Being a bass player in a band has a lot of stereotypes associated with it.
Most people think of the bassist as a laid-back, calm, talented yet underappreciated musician that doesn’t like the spotlight.
Yet, when I ask people what consider a good bass player, they tend to bring up melodic and technical players like Geddy Lee and Flea.
After 15 years of playing bass, I have also met every possible type of bassist out there. I have met players who fit the chill bassist stereotype so well you wouldn’t believe it. I have also met a couple of crazy individuals that crushed every single bassist stereotype out there.
Bassists come in all forms, but despite this, the good ones among us all share some similarities. A good bassist is not determined by how well they can play melodic lines nor by how introverted they are. Rather, you will find the bass player personality traits that truly matter below.
In all bands, without exception, there will be people who are looking to show off. This can be annoying, unconstructive, and lead to messy jam sessions and songs.
A good bassist will not let this impact them negatively. Rather, they will bring out the best of the band by being patient and doing the following 2 things:
- Back up the people who are looking to show off and play bass lines that make them look better.
- Remark when the showboating becomes too much after trying to work around it.
Musicians that love showing off are not inherently bad. However, it generally becomes the bassist’s job to play in sync with such players and get the rest of the band on board. This can be difficult and will require a lot of patience.
If this doesn’t end up working, the bass player will also be the first to notice, as bassists bridge the gap between the guitars, pianos, and drums. If the jam is not working, a good bass player will feel and understand this better than anyone else.
It’s paramount for a good bassist to be patient enough to give people enough time to express themselves. If changes need to be made a good bassist will speak up, which leads us to the next essential personality traits for bassists:
When things are not working out in a band, you need to understand why. This is important both in a musical and an empathic sense.
When a good bassist addresses showboating that doesn’t work (or any other issue), the bass player needs to understand two things:
- How the issue negatively impacts the music.
- What this issue feels like to the other people in the band.
When the bassist is understands this, issues can be solved in ways that make significantly more sense:
- Does the showboater have an ego? A good bassist will provide solutions and pinpoint why things are not working without making things personal.
- Is the band having issues playing in time? A good bassist will find out if everyone is aware of this first and then provide constructive criticism.
- Is the band struggling with jamming and songwriting? A good bassist will help the guitar player and drummer understand how they can play more in sync with each other.
The bass works as a bridge between rhythm and melody. Thus, a good bassist will understand why things are not working before the rhythm or melodic section will. Therefore, they can also explain the issue in a different manner to individual members of the band if need be.
This is all possible because a good bassist has a great understanding of music and people alike.
Not only is it important for a bassist to make the rest of the band sound great, they need to sound great themselves too.
Great bassists do so by serving the song and by being adaptive to what is needed of them.
This could mean only playing root notes for one song and then bringing out a complicated slap groove for the next.
This is only possible by having a good ear and keeping their ego in check.
Remember how I said a good bassist could both be incredibly laidback or completely crazy? These two bassists might have different ideas of what serves a song the best. Still, you can be certain that they are both trying to serve the song, are trying to tie the band together, and are not trying to show off to boost their ego.
Notice the difference? For this reason, 100 good bassists might all have their own “how”, but they will all have the same “why”.
It takes a certain ability to be able to find your space in a band, especially as a bass player that needs to tie the other instruments together. This ability is first and foremost rooted in awareness.
Among other things, a good bassist needs to be aware of the following:
- Their band mates abilities and weaknesses
- Their band mates needs and goals
- What makes a song great and what a weak song might lack
- Why a jam session is working or not working
- Whether everyone is on the same page in a band
In order to bring about positive change in a band, a bassist first needs to identify that there is a need for change. Then, they have to implement that change in a manner that works with everyone’s personality and playstyle.
This takes a lot of awareness, and it`s a big reason it`s hard to play the bass well at an intermediate stage.
Often, this job can even go completely unnoticed. This idea is expressed so well by legendary bassist Stanley Clarke in the following quote:
Why do bass players get no respect?
Well, in any moderately successful band they actually do.
It’s just that competent bassists are willing to do the unappreciated work that others musicians won’t.
Poor and inexperienced bandmates will commonly look down on bassists for this, while experienced and knowledgeable musicians will value and respect them highly for it.
Thus, a bassist needs to be mature in how they approach their job, as well as their bandmate’s opinions. A mature bassist will not let their ego be deflated by a poor bandmate, or go on an ego trip because of a good one. They are also always mature enough to know their place, as well as their self-worth.
These essential bass player personality traits are often overlooked, but they can easily make or break a band.
Whether you are a bassist looking to improve yourself, or you are looking to recruit a bassist for your band, this article is a blueprint for going about it correctly.
I have learned what is required of a good bassist the hard way. I`ve been frustrated by bandmates, let ego get in my way, and been the reason bands broke up, all because I didn’t understand my role. However, I`ve realized my mistakes over the years, and I`ve grown as a bass player for it.
Thus, if you can take these 5 bass player personality traits and model your role in bands after them, you will save yourself a lot of frustration, and enjoy your journey as a bassist a whole lot more.