Books & Music

Bassists Are The Most Important Member Of A Band—According To Science

It's all about that bass.

In what will come as no surprise to anyone who loves rock n’ roll or the blues, researchers have now determined that the bass is the backbone of any song. Turns out our brains can find the rhythm more easily when it is played in a lower tone. In other words, bassists are far more important to a song’s structure than previously thought. Take THAT, lead singers and drummers!

According to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, people are more perceptive of the changes in the lower-pitched notes of a bass guitar than the higher-pitched notes of other instruments.

bass guitar player photo
Getty Images | Mike Coppola

A team of researchers led by psychologist Laurel Trainor of McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada, found that our brains are better at catching mistakes in lower notes.

The team used EEG (otherwise known as electroencephalography) to see how our brains react to react to various notes. They found that participants were better at detecting whether the music was off when listening to low-pitched notes versus high-pitched notes. People also were much better at tapping their fingers along with the songs in lower tones.

bass guitar photo
Getty Images | Ethan Miller

So, it’s official—we all need to give more props to bassists. The bass holds down a song, filling it with depth and gravitas.

Like a taco with no shell. Or a pizza with no dough. Sure, the fillings and toppings may get all the attention, but without a shell or a crust you would just have a pile of ingredients sitting around with nothing to hold them together. Without bassists, in other words, music would be pretty boring and lacking in structure.

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Another study from Northwestern University found that music with prominent bass makes us feel like we can take on the world.

When we’re listening to songs with heavy bass, we feel more powerful and confident—like we can tackle that major presentation at work or do an extra set of crunches at the gym. Remember that next time you need a little extra motivation!

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The bassists of the world may not nab as many of the babes or accolades. There are no flashy solos or shredding, but bassists provide the backbone of any song. Think of Led Zeppelin’s “Dazed and Confused” without the wizardry of John Paul Jones. Or Biggie’s “Hypnotize” without the sweet bass line holding it down.

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If these studies have you thinking about all of your favorite bass players, check out Rolling Stone’s list of The Top Ten Bassists of All Time, which was created based on readers’ votes in 2011.

Coming in at No. 10 is Victor Wooten of Bela Fleck and the Flecktones. Rolling Stone describes Wooten (and his predecessor, Jaco Pastorius, who earned the No. 7 spot) as “masters of intricate jazz melodies as well as complex R&B arrangements.”

Listen to a bass solo from Wooten in the video below:

Also on the Rolling Stone list were Cliff Burton of Metallica, John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin, Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers and, of course, Paul McCartney of The Beatles.

Here’s a video of McCartney letting a little girl join him on stage to play the bass:

And, the No. 1 bassist of all time (at least according to Rolling Stone readers)?

John Entwistle of The Who received that honor. Entwistle played both the piano and French horn before he picked up the bass, according to Rolling Stone. The magazine described his solo on “My Generation” as “probably the most famous bass solo in rock history.”

Do you agree or disagree with Rolling Stone’s picks?

[h/t: Mental Floss]