Tag Archives: music

Amplified Observations: Subtle bass playing is as impressive as bombastic playing


Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should, and when it comes to bass guitar that line is drawn between playing to impress and playing to fit the song. Before I dive into what I mean by this, let me present you with a scenario.

Say you’re considering buying a bass or have just become the owner of one. Now, what’s the first thing you do beside strumming your soon-to-be-calloused index finger over the E string?

If you’re anything like high school me, after fumbling around with the tab to “Day Tripper” a few times, you go on Youtube and look up all the masters of the instrument:Victor WootenFleaJaco PastoriusGeddy LeeMarcus Miller and so on.

You watch in awe as you see a more expensive version of your new instrument grooving at the forefront of a song or showcased in an impressive solo. It’s an inspiring display for anyone who looks to learn all of the ins and outs of the low-end ax in order to replicate the excitement you felt watching it.

However, in a moment of musical inquiry, it’s soon realized that the reason those songs are so impressive is that they are based around the bass, just like how The Smiths are based around Morrissey’s voice, in a sense. Thus, the true mark of a solid bass player is playing lines and using techniques that fit the feel of each specific song, whether it be over-the-top slapping and popping or a more melodic, subdued approach.

Aside from a few select genres like funk and reggae, the bass is most widely used as part of the rhythm section, along with drums, and not as a lead instrument. In fact, I once heard the role of the bass described as “drums that have notes,” which illustrates the connection these two instruments have more clearly.

Many famous bass players in bands, rather than those billed as headliner for their name or playing, garnered fame simply by finding ways to achieve the best basslines with the least amount of excess. Paul McCartney played minimal, sparse lines with rapid note-leading during changes, but the sounds of his Höfner became integral to the sound of The Beatles. It’s difficult to imagine a different tone. Similarly, John Entwistle of The Who played mostly in the background of the mix, but his rhythmic contributions helped to glue each of their songs together, like any good bass playing should.

Countless other examples (John Paul Jones, Charles Mingus, Kim Deal) provide evidence that playing a simple line in place of an unnecessarily complex one can result in much more impressive, memorable playing. Less is definitely more if you’re not in the midst of a heart-pounding solo. Throw in an occasional fifth or third for an accent and you’re pretty much golden, ready to be inducted in the Bass Player Hall of Fame (which if it existed, I imagine would also be in Cleveland).

As the TV show Futurama once observed, “When you do things right, people won’t be sure you’ve done anything at all.” Few quotations have indirectly summed up bass playing for me so well, and it’s my judgement that the quality of a bass player should be often held in their ability to make people forget that they exist at all.

Luke Furman is a sophomore studying journalism and a reporter for The Post. Do you play bass guitar? Tweet him @LukeFurmanOU or email him at lf491413@ohio.edu.

Amplified Observations: Less accessible songs are sometimes worth the effort


Because music really has no definite limits other than being “sound arranged over time,” some music makers have decided to run with this definition and stray from conventional music structures and timbres.

And the result can end up being painfully confusing, sonically jarring or strangely pleasant. In many cases, it can be all three.

Although unconventional songs sometimes feel like a test to our patience or ears, oftentimes they offer unique emotional motifs not found in other music.

For example, not many music genres convey sadness, depression, misanthropy or terrestrial consciousness as well as black metal’s grinding, shrieking, hopeless aesthetics. Sure, it might be difficult to accept the stark abrasiveness or unsavory politics of its pioneering bands like Darkthrone or a more polished stylistic derivative like Wolves in the Throne Room, but sometimes the journey is worth the destination if you’re looking for a certain abstract place.

However, experimental music is not limited, as it rarely is, to the caustic extremes of lo-fi Scandinavian metal.

Other brash genres like hardcore punk, noise rock and experimental hip-hop frequently explore visceral concepts like chaos, anger and, a lot of the time, hate, which is a sentiment hardly brought up outside of breakup tunes.

Furthemore, some non-traditional acts in the above styles translate these emotions less through the framework of a particular genre and more around the context of abrasive textures and constant noisiness such as Big BlackClippingFugaziDeath Grips and, in the most extreme case, Merzbow (By the way, Pitchfork rated that Merzbow album of basically manipulated white noise an 8.7, not to say that I particularly agree with that).

Furthermore, musical experimentation is also not exclusive to the independent, obscure or avant-garde.

Many popular artists have released challenging songs that test listeners in their determination and intellect in figuring out the work’s significance. Compositions like The Beatles’ “Revolution No. 9,” The Velvet Underground’s “European Son” and Animal Collective’s “Brother Sport” all ask listeners to suspend their notion of how a song should play out and allow tape loops, feedback and noises of all sorts to build up to a fruition unparalleled by verse-chorus-verse structure.

With all that being said, I must concede that there is a line where some unconventional music becomes pretty much inaccessible. Yet, it’s hard to pinpoint that line since everyone has a subjective tolerance of what can be considered pleasant, redeeming or, conversely, headache-inducing.

What’s ultimately important is that if you keep an open mind, decipher patterns and themes and try to figure out what the artist had in mind, you might find yourself entranced by something you thought you could never like.

It’s happened to me a bunch, and I’m thankful to have added a few artists to my repertoire, even if some of them are not on Spotify.

Luke Furman is a sophomore studying journalism and a reporter for The Post. Do you listen to any of the artists he mentioned? Tweet him @LukeFurmanOU or email him at lf491413@ohio.edu.