By Grant Norsworthy
Watch this short video. To understand the thought process behind the teaching video, read the blog post below it.
One of the things I love most about a band – especially in the Church service setting – is that a band gives a great opportunity for a group of musicians to demonstrate to the Church what The Church should be: A collection of people making selfless choices for the sake of others – for something greater than themselves.
Sometimes with good reason, musicians are stereotyped as self-centered and lacking consideration for others. It’s certainly true that, musically speaking, we can so easily get caught up in playing exactly what we want to play and expressing ourselves. And needing to be heard by an affirming audience – even above others.
But great bands – and I’m thinking especially of bands that can lead a Church congregation well – are made up of people who are listening to the overall sound, and the parts of their band-mates just as much as they are listening to themselves. They will constantly make musical choices that leave space. They will play less, rather than more. They want to support the roles of others, rather than pushing themselves to the fore. The resulting musical synergy means that (as the old saying goes) the whole of the band is greater than the sum of its parts.
This is no more obvious than with the choices made by a bass guitarist and a keyboardist/pianist. Most keyboardists learned to play piano on their own first before joining a band. A keyboard or piano can work well on its own as a solo instrument or accompanying a solo instrument or vocalist without any other instrumentation required.
Bassists have usually only ever known what it is to play in a band. While bass guitar is an important instrument, there’s not much call for it solo. Although there are a handful of virtuosic exceptions, the bass guitar is primarily an ensemble instrument and requires other instruments around it for its parts make musical sense. I would argue that the bass notes – the low notes – are the most important notes in any musical accompaniment – second only to the notes in the melody of a song.
As a pianist/keyboardist shifts from playing on their own to playing in a band with a bassist, they must make significant changes to the way they play, especially in the left hand. They are no longer the main instrument in the lower register. If the keyboardist tries to “rule” the lower register of the band, clutter, mess, discord and dissonance can and does result.
Now, when a bassist and a keyboardist are walking all over each other in the lower register (as can often be heard – or made out through the sonic mush – in Church bands) they are probably not doing so intentionally. It’s most likely that they are completely unaware! They are yet to learn the ability of truly listening to each other and communicating with each other. Neither party is consciously fighting any sort of musical battle for territory, but there is a sonic battle happening nonetheless.
There needs to be a mutual agreement to allow the bass guitar to be the dominant voice in the lower register. The band leader, the sound engineer or the individual players themselves need to hear what’s happening and then be bold enough to draw attention to it, if there is a problem. Personal musical sacrifices may need to be made.
But as the keyboardist and the bassist listen to each other, support one another and leave room for each other, more (not less) clarity, musicality and “connectability” results.
This video is #5 in the More Than Music Mentor training resource series. In it I have bassist Aaron Sands and keyboardist Zach Vinson demonstrate negative and positive examples of the interplay between bass guitar and the keyboard’s lower register.
Watch Video#5 – Bass Guitar vs. Keyboard again.
For more free resource videos and info, visit www.MoreThanMusicMentor.com.