Role of the Bass: Life in the Rhythm Section
While bass lines can vary quite greatly from one genre of music to another, virtually all bassists still provide the same role of creating a foundation, often with a drummer, for the other instruments to layer their parts over (excluding some virtuoso bassist solo albums where the bass is also playing the melody). It doesn’t matter if it is a fairly prominent funk bass line or the bassist is just simply following the rhythm guitarist’s chord progression, the role is still the same.
Maintaining the Pulse
Maintaining the pulse of a song is one of the most basic aspects of the rhythm section. What the bassist plays can have a pretty vast effect on the impression a song actually gives. If a rhythm guitarist plays a whole note A5 power chord, the overall impression will be very different between a bassist plays a whole note A or an eighth note A major scale line or a rapid sixteenth notes A Phrygian line or just plays a gallop line on the root.
All the time it is still the exact same rhythm guitarist contribution, but it will sound quite different from one of those bass line to another.
There is somewhat of a misconception that the rhythm section provides the timing for the other instruments to go off of. Every musician should be able to keep proper rhythmic timing, not just those who learn how to play bass guitar or drums. While it is generally much more noticeable when the rhythm section is out of time, it doesn’t excuse lead guitarists or singers from learning to properly time their parts.
The rhythm section often helps to establish many of the traits that make a song actually sound like a particular genre. This is especially true for more bass focused genres like rock, pop, funk jazz or reggae, and can often be seen in hybrid genre bands. For example, most of the reason the Red Hot Chili Peppers is considered a funk inspired band is because of the funk influenced bass lines that are quite commonly used in many of their songs.
However, it doesn’t necessarily have to be the bassist who makes those types of contributions. The Police are also a funk inspired rock band, but their bass lines were generally straight forward rock lines. It was the rhythm guitarist and drummer that gave the more funk feeling to many of the songs. It is still the rhythm section, but the bass is usually just one of the instruments contributing to the rhythm of a song.
While fairly uncommon, there are some songs out there that are simply just a bass. Not surprisingly these are almost exclusively written by virtuoso bassists with a wide enough range of techniques and musical knowledge to often play both the rhythm and melody at the same time, or at least be able to fairly seamlessly drop between the two. Sometimes they are supported by a drummer or singer, but these are usually fairly minor contributions in these types of songs.
These are almost exclusively bassists that have their bass guitar lessons completely down and then moved on and expanded to learning theory or how other instruments in a band function, but it does go to show that the bass is capable of a lot with a lot of practice and dedication.
Usually if a bass player releases a solo album, this is often the kind of music that will crop up, though there will be exceptions to that. While a bit unusual from the bassist’s normal role, it can make for a nice change of pace as a bassist advances their techniques further.