Busting Bass Player Stereotypes: The Truth Behind the Myths

Playing any instrument is painstaking. As a bass player, you are likely familiar with the stress that comes with getting your technique, tone, and tempo perfected. After all, everyone knows it’s your responsibility to carry the melody. Everyone knows that seemingly no one will complement your playing when drowned out by piercing treble unless you mess up. Now all eyes are on you — such is the life.

With struggles in mind, what are some common bass player stereotypes?  A stereotypical bass player is the beast of burden that laboriously carries the band while they enviously watch everyone else do fun things.  Some also assume that the bass player is a lone wolf at parties, just as they are on stage.  There may or may not be truth in these stereotypes, but there’s no doubt you’ll keep hearing them.

Whether you find solace in their relatability or frustration in their uninformed oversimplification, there is no shortage of bass player stereotypes to make you laugh, cry, or shout at the screen.

You were a guitar player who’s been demoted

Everyone can recognize the sheer talent that goes into a well-executed guitar solo: lightning-fast fingers able to alternate between countless complex chord fingerings, an obsessive familiarity with dozens of scale positions, and a knack for improvising a compelling melody instantly. Even rhythm guitarists have to play several notes at once occasionally.

It’s understandable that a few bands, to avoid booting anyone and hurting feelings, have asked their struggling guitarists: “Think you can handle one note at 100 beats per minute until the end of each song? Thanks…”

When the band finishes packing for the next gig, they always forget one thing, You.

It takes a lot to be a good bass player. You need an impeccable sense of rhythm, a perfectly crafted tone, and a 0% slip-up rate. You even need talent and well-developed technical skills, contrary to what some folks unfortunately believe.

Sadly, just because you’re indispensable and work hard doesn’t mean that others may occasionally forget you exist. It can be difficult to hear those pertinent low notes that carry the miniature symphony in the melodic cacophony of piercing solos, expressive vocals, and roaring drumlines. Unless, of course, you stopped playing.

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Find the bass player! Hint: Try squinting.

You have legendary callouses

Bass strings are thick, and marshmallow fingers won’t do the trick. It takes strength to wield the power of musical thunder (ever see a scrawny Zeus?) and cause the speakers to quake. Fortunately, experienced bass players steadily adapt to the demands of fretting these unruly metal rods. The results are fingers that sound like cap guns going off as they tap away on an office desk.

Fortunately for you, playing bass is one of the most enjoyable forms of manual labor.

Playing bass is one of your many jobs

There is no shortage of “bassists are broke” jokes.

  • What do you call a bass player without a girlfriend? Homeless.
  • What do a bass player and a large cheese pizza not have in common? The pizza can feed a family.
  • And many more.

There are lucky souls out there who have successfully turned their most cherished hobby into a full-time income, but not without a hefty helping of outlying uniqueness, connections, and luck. And until that happens, you have to make financial priorities: which bass or amp should you purchase next? Time to deliver some food to strangers.

You’re the songwriter in the shadows

Unless you’re Flea or Jaco Pastorius, it’s tough to be the most recognized member in your band as a bassist without something extra to demonstrate your profound talents. Many songwriters get enough satisfaction from secretly acknowledging that their talents are responsible for the band’s success and don’t feel the need to rub it in by taking the front mic.

You’ve done well; why not take a backseat to be the heartbeat of the performance and take it all in? Be a good bass player and share some of the fame with your bandmates.

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You’re the pensive introvert of the band.

The bass guitar is the instrument version of a soft-spoken, smart person, the type of person who doesn’t need to boast that they’re brilliant because they’ve already proven it. A bass guitar doesn’t need to resort to being highly pitched and distorted to confirm its importance because it knows that the other instruments need it to maintain order.

Logically, people like to extrapolate. If a bass guitar possesses these qualities, then one who plays the instrument probably does as well. Maybe people approach instruments in the same way they approach human relationships, choosing the ones they relate to the most. So you can imagine an introverted, aspiring musician looking at the bass guitar sitting behind the spotlight on the stage and saying, “I feel you.”

You literally avoid sunlight

Either because your introversion keeps you from getting out much or because the spotlight rarely shines on you, your complexion is fainter than the lead singer and guitarist whose skin is beginning to shrivel and crackle.

You are the lead guitarist’s favorite sidekick

While the drummer is busy getting blackout drunk instead of practicing (this is also a stereotype), the bass player is sitting patiently waiting for everyone else to contribute to the creative process. Remember, bass players are pensive introverts who are diligent and rarely boastful — what’s not to like about that?

Consequently, the charismatic lead guitarist is likely to turn to you, the bass player, when they are fed up with inevitable interpersonal conflict in the band. After all, the lead guitarist gets tired of being viewed as the mediator, and who better to turn to than the intelligent, most well-tempered band member who is always there to tie the melody together?

But if the lead guitarist ever writes a bassline for you without your consent and input, it might be time to part ways.

You are one in a long line of replacements.

If you look at the web pages of many famous bands, you might notice that they practically have a memorial page for past bassists. Whether it’s because these bass players have a tendency to die (Metallica, The Who, Weather Report) or because the stress of the position has caused them to leave prematurely, you might consider your career with any particular band to be fleeting.

Fortunately, you’re intimately familiar with change and adaptation when you live the life of a bass player. Keep at it, and eventually, you may find a perfect spot in the perfect band. If not, start your own — you’re the keystone of a good band, why not make the rules?

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Ultimately, everyone is dependent on you. You have the freedom to do you.

Related Questions

Is bass guitar easy to play?

If you are looking for your first instrument to learn to play, choosing a bass guitar is an excellent choice. Getting started is incredibly easy as frets are large and strings are thick and easy to hit. You don’t need to learn any complicated techniques to start playing some enthralling basslines.

Even though bass guitar is easy to learn, becoming a master of the instrument is a journey that rarely ends. There is always a new technique to learn so that playing continues to challenge you years later.

Do bass players use picks?

Some do, some don’t. Using a pick, your thumb or your index and middle finger comes down to the desired tone and style you prefer. Bass players who have previously played guitar may find using a pick more familiar, while others would rather not fuss with looking for a pick whenever they feel the urge to play.

Generally, using a pick offers a sharper and more aggressive tone that many bass players clamor for, especially in hard rock and heavy metal.

Is bass guitar cool?

Bass guitar is very cool for a variety of reasons.

The bass guitar is the most “felt” instrument in the band. While some might think of drums in this way, the low frequency of a bass resonates in a way that seemingly causes the ground to rumble menacingly.

Everyone loves bass. Most audio products on the market, from headphones to loudspeakers, frequently make a point to advertise “good bass” before anything else, and why shouldn’t they? Bass is primal and powerful, and the bass guitar is the best way you can harness that.

When was the electric bass guitar invented?

The electric bass guitar is arguably one of the most important musical innovations from the 20th century. The first one we know of was invented in the 1930s by Paul Tutmarc of Seattle, but the idea didn’t blow up until Fender popularized the instrument with the debut of their Precision bass in 1951.

Before this, bass guitars were tough to hear when in the presence of other instruments, and the only way to make them louder was to make them bigger, in many cases even bigger than the bassist. Thankfully, electronic pickups allow something you can sling over your shoulder to fill a stadium with thunderous glory.

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