Have you ever pondered the ideal instrument for a guitarist to "double" on? Well, if you guessed the bass guitar, you couldn't be more correct! The similarities between the two are apparent to even the most naive observer, and I'd like to spend this edition of "Coach's Corner" discussing the many positive aspects of a guitarist seriously taking up that instrument. Or vice versa, for that matter.
First off, I'd like to share my opinion regarding the role of the bass in contemporary music. I believe it to be, beyond any shadow of doubt, the singular most important instrument in any ensemble. In even the most simple musical scenario, the bass simply dominates and controls the actual "personality" of the situation at hand. This undeniable fact is often obscured by the demeanor of the bass itself, and those that choose to make it their home instrument. It's value just cannot be overstated.
I feel very fortunate, due to my father's infatuation with bass (he played trombone), to have discovered this powerful instrument early on in my career. I've played bass for almost as long as I've played the guitar, and all of my initial exposure came by way of Pop describing to me how "Ray" (Brown), "Scott" (LaFaro), "Sam" (Jones), "Paul" (Chambers), or any of a seeming multitude of incredible four-string virtuosos would interpret their roles in what was primarily a jazz context.
Being an avid admirer of Pop's considerable soloing prowess, I can recall asking him many years ago "just who do you listen to and follow when you improvise?" I was, quite naturally, expecting him to cite a pianist or even a guitarist as his source of harmony, but he told me "I just listen to the bass." To this day that reply echoes in my ears, and it's given me a respect for the bass that I don't think I'll ever lose.
You know, a great many guitarists view playing the electric bass as a "piece of cake," but they're only partially correct. While it remains true that the guitar and bass are close cousins and share some similarities, being a solid bassist involves an entirely different mindset. You simply must be a "team" player, regardless of the style, or the musical environment around you will surely fail. That constitutes a rather large responsibility, but if you're willing to take it on, you'll find yourself a far better player of both instruments in the long run. Sold?
I'll tell you something. I've really had a great time doubling on the bass. I believe that bringing my skill from that instrument to the guitar (and vice versa) has given me a truly unique "voice" that I couldn't imagine being without. As a musician in general, it's really enhanced my appreciation and understanding of the rhythm section. It also satisfies my creative needs on many levels, whether it be in a spontaneous jazz/blues situation, or perhaps in composing a relatively simple but highly defining part in a pop original.
In closing, I would strongly suggest that you consider the possibility of becoming a truly superior guitarist by devoting some of your practice time to bass. And it goes without saying that, if your main instrument happens to be the bass, you'll have a very rewarding experience by exploring the guitar as a second instrument.
Either way, you can't lose. If there was ever a "marriage made in heaven," this is it! Happy trails...
"Coach's Corner" is an ongoing addition to Vision Music. The purpose of these brief articles is to share philosophy, offer practical insights, and to enhance your musical studies.
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