Orchestrational Possibilities with Bass

For me, this isn't about MIDI or any of that (though it could be for YOU). It's about using different tools to get different sounds and textures that one would not normally associate with electric bass (though that is changing over the last few years). Integral to this sort of thing is the use of effects (some of the ones that I use can be found on the gear page) and/or using different techniques to get different sounds (some of this is discussed on the prepared bass page).

Before going any farther though, I think that it's important to talk about what I consider to be the most important tool that any musician has - - one's brain.

To me, almost beyond any tool (gear, ear, technique, theoretical knowledge), one's concept, what one does with the tools at hand is more important that than tools themselves. I think we can all think about people who have fabulous chops or great gear or knowledge of theory who just say almost nothing - - and we can think of people with way more concept that don't have anything in the area of "tools" who say a ton . . . of course it doesn't hurt to have tools. I guess I should explain that "brain" does not necessarily mean being intellectual for me, it does mean having a concept or some meaning behind what one is doing. (Think of John Lee Hooker, who had a ton going on for him, but probably not so much on the theory side of things.)

So, I guess what I'm saying is ya gotta have some ideas.


'kay . . .

That being said, let's talk about concept - - and admittedly, I'm talking about stuff that you're probably not going to be doing one your run-of-the-mill blues or R&B gig.


One concept that I've tried to deal with is having a few different parts going on "simultaneously. "

For instance, I want to lay down one part that is a "standard" bass part, but leave some (or a lot of) space. Now, using that space and, say, a vibrato or fast chorus pedal, I drop a short ascending line into a hole - - using that pedal only when the ascending line comes in. Maybe this ascending line only comes in very two measures, maybe it's every four bars. If it's every two bars, it may be enough and you may not want to add anymore to a dense situation (a lot of this depends, of course, on how many people are in one's band or how interested they might be in this sort of concept). If it's every four bars, maybe you can put something else in the holes that you've left - - maybe you put in some harmonics with fuzz on them on the backbeat. Maybe you fill the diferent holes with different things, or fill one hole with a different sound at different meaesure counts

One major challenge (besides coming up with an idea you like) is making sure you hit the right pedals at the right time - - sometimes the "pedal dance' can get pretty interesting (confusing), which can lead to "pedal trauma."


Another situation would be how to approach a tune that doesn't really need a standard bass part - - maybe it just needs an extra percussion part, so you could pull out the alligator clips (see the prepared bass page) and lay something down. As an extension of this idea, maybe the tune needs a downbeat on a root note every eight measures or so and something else in between; with the clips on one could play that note and then lay some percussive parts down in the ensuing measures.

Another idea for tunes that don't need standard bass parts could be doing things with effects that are more akin to a guitar, keyboard, woodwind or 'cello part. Obviously, this sort of thing is easier when using a bass with a range that extends into the higher ranges . . . and, yes, this is not the "standard" role of the bass . . . but frankly, I'm more interested in being a musician than I am a "function."

Of course, one can mix and match different techniques and effects . . .

It all comes down to practice and honing one's concept.


Those are my thoughts as of 2 September 2005 . . .





Applied Tools and Technology:
The music stand has all of the tools for preparations and the floor is full of the effects (two loopers are not shown in the picture).