The electric bass guitar function in a band has two critical parts: Rhythm and harmony. In bands with a drummer providing primary rhythm, the bass attempts to lock into or against the kick drum, emphasizing the beat for the band to play to. In bands without percussion, the bass can be the primary instrument providing rhythm. Bluegrass is an example of music where the bass is the primary source of rhythm and as a result, is somewhat more simple in other respects to the bass presentation. Providing rhythm is the starting block of playing bass. Once the rhythm is established, the harmony notes are provided to correspond with the chord structure of the music. Unlike most instruments in a band setting playing chords as a whole, the bass tends to play chord tones in single notes, outlining the chord played by the guitar for example. The chord tones are the individual notes that make up a chord.
The bass when played well and effectively, is not always noticed by the audience. There are two ways where the bass can be easily noticed by the audience, when a mistake is made or when the bass drops out for some reason. When the bass player either hits an inharmonious note or a note out of rhythm, the band and the audience will know that something is wrong, but not necessarily blame the bass. Hopefully, the bass player will recognize the problem. If not, the bass player will not be with that band long. When the bass drops out, either stops playing or loses power, the band will instantly sound thin. This is referred to as the bottom dropping out. At this point, the listener will come to appreciate the role of the bass.
When a person thinks of the bass, the reason is often a song with either a solo or a signature bass line that is repeated establishing a “groove.” Most songs, however, the bass stays in the first five frets, referred by those in the know as the “money frets,” and helps the drummer emphasize the rhythm and outlines the chords providing harmony for the lead instrument. In many cases, the fancy sounding bass can actually detract from the overall sound of that band pulling attention from the rest of the band. Most bass players proudly think of themselves as playing “in the back of the band” and leave the attention to rest of the band.
Since starting to learn the bass eleven months ago, I have focused on a number of online teachers. Some focus on starting each phrase with the root note (the G note for a G chord) and a repeating combination of chord tones to follow to establish a groove, Others focus on avoiding patterns and recommend starting with everything but the root note. Which is right? The answer seems to depend on the role of the bass player in the band, the genre of music, and the feel of the music being played. Different bands have different needs for a bass player. The main responsibility of the bass player in most bands is to emphasize the rhythm and to provide a low range counter to the higher ranged lead instruments. A band short on vocals and lead instruments may actually need the bass to play solos and to be more creative and less repetitive. The problem with the bass taking a solo is that with the bass moving up an octave, there is a hole in the overall band sound with no bass line. The band will often sound somewhat hollow.
So the bass is a fun instrument to play in a band environment. A band with a solid bass player just sounds full and in sync. There are a number of online bass lessons to either learn bass from scratch or to further progress already started. The best I found was Scott Bass Lessons. http://www.scottbasslessons.com There is a lot of free content and a free two-week trial session available, but the real strength of the site is the teaching content from a number of top bass players. I am coming to the end of my first year and the amount I learned was way worth the $100+ I paid. While I will not renew, I strongly advise this site for the new player. There is a combination of theory and technique that prepares a new player to move into whatever genre they want to. I play with two bands and have been playing bass in the studio for a third. Not bad for a first-year player. I can thank Scott Devine and his website for that progress. That, and a lot of practice.