July 24, 2023
Rush. ZZ Top. Nirvana. Green Day. Grand Funk Railroad. The list of awesome power trios goes on and on. It’s not rare, but somehow it’s always a little surprising how big a sound three people can get. Obviously, no instrument in this lineup is superfluous, so the bass has a big job to do. As a power trio bassist, you need to provide a strong foundation, fill out the sound from underneath, and maybe even provide some extra rhythmic coverage when the guitar goes off on solo tangents. In other words, you have to do the same job you always would, plus a little more. We’ll dive into that a little more here.
Let’s start by looking at the bass’s role in a power trio a little deeper. You’re still charged with the task of locking in with the drummer. You still need to provide low-end foundation and that harmonic foundation, usually (but not always) using root notes to underpin the chord progression.
But since there are only three instruments, each one needs to work harder to create a full sound. So, the bass has another important role in a power trio: adding depth and texture to the sound – and sometimes becoming the de facto rhythm guitar. As a starting point, you can do this with gear and you can do it by adjusting your playing. Some combo of both is probably what you want, depending on your genre.
Obviously, you can do a whole lot to fill out your sound with pedal effects and amp settings. A little chorus can beef up the sound and help fill it out, delay is your friend (depending on the lick), and adding a little drive or distortion can help the bass cut through and get heard.
You may also need to adjust your bass EQ. Since there’s no dedicated rhythm guitar, you probably don’t want to scoop out the mids as much. You’ll still need the low end, but since you may be doing things like playing more complex licks or chords, there’s a better chance of too much woof and mud, so you’ll want to set the amp’s EQ based on the adjusted style of play. Just like a piano player needs to use more of the instrument when they’re solo than as part of a group, you’ll need to use a wider frequency range in a trio than in a bigger band.
The bigger the band, the smaller your role – and vice versa. So, when there’s just a guitar and drums to help you out, you may have to adjust your style. This could be pretty cool because you have more room to play. For example, you might need to vary volume and intensity more between verse/chorus. You might need more fills, runs, and interesting turnarounds to add interest.
You also might have more room to experiment with picking or slapping, but remember that you also have a little more responsibility to lock down the rhythm, so you’ll have to strike a balance. One cool thing though: you may need to play a few chords. Watch for mud when you do this, but don’t be afraid to mess around with power chords and the like. In fact, you may even discover a way to really lean in to playing your bass like a rhythm guitar – especially if your drummer and sound engineer build the kick up to be a more foundational low-end instrument.
It's all about experimentation here, and for most bassists, it’s a fun challenge. Just remember it’s more about filling in the listener’s interest than it is about filling in every possible frequency hole. The latter needs to be considered, but the former is more important.
Of course, as the bassist in a power trio, you're not playing in a vacuum. You need to work closely with the guitarist and drummer to create a cohesive sound. Understanding their roles and how they affect the bass is crucial, and communication is key – even more so than in a bigger band where your role is more tightly defined.
Some of your changes may run afoul of similar changes the guitarist or drummer makes, or even with how the vocals are dealt with. Sure, you’ll want to come up with some ideas on your own, but make sure you talk them through so everybody doesn’t end up trying to fill in 100Hz while all the other frequencies sit idle.
Playing bass in a power trio is super cool. It’s a challenge, but you get to spread your wings a little more – as long as you hold down the fort (which is more important than ever). If you haven’t done it yet, it’s worth a go!
September 15, 2023
August 18, 2023
It’s not like the guitar is ever boring. But sometimes you just want to branch out and see what else you can accomplish. This is true if you’re in a noise band or hyper-experimental act, but it’s also true if you’re in a straight-ahead rock band looking to add a few crazy moments to your show or record. So, let’s look at a few advanced effects you can try for that experimental vibe.
July 31, 2023
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"Make a joyful noise unto the Lord all of the earth; make a loud noise and rejoice and sing praises. Sing to the Lord with the harp and the voice of the psalm." - Psalm 98:4-5