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Unread 08-10-2013, 10:06 AM   #1
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Beyond the root

I was hesitant to join the worship team for years. My trepidation was due to what I considered boring bass lines in worship music. At every church I have checked out it seemed that it was customary to relegate the bass lines to the root notes. The last thing I wanted as a bass musician was to become what we termed "a Root Cadaver" (one who dies on the root)..

When I began attending my current church, a few years ago, I felt God again urging me again in this direction. To my delight when I auditioned for bass the worship leaders where feeling the same way I was. They had come to accept bass simplified bass lines and really where thrilled to hear some riffs. The congregation also seemed to really enjoy the addition to the songs as well. Most of them don't realize what the bass is doing but they do notice something different. For me its been astonishingly positive.

I was reflecting on this as I prepare for this weeks set. Since it is a sparse line up with just Guitar/Voc, Bass, and Drums , my worship leader wanted me to add some to the bass to fill in the gaps. In the hymn the Old Ragged Cross I am adding a tapped arpeggio form the D to Dm chords. It is a small variation that lends to the style we are presenting. It got me thinking though. Why does secular music get good bass lines and God gets the root?

If anybody else has thoughts on this topic I'd love to discuss it.

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Unread 08-10-2013, 01:56 PM   #2
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I've always been given a pretty good range of freedom on the bass. I can get away with doing what I want because I usually find the pocket and live there.

I think a bigger trend with church bass players in general is that they tend to be guitar players filling a need. They know they can't play the bass like a lead guitar but aren't able to work around the drums to push the rhythm with what they're playing.


And for what it's worth, there are tons of bands in secular music that rarely deviate from the root note. I don't think the trend is so much that church music holds bass players back, but rather that the style of the music is fairly simple and guitar focused.
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Unread 08-10-2013, 04:40 PM   #3
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Hey Steve

'I will concede your point on guitar players filling the void. There is a difference in musical perspective in a guitar player's viewpoint vs a bass player's. I think one that is difficult to accurately bridge. I have first hand experience on this.

I know that there is a lot of secular music that plays on the root as well. The main difference I notice is that monetary motives seem to inspire players to excel far more than Godly motives. Sad but true.

I wholeheartedly agree that playing in the pocket is the key to freedom in movement on the bass. I see a trend today of the new bass players not understanding how to do this. Tasteful playing seems to be a trend of the past. There is so much a bass can do for the songs if done right, even if playing the root. Proper note values and technique can add dimension to the bass line and take it from lame to inspiring.
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Unread 08-10-2013, 05:50 PM   #4
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Yep. Understanding rhythms is really more important that just playing notes, lest we forget that Larry Graham's work on "Everyday People" consisted of one only note for the entire song )
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Unread 08-10-2013, 07:07 PM   #5
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Absolutely, As I am fond of saying "If you can't tap it you can't play it."
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Unread 08-10-2013, 08:20 PM   #6
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Another thing is the age-old debate about which is more important - words or music? My personal opinion is that worship is actually just a form of serving God in the exact way that He would have you serve in any given moment. Sometimes, that means the instruments take over and let the music carry the worship, and sometimes its the opposite - we get out of the way and just let the vocals soar.

I actually did exactly what you're suggesting for a long time, because we didn't have an electric guitar player. It was all rhythm (drums, piano, acoustic, and vocals). I started simple, but over time developed some interesting twists and subtle lines into the music. Sometimes they're just simple little counter melodies to the chords being played, or even harmony with the vocals for a moment. But they're usually simple, and not played over and over again. Anything that would distract someone from worshiping God is a screw-up on my part.

Our style allows for spontaneous worship or whatever you want to call it. We call it flowing in the Spirit or just playing music as God leads us. That allows a lot more freedom for everyone, so maybe that's a little different than some people's experiences.

However, I think the MAIN idea is that we are servants of God, and mostly that means to have a mindset of supporting the vocals and lead instruments. It really is a mindset. Sometimes it leads me to play root notes for the majority of song, and sometimes it means I'm playing fills a lot or sometimes even stopping altogether.

Music and words are both extremely important. That's why worship music is so awesome. It puts them together in harmony, and it allows us to serve/worship and have fun all at once.
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Unread 08-11-2013, 04:55 AM   #7
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Playing music is most surely a form of worship. One that think God highly regards. It may even have spiritual significance. Remember David soothed Saul's demon with it. But as far as bass goes my view is that if I get noticed I probably screwed up. Unless your playing a lead line, bass should go largely unnoticed by most people. I have to remind myself that I had to train my ear to pick out bass lines when I first started playing.

I believe the message is of utmost importance but we as musicians do have a duty to support that message with a solid foundation. The sermon trumps everything. We are there to facilitate peoples ability to transition their thoughts from everyday life to worship. The fact that this is even necessary says a lot about our culture.

In my situation we are a multi-site church so we pool our musicians and serve each location. That means different teams and combinations. Since I am the sole bass player I find myself in different situations weekly. My main goal is to feel out the situation and add what is necessary to fill out sonically what is sometime a sparse team. Some time just a single low note is what is called for.

With a smaller team I tend to lengthen my notes and stay in the lower octaves. Whenever I riff be it with a small team or a full team I prefer fluidity. The riff should never get in the way. As I see it fills should be so fluid and appropriate to the style and feel that it should not grab anybody's attention. Slides and vibrato is also a staple of mine.

In any case I try to bring the best of my ability to God. Whether it is in experience, skill, or mindset. I NEVER complain or grumble. I take it very seriously. This is God whom I am trying to please not anybody else. My pitiful offering must at least be my first fruit , my very best. Anything less would be blasphemous.
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Unread 08-11-2013, 02:28 PM   #8
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Originally Posted by 6strBass View Post
Playing music is most surely a form of worship. One that think God highly regards. It may even have spiritual significance. Remember David soothed Saul's demon with it. But as far as bass goes my view is that if I get noticed I probably screwed up. Unless your playing a lead line, bass should go largely unnoticed by most people. I have to remind myself that I had to train my ear to pick out bass lines when I first started playing.

I believe the message is of utmost importance but we as musicians do have a duty to support that message with a solid foundation. The sermon trumps everything. We are there to facilitate peoples ability to transition their thoughts from everyday life to worship. The fact that this is even necessary says a lot about our culture.

In my situation we are a multi-site church so we pool our musicians and serve each location. That means different teams and combinations. Since I am the sole bass player I find myself in different situations weekly. My main goal is to feel out the situation and add what is necessary to fill out sonically what is sometime a sparse team. Some time just a single low note is what is called for.

With a smaller team I tend to lengthen my notes and stay in the lower octaves. Whenever I riff be it with a small team or a full team I prefer fluidity. The riff should never get in the way. As I see it fills should be so fluid and appropriate to the style and feel that it should not grab anybody's attention. Slides and vibrato is also a staple of mine.

In any case I try to bring the best of my ability to God. Whether it is in experience, skill, or mindset. I NEVER complain or grumble. I take it very seriously. This is God whom I am trying to please not anybody else. My pitiful offering must at least be my first fruit , my very best. Anything less would be blasphemous.
Very well said. My main point is just that if your heart is in the right place and you're responding to God, then whatever you do, whether on the bass, speaking, or whatever will be of service to Him. And that's what matters.

Its cool to hear other musicians that have the same philosophies about worship. Its awesome knowing that there are thousands of others who do this every week or every day. What a mighty God we serve!
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Unread 08-11-2013, 02:40 PM   #9
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I think a bigger trend with church bass players in general is that they tend to be guitar players filling a need. They know they can't play the bass like a lead guitar but aren't able to work around the drums to push the rhythm with what they're playing.
I know that my opinion here might be invalidated by the fact that I'm primarily a guitarist, but I quite like when musicians try there hand at different instruments within a band context. It doesn't always provide results that a pure instrumentalist (someone who only ever plays one instrument) would approve of, but it can provide new and interesting musical features that wouldn't otherwise crop up.

It also can help improve your main role if you have experience in other roles. It lets you understanding what the other musicians are wanting from you, and helps you to not encroach on their role within the band context. I'm a better guitarist for having also played drums, keys and bass in worship settings. Note - this isn't one off playing of those different instruments. At various times each of those have been my main instrument.
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Unread 08-11-2013, 03:19 PM   #10
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Originally Posted by to_be_released

I know that my opinion here might be invalidated by the fact that I'm primarily a guitarist, but I quite like when musicians try there hand at different instruments within a band context. It doesn't always provide results that a pure instrumentalist (someone who only ever plays one instrument) would approve of, but it can provide new and interesting musical features that wouldn't otherwise crop up.

It also can help improve your main role if you have experience in other roles. It lets you understanding what the other musicians are wanting from you, and helps you to not encroach on their role within the band context. I'm a better guitarist for having also played drums, keys and bass in worship settings. Note - this isn't one off playing of those different instruments. At various times each of those have been my main instrument.
My guitar playing, in some respects, has improved just from the amount of bass I play. In certainly not against multi-instrumentalists, but rather the idea of "I'm a guitar player except for 2 hours on Sunday morning".
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Unread 08-11-2013, 03:25 PM   #11
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My guitar playing, in some respects, has improved just from the amount of bass I play. In certainly not against multi-instrumentalists, but rather the idea of "I'm a guitar player except for 2 hours on Sunday morning".
This is a fair call. I guess there's also an extent to which experience on you main instrument counts. I'd hazard a guess that a very good guitarist with 20 years of experience on guitar would be significantly better at bass than an amateur bassist who's been playing for less than a year.

However, getting experience on a second instrument also has to start somewhere, and it's often to fill a need in a band context.
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Unread 08-11-2013, 05:34 PM   #12
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Originally Posted by to_be_released View Post
I know that my opinion here might be invalidated by the fact that I'm primarily a guitarist, but I quite like when musicians try there hand at different instruments within a band context. It doesn't always provide results that a pure instrumentalist (someone who only ever plays one instrument) would approve of, but it can provide new and interesting musical features that wouldn't otherwise crop up.

It also can help improve your main role if you have experience in other roles. It lets you understanding what the other musicians are wanting from you, and helps you to not encroach on their role within the band context. I'm a better guitarist for having also played drums, keys and bass in worship settings. Note - this isn't one off playing of those different instruments. At various times each of those have been my main instrument.
I agree. I played guitar for about a decade before I realized I wasn't actually a guitar player. I was a bass player playing guitar. It certainly gave me tremendous insight into a guitar players role and improved my bass playing greatly. Still in the end I had a bass players approach to guitar. I could fool some people but not the pure guitarist. I find it the same when a guitar player plays bass. I can tell the difference even between them and a novice bassist. There are some exceptions but for the most part it is discernible.

This is not to knock anyone. I realized through my own failure to switch roles convincingly that there is a difference in mental attitude towards music. It seems whatever instrument becomes your source of musical expression first shapes the way you view music afterwards.

There are a lot of guitar players who switched to bass even in professional and very successful bands; but, when I hear the bass lines I still notice a difference. Even with virtuoso guitar players like Vai, Malmsteen, Batio, and Satriani. This seems to be so common nowadays that I feel pure bass playing is almost a lost art.

Perhaps this is because pure bass players are none too smart. I mean come on, even our six string bass has to have a C instead of a B because we are too stupid to shift our pattern 1 fret.

Last edited by 6strBass; 08-11-2013 at 06:36 PM.
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Unread 08-11-2013, 05:58 PM   #13
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I'm a guitar player--but most people at church know me as a bass player (unless they don't realize the difference between the two)
I did take bass lessons when I was younger and I'm not just playing bass like a guitar player (Although sometimes that is what I'm doing)

I do play bass partly to fill a need, but also because I enjoy it.
I also get to play more often.
And every now & then I do play guitar as well.

I started mostly playing root notes, but I do sometimes add other stuff in.
However we don't really get enough practice time to work out other parts--so mostly I play straight roots or octaves-and sometimes double stops of rots & octaves or roots & 5ths

As I get more comfortable with some songs I try to branch out a little.

But what I mostly try to do is get the feel for what the leader is playing and fit in with that, and if we have anyone on percussion to lock in with them as well.

I'm not there to show off, but to help people worship.
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Unread 09-02-2013, 10:36 AM   #14
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I think there are two factors the default "pop" music style of the generation depends upon a a simplified bassline as few are producing liked Motown did back in the day with other simplified licks with a bass counter melody underneath. In different locations a more of a blues shuffle or a funk or reggae styles for example might be the default position for that community's "pop" music thus its CCM

Secondly with a keyboardist, often classically trained and with a heavy left hands, the bass chair becomes the entry level position on a praise team. An enhancement but the last to fill if you have musicians capable of playing multiple instruments.

There is even a Paul Baloche video where he states that as a worship leader he wants a new bassist playing straight 1/8 note roots at first. Just as many band members worship leader/front men are also relatively inexperience and should they be hit with something unfamiliar like a bassist adding a fill or playing a syncopated line instead of a steady pulse he might get confused and lose his place.
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Unread 09-02-2013, 06:12 PM   #15
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Taiko I cede your point. This does seem to be the norm. The question I have is why is worship music an amateur's game? Is it that we feel a sense of inclusiveness or is it a lack of more experienced musician's getting involved?

To my shame it was the latter. If it wasn't for the fact we have a professional musician on the team I probably would not have stepped up. This is robbing God of the glory He deserves. More often than not, it is for the glory of ourselves and what the secular culture bestows upon their 'heroes' that God is robbed of our talents. I hate to think that by my selfishness I have already received my reward. Sadly, this is the case with many in the mainstream of pop culture and some of my former bandmates. Their reward of world recognition and fame is seductive. I fight this myself. It was a hard decision to quit the secular scene and devote my talent to God. It is hard to be a humble servant. At the same time we should not hide our talents (our light under the bushel).
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Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven. Mat 5:15
If God is the most perfect being He is worthy of worship and He deserves to be worshiped with all our best talents (first fruits). I know there are many talented musicians sitting in the pews. I know they would rather play for their own glory than for God's. I know this because for many years I was one of them. My intention now as a bass player is to change this situation where I can - to move worship bass beyond the root and to offer to God a respectable offering. That is in the sense that since I can provide more it is only respectable if I do.

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From everyone who has been given much, much will be required. Luke 12:48
.
I realize I am just one person with one ,run on, opinion and I can not change the entire landscape of Worship Music, but I can offer to God all of my talent without regard to the norm and convention of what is expected in Sunday services. Contrary to Paul Baloche, whom I respect, God deserves better and God's people deserve better.

As always, I could be wrong so I'll get off my soapbox now.

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For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. Mat 6:5
Ouch!! I pray I do not fall into this category.
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