Criminally Overlooked – The Importance Of Bass

Bassists. The most vital role in any band composition, yet overlooked as much as hidden sugars in your cereal. A band forms with a guitarist and singer, finding a drummer and then filling in the bass as and when it becomes necessary. The industry filled with names of guitarists, vocalists and even drummers, with only a handful of bassists cutting it. Les Claypool from Primus, Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Tool’s Justin Chancellor and John Young of Dream Theatre. They’ve become known for their style of playing, their funky bass lines and the way they beef out the tracks bringing depth and girth. It’s crazy to think that an instrument that brings a level of intensity to tracks, that moves them with fluidity and is literally what attracts your neurological sensors.

Researchers at McMaster University in Canada have found that one of the reasons that basslines seem to cease into the melodic architecture of the song, placing high frequency notes more poignant is because lower tones are easier for the brain to understand. If the bassline isn’t moving in fluid motions and creating an overall structure of the track, our minds find it difficult to comprehend the motion and rhythm. With our brains instinctively syncing with these lower frequencies, bassists are acclaimed for their talent of keeping the low tone frequency rhythm in tact. If a drummer was to hit too early or late, or a guitarist was to cut a chord short, it’s less likely that we will recognise, but due to the low end registry, we’re able to detect cadence of the bass with more attention that can throw us completely off track. It was noted due lead author Laurel Trainor hooking up participants to an EEG to monitor their brain activity while they heard stimulating streams of two piano notes – one high-pitched and another low. Researchers would sometimes play one of the note fractions too early, effectively proving that participants were more likely to recognise the errors that occurred in the bass notes. It was also noted that when the participants were asked to tap their fingers to the unpredictable note rhythms, the subjects were much better at adjusting their tapping when the lower tones began to arrive early than they were with the higher frequency.

In 1980’s History of the Science of Music, Robert Challoner wrote “the bass part… is in fact, the foundation upon which the melody rests and without which there could be no melody.” Establishing and defining the chords that sets the songs melodies – while it doesn’t always define the chord’s root – it frequently commands the role. “You know, the piano player can play a C chord, but it’s only a C chord if I play C on the bass,” Sting, vocalist and bassist of English rock band The Police, says. “If I play something else, it’s a totally different chord. For instance, an A. So, you control the harmony. If you are also a singer, you control the top. So, everybody performs within your parameters.”

As if that wasn’t enough to provide you with enough evidence that bass is a vital role in successful music writing, Northwestern University researches found that bass-heavy music is far more likely to provoke feelings of power and drive in listeners. The study that discovered this were made to listen to pieces of music with altered bass line. Dennis Hsu, one of the studies authors said “we chose to manipulate bass levels in music because existing literature suggests that bass sound and voice are associated with dominance.” Reporting feelings of influence, subjects also chose more power-related words on a world completion test aiming to assess implicit, or unconscious, feelings of power.

Criminally overlooked, bassists often fits into the background of our day to day music, but is essential to shape and structure our favourite tracks. It doesn’t avert song writing either, with Paul McCartney and Roger Waters of Pink Floyd primarily being bassists and making it into the hall of fame with their writing talents.

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