So what do I do with 4 steel strings on an instrument made out of a few bits of wood and wire, that traditionally plays one note at a time and out of all the different and infinite notes, techniques, and note combinations that can be created, what do I choose to do?
Good question! The only way to figure this out is to have a go, try different notes over certain chords, start with the triads and go from there. Try different techniques and subtleties within each technique. Listen and listen and listen to music and musicians and take apart what they are doing and when they are doing it and think about why they are doing it and add all that new information into your bag of tricks. Even if you learn just one new thing from a song or a CD or from any sort of inspiration, that one thing will be with you forever and will build your craft and your ability to express what you or another person is feeling.
Back to Bass. Writing parts for other peoples’ songs, I’ve found, is done two main ways: 1) in a group; 2) by yourself. But both end the same way, with the song writer or someone they trust giving the final OK. The reason for this is that the song has been birthed from their own experiences so they need to feel that the vibe of the music and instrumental parts express the heart of where they wrote the song from. Writing in a group is throwing ideas around with each other, talking and getting feed-back, adapting your bass part to others parts and listening for other peoples ideas to develop. Writing a bass part by yourself is different because you don’t have the other people to bounce your ideas off so you don’t really know if your going down the right track, but it does help a lot when you bring these ideas to the next rehearsal because it gives people something to go from and even if it took you two hours to create a part that doesn’t last two seconds when you all get back together you have spent two hours playing your instrument and that is worth it.
With bass our role is to create with the other rhythmic instruments, the underlying rhythm and to support the melody and chord structure of the song. The lyrics, the melody and the chords is the song, all we do with our bass is try to add to the song with music that expresses the writers heart and connects to the people. If we do this when writing bass parts the part created is unique, creative and an expression of the writers thought.
One last thought, we PLAY music, have fun !!