Back to the Bass-ics

This is just a note about picking up bass guitar again after a 20 or 30 year virtual absence.

In my 20s and 30s, I often played in “pickup bands” and other casual ensembles where we would pass instruments around depending on who was singing lead on that song. So I played a lot of bass, not because I was “the bass player,” but because the fellow who usually played bass wanted to play 6-string on a song he was singing lead on, etc.

I also played a lot of bass on my home recordings. So I didn’t suck, and I could pretty much follow any song on bass, especially if I could see the guitar player’s left hand.

From years of playing flat-picked guitar, I was quite used to things like alternating bass and walking bass. In other words, if you had a last-minute gig and you needed a bass player to stand in, I wouldn’t embarrass you.

That was a LONG time ago. Years later, I loaned my “good” bass to a daughter who was playing bass in the praise band at her church. A few years later, a local community theater group needed a bass player in their “orchestra,” so I bought a cheapy bass to fill in. I went on to play for a couple of high school musicals. But show tunes aren’t the same as Folk, Country, Blues, or Rock.

And then, my bass pretty much stayed in the closet, for somewhere between twelve and fourteen years.

Then, this past summer, our church needed a bass player for their worship band, and I volunteered, despite being as old as any three of the other members put together.

I discovered that most of the worship “choruses” being sung today are keyboard-based (as is so much pop music in general). Many of the tracks the worship leader is listening to don’t feature bass at all. If there is a discernable bass guitar part at all, it is usually duplicating whatever the keyboard player is doing with his or her left hand.

I was asked to play that way. No alternating bass, no walking bass, no syncopation, nothing but whole notes, or – on the parts that were supposed to be really “rocking” – a bunch of quarter or eighth notes on the same pitch – thunk, thunk, thunk, thunk . . . . .

Often I couldn’t tell whether I was hearing myself in the monitor or hearing the keyboard player’s left hand, because – more often than not, we were playing the same part.

For a while, whenever I would try to introduce anything (like walking bass lines) that would provide movement or momentum to the song, I was asked to stick with whole notes. But, come on . . . .

I guess this is what passes for “contemporary music” in a “post-rock” (and a “post-Jesus-Freak”) world. Fifty years ago, the 50-somethings in church considered me a rebel because I wore long hair and “rocked out” sometimes with my music. It seems ironic to me that folks who are literally a third my age consider me a “rebel” today!

Nevertheless, it got me back into practice on the bass, and relearning some of the fingerings and positions that were second nature to me thirty or forty years ago.

Lately, though, the worship leaders have stopped giving me quite as much grief when I do something that makes the song “kick” a little more than it does on the original track.

So, I’m still not a bass player, per se. But at least I can double on bass again without embarrassing myself or the person I’m backing up. If you’re ever gigging near Springfield OH, and you need a bass player last minute – one who can sing harmonies to just about anything as well, let me know.

Here’s a unexpected side to the whole thing. The “old-timers” in the church, folks who grew up singing hymns but don’t mind going to “contemporary” worship if it helps “reach the young people,” tell me how much they like seeing someone close to their age participating. In a way it helps them feel like they’re still a part of what’s going on.

And that’s a good thing, I think.


About Paul

Paul Race has been writing and playing all kinds of music since the 1960s, though he tends to favor acoustic and traditional songs. He has created resources like,, and to help other musicians get a good start on their own journeys.

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