The electric bass is often considered as a marginal instrument and without too much prominence, but: do you know what is the function of the bass exactly?
Once you know the functions of this instrument, it is inevitable to look for it and listen to it in every song. That’s why it is gaining ground to the guitar, and more and more people want to get started on this “guitar with only 4 strings”).
For this reason and, as we will see in this entry, the importance of the electric bass in music is so high, that rare is the group that does without this instrument.
What is the function of the electric bass
The fact that the electric bass is present in almost all musical genres is due, among other things, to the fact that it is a multifunctional instrument: rhythmic and melodic.
This means that, unlike the guitar, the electric bass is essential because of its double function of rhythmic accompaniment and melodic guide.
In this way, we can say that the electric bass has an essential role, or function, as an instrument:
Thanks to these characteristics, the bass guitar is the instrument that is responsible for setting the rhythm, and creating and playing the bass line in most musical styles of modern music.
In its rhythmic function, the bass, together with the drums, builds the compass and tempo over which the rest of the instruments play.
And, believe us, although in many occasions it may seem that the bass player is not doing much… this is not the case. Keeping the Groove without alterations is much more difficult than it seems, and that’s why in almost 100% of the bands there are 2 essential musicians: the bass player and the drummer.
Both are the foundation of any rhythmic structure, and the first to be recorded in the recording studios.
Of course, since the bass is similar to a guitar, many people think that the drummer is the only drummer in the band. Which in a way it is, but:
The bass is in charge of transcribing the drummer’s notes into the language of the rest of the instruments: the musical melody.
Do you want to learn the basics of the rhythmic function of the electric bass? Don’t miss Lesson 4 of our bass guitar course: Musical Rhythm.
Melodic function of the electric bass
The bass, as a bridge instrument between the percussion and the other instruments (winds, guitars, etc.) has a second function: the melodic function of the bass.
That is to say, it is in charge of creating and maintaining the whole harmonic base of a song.
It supports all the rhythmic-melodic weight of a song thanks to its deep and deep sound that gives body to the whole composition.
Generally this task is carried out through the main notes (also known as the root note or tonic of each chord).
But… is only the bass guitar good for this? well… it’s not a small thing, but look…
Role of the bass as a solo instrument
In addition to the functions of the bass as a transversal instrument of a composition, depending on the execution of the bass, it can have more or less prominence within a musical performance.
Thus, the electric bass can become the main instrument of a musical piece, or a soloist instrument.
This function of the bass is not the most widespread, since, although it has a greater prominence, it is an instrument that serves as support for the whole band.
But the truth is that it is very common to see bass solos in almost all styles, to recognize the function of a musician who is often ignored by the public.
Especially in genres such as jazz, reggae, or even heavy metal.
But we will talk about this in more depth below.
¿How is the bass function in music styles?
The function of the bass guitar never varies, regardless of style or genre.
No matter how virtuoso you are as a bass player, you must be clear that the primary function of your instrument is to be the foundation of a composition.
No matter who thinks that this is boring, or that it has no protagonism. He is deeply mistaken.
Now, the fact that the electric bass has to fulfill a very clear function does not mean that it cannot vary in its execution, and the complexity of its composition.
The function of the bass is carried out by what we know as bass line. And indeed, of course, there are different bass lines depending on the bassist and the style.
Thus the electric bass, independently of its basic rhythmic and melodic work, can play a more or less active role depending on the complexity of the line.
Because the execution of the bass in a pop song is not the same as in a metal or jazz song.
It is not the same, not even similar. Its function is, but not its role, or at least its relevance.
The electric bass in the blues
In blues, as well as in country or folk, the electric bass plays an intermediate leading role.
In these styles the bass player plays mainly patterns and methodical lines, usually derived from the main scales and arpeggios of the song.
In these styles the bass can be very easily differentiated from the other instruments, but it is always marking the base of the song.
That is to say, the bass never abandons its main function, focusing on being the support of the main instrument: the guitar.
The electric bass in funk
In funk, the bass is one of the main instruments without any discussion, and not all bassists are able to master this style.
The freedom and rhythmic richness offered by the drums is a strong support for the bassist to create bass lines with a spectacular rhythm: what we call Groove at the end.
That is to say, the rhythms of funk or disco music are really lively, and the bass plays the role of increasing this rhythmic feeling to dance.
Hence the star technique of this genre, the slap. A technique with which, even without playing a single note (making palm mute), the bass player can get anyone on their feet.
The electric bass in jazz
Jazz is perhaps, along with funk, the musical style in which the bass can have a greater prominence.
Actually this is not very complicated, since it is a genre in which all instruments have their moment of prominence.
The particularity of the bass in this style is that the bassist must perfectly master harmony and improvisation.
That is why, in jazz, the bass or the double bass stand out, like the rest of the instruments, for using musical intelligence beyond their basic functions.
The electric bass in reggae
In reggae, the rhythmic base in general is freer and more interesting, so the electric bass has more freedom to play with the harmony.
How? what we mean is that the drums have a greater protagonism over the rhythm, so it frees the electric bass of this function. Not completely, but it leaves more space to focus on the melody.
In addition, the guitar also abandons the melodic threshold a bit, to create dry chords that also provide rhythm.
This does not mean that the bass lines in reggae are very complex, but that they have a great weight in the main melody.
This also happens in genres like chillout, where the simplicity of the bass is the essence of the depth of the song.
To imagine reggae without bass would be simply impossible. And, therefore, it is one of the great protagonists of the band (although it is in the background, yes).
The electric bass in rock
Rock is the parent genre of most modern musical genres, and therefore one of the first to embrace the bass as a group instrument, not just an orchestral instrument.
Therefore, given the wide variety of rock genres and subgenres, the bass plays a wide variety of roles.
However, nowadays, everything we call rock includes fairly simple and methodical bass lines.
And it is usually an instrument whose sole function is accompaniment (which is not to say that there are no great rock bassists, far from it).
The electric bass in metal
In metal, and derived genres, the same thing happens as in rock. The electric bass is an instrument that does not play a leading role, and that fulfills its functions without conditions.
However, given the powerful character of these styles, the function of the bass stands out for contributing more weight to the compositions, through very low bass lines.
The electric bass in pop
In pop, the bass is perhaps the most monotonous and simple instrument of the whole group. Hence, many bass players are the singers in the band.
Wait, wait, with this we are not discrediting this genre, much less the bass players in pop bands.
The simplicity of a pop bass line also stands out for its intelligence when it comes to composing it. That’s why many songs in this style are stronger thanks to the bass player.
But the truth is that this figure is usually in the shadow of the rest of the instruments.
Don´t forget practing bass !