Over the years, I’ve come up with many “rules of thumb” for playing the bass. These are things that hold true in any context, regardless of style, instrument (electric/acoustic) or setting.
This is first in a series outlining my “Groove Rules of Thumb”.
Groove Rule of Thumb #1:
Dance much? You should. If you’re a bassist or drummer and you’re not into dancing, it can show.
I started playing the bass because I wanted to make people dance. When I was 15, I gravitated towards the low end; at that age, I loved the fact that my bass playing could fuel the flames of a packed, bumpin’ and grindin’ dance floor. To this day, my prime directive is laying down a pulse that gets folks kinetic.
As bassists, playing with good time is necessary but not sufficient. We have to do more than lay down a rock-solid foundation – our pulse has to feel so good that it gets everyone in the club bobbing their heads.
Now I’m not talking about unnecessary physical histrionics. I’m just talking about getting your body moving in some subtle way to add some centrifugal force to your beat.
I will say this – you won't necessarily find the vast majority of the great bassists out there doing this. I envy their ability to groove without involving their bodies. But for me, it helps tremendously. And, I do know that Robert Hurst, one of the most grooving bass players of the last 35 years, advocates this approach. In a lesson I took with him some years ago, he talked about the idea of rocking side-to-side, one foot to another, on beats 2 and 4.
This is an exceptionally powerful technique when we're playing in real time on the bandstand. We need to have an internal “click.” While some bassists can rely on that alone, I need a bounce in my step to help me out when I’m in timekeeping mode without a metronome or any accompaniment. If I’m moving in some way on beats 2 and 4, or even 1 and 3, I’m going to feel much more confident in my role as a timekeeper.
We should always devote a sizable chunk of our practice time to grooving as if we were playing on the bandstand. This means playing WITHOUT A METRONOME. We’re not going to have the crutch of a metronome on the bandstand, and we should practice as such. We want our practice to reflect the reality of playing on the gig.
We all have naturally good time. We have a steady beat in our step when we walk, don't we? In this way, we don't need a metronome. Rhythmically speaking, walking a bass line is as simple as physically walking to our innate beat. And when we actually “walk” in place when we play, the movement can invigorate and distinguish our rhythm and swing.
So try it out - If you’re not dancing on and off the bandstand, you may be doing a disservice to the music, your audience, and your fellow musicians who depend on you to make the band bounce.