Getting The Gig – What Other Musicians Look For In A Rock Bass Player
So you’re a rock bass player and you’re auditioning for a band. You’ve got your Billy Sheehan drill trick all ready to go and you can nail the bass solo from Sweet Child O’ Mine. It’s time to throw up the devil horns and impress the **** out of your soon-to-be bandmates. Except there’s one tiny little problem. They don’t care about drill tricks and bass solos, which means you’re probably screwed.
Yes, I’m a guitar player. No, I’m not here to tell you how to play bass, but I am here to tell you this: if my rhythm is better than yours, you’re not getting into my band. You are, first and foremost, part of the rhythm section. You and the drummer make up the backbone of the entire band. Your rhythm needs to be so solid that you and the drummer share a single rhythmic brain, ultimately creating a the kind of steady beat that makes the crowd move and keeps the other members of the band grounded all at the same time.
I don’t care if you play with a pick or with your fingers. I don’t care what fingerings you use to play your parts. I don’t even care if you simplify your part in order to keep the beat rock solid. I do care if you and the drummer are not in sync. I do care if the tension between your part and the drummer’s part lead to a fluctuating tempo.
You are the link between the drummer and the rest of the band. In a perfect world, I want you to understand the chord progression of the song AND how that chord progression relates to the rhythm, but if I have to settle for just one of those things, it’s rhythm all the way. If you can’t read music and don’t understand theory, that we can get around. If you can’t nail the rhythm, you’re done.
Lots of bass players seem to secretly want to be guitar players and so they also learn guitar since the two instruments are so closely related. Forget about the guitar for now. If there’s another instrument you should learn at first, it should be drums. Learn to feel the strong/weak pulse of downbeats and upbeats. Learn to think like a drummer and you will get better at the bass.
Get out that metronome and keep it near you at all times. This is your best friend, and he will get you the gig if you hang out with him long enough. I had a bass player come over to jam once who, I kid you not, could not play straight eighth notes to a metronome at 120 bpm. After he left my wife came into my practice room and asked my why the music sounded so bad. If my wife knows something’s wrong, you’ve got big, big problems.
This is not meant to be demeaning, but it is meant to get your attention. If I haven’t already made it abundantly clear already, your top three priorities as a rock bass player trying to get a gig are rhythm, rhythm and rhythm.
There are people who make fun of bass players in general. I’m not one of them. Bass is an incredibly important piece of a rock and roll band. Without it everything sounds hollow and thin. As a rock bass player, though, make sure you understand what part you play in the band. If you want to play solos, switch to the guitar. If you want to be the center of attention, take singing lessons. If you want to lock down the rhythm section and join forces with the drummer to be the engine behind everything, you’re in the right place.
Nail the rhythm, and you’ll get the gig.
About the author: Dan Vuksanovich received his Master of Music degree in classical guitar performance from the Peabody Conservatory of The Johns Hopkins University in 1999. He currently teaches and blogs about how to get better at guitar via his website, www.whyisuckatguitar.com