum machine, or a metronome.
Another way to improve your timing is to play along with recordings that you know have been recorded with a click (this would probably include just about anything that is recorded present-day – even self-contained band projects are recorded with a click so that editing can be performed more easily).
If you are rushing, you may as well give up. OK. Sorry! I’m kidding again… there is hope. I recently worked with a student who has played jazz music most of his career…I mean, up-tempo, swing-style jazz. (In this kind of music, the drums play the bass drum minimally, which means you have to be the bass drum and the bass player. It’s a totally different concept than what we are used to as contemporary worship musicians). My student’s goal was to learn how to lay back in the groove and play “rhythm section” style country, pop, and rock music styles. My advice to him was to think “slow…slower…slowest…” and to play behind the bass drum – let the attack of the bass drum “be” the bass’s attack.
Another way to lay back is to pluck each note with more than the tip of your finger. In other words, place the string in the middle of the tip-joint of your finger instead of the end before you pluck the string. This can really help you!
A more advanced way to improve your timing is, if you have computer skills, to record yourself to a track without bass (there are files like this all over the internet), or record yourself to a track with only drum machine. When you’re done, zoom in to each downbeat and look to see where you are on the grid (the line that indicates the downbeat in the ‘arrange’ window of the program you’re using). This can be a very useful tool in examining your rhythm problems and correcting them. Simple digital audio workstation (DAW) programs are fairly inexpensive and most often come with any new computer you purchase (Garage Band on Mac, for example). If you have access to a computer and you have some computer skills, this method is definitely worth a try.
If your problem is that you are playing too many notes, the answer is very simple: don’t play so many notes! Less is more. Always!
In some cases, you may be playing too simply. If that is the case and your worship leader wants to hear more melodic information from you, start listening to some music that has more melodic basslines. One of my favorite bass players in the world is a man named Pino Paladino. He is one of the “groovin’est,” most tasteful, melodic bass players on the planet. He manages to play beautiful melodic lines at just the right moment, no matter what kind of music he’s playing… what he does just makes sense. Google his name and listen to some of his work and you’ll see what I mean. Listen to any bass player you choose and let their bass playing inspire you, but be sure the music is up to a good standard for your spiritual senses.
Most importantly, after you have done these things to improve your playing and address the problems that were brought to your attention, be sure to inquire with your music director/worship leader to check in on your progress. They will greatly appreciate your efforts and your proactive nature!