Andrew Ford
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Stay in your lane

I love it when music breathes. When it has dynamics and space combined with creativity it seems to come alive, and engage people.

That being said, as a bass player one of the things that inhibits my enjoyment and engagement while playing music is when another instrument (normally keyboard) plays in my register....
I love it when music breathes. When it has dynamics and space combined with creativity it seems to come alive, and engage people.

That being said, as a bass player one of the things that inhibits my enjoyment and engagement while playing music is when another instrument (normally keyboard) plays in my register. Sometimes it’s playing sustained bass notes in a low octave, other times playing bass lines with their left hand. There are several reasons this happens, maybe the player is just used to playing key bass, or they can’t hear the bass properly on stage so they compensate. Then there are those keyboard players that may prefer a different bass line and just impose their will musically. There are still others that understandably take over the bass role because the bass player either gets lost or doesn’t know the song. In any of those cases, or any others I didn’t mention, I have found that the best option, in some cases, is for me is to stop playing and allow them to play bass, at least temporarily. The point of me dropping out is not to teach anybody a lesson, be defiant, or show my displeasure, none of that, it’s just that it sounds bad when two basses are playing in the same register. Guitar players and keyboard players can have a similar problem. If they are both playing chords in the same register and not complementing one another, the harmony loses its clarity and sparkle and instead becomes crowded and undefined.

Whenever the bass drops out of a song you should hear the effect right away. If you do not, then you know there is another instrument filling the role of bass. Sometimes I intentionally drop out and notice other musicians looking at me, wondering if something is wrong. I do it intentionally, it is a great way to create a dynamic shift in a song, or to draw attention to a new section of the song. I have experienced situations where I would stop playing for 16 measures or more and nobody knew it because bass was still being played by another instrument. That is when you know the band members are not hearing each other properly, making it impossible to truly play together.

This staying in your lane problem is not unique to bass by the way, it can apply to guitar and keyboard players as I mentioned, drummers and percussionists, string and horn players, or vocalists competing with the band or other singers.

So if you find yourself in a situation where someone else frequents your “lane”, make the time to have a polite and civil conversation with them, away from the bandstand if possible. Whether he or she is overplaying, taking up more than their share of musical space, or in some other way undermining the groove, you should be able to talk to them without disrespecting or diminishing their talents or integrity. The great drummer Steve Gadd use to occasionally invite me to his hotel room when we were on the road so we could discuss music. He was always gracious, and respectful, and his motive was only to make the show better, not a self-centered motive, not I’m right your wrong, just a passion for seeing and creating a better big picture.

When cars don’t stay in their own lane, bad things happen. In music our lanes are not as defined, but they are there. Make things better by musically staying in your own lane. Don’t change lanes or pass unless it is musically safe (not safe as in boring), which simply requires sensitivity, listening, and being equipped to handle any situation.
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