Singing Bass Players

Day 193 Week 28 Q3 Thursday, July 13, 2023

For those of you who have ever taken piano lessons, you have seen the Grand Staff, which consists of one treble clef stave and one bass clef stave joined for each system. A system is a single line off of a musical score before you get to the next line of music. What is so powerful about the Grand Staff is that it can contain most musical ideas within its boundaries. It can contain a range of at least four octaves without going much into extra ledger lines. I can contain the main notes played by pretty much every single instrument in the orchestra. This is pretty powerful, and it can also contain multiple monophonic and polyphonic voices.

If you are a singing bass play player, it can also contain the notes you sing as well as the notes you play. What is very interesting about this is it can illustrate how singing bass players can control an entire band because their choice of bass clef notes can define the tonal center of the music, and the treble clef notes can specify the melodic content of the music. Combined, these can also represent the harmony and rhythm of the music. Three singing bass player musicians who clearly understood this are Paul McCartney, Sting and Jack Bruce, arguably the drivng forces of the Beatles, the Police and Cream. By the way, to be clear, the bass I am referring to here is the bass guitar, which in most musical circles is simply referred to as the bass. 

These three musicians also were able to play multiple other instruments, and Sting and Paul are still doing it. You might wonder why these three, who could play the guitar, piano, drums, lute and cello, would choose to perform mainly on the bass and to accompany their singing on bass. 

Just as the grand staff can house almost all the notes required by any piece of music, so can a singing bass player, which means this single musician can control the entire band. This is a, perfect instrument for a composer to perform their own music as everyone else in the ensemble has to fall into line with what the singing bass player is doing (assuming it is in tune) or they will sound wrong.   

This degree of expression, control and power is not obvious to most of the world, which in popular genres is mostly dominated by lead singers, guitar players and keyboard players even though the singing bass player can cover all of the basses, so to speak. The fact that only these three examples come to mind as tremendously successful indicates this.

So the next time you see a singing bass player, besides thinking, wow, that must be difficult, also ask yourself, is this the person who is driving the band?