Becoming a Better Bass Player

jpb_5383This week I’ve been in Ben Phillips’ studio in Nashville with Sal Oliveri and Joel Sczebel (from the Sovereign Grace Church in Surrey, BC), recording drums, bass, and guitars for Risen, an album of congregational songs that focus on the theme of the resurrected Christ. Due out in March, Lord willing.

The three players (Ben Phillips – drums, Joeie Canaday – bass, Greg Hagan – guitar) were amazing and a joy to work with. When I say “amazing” I mean we tracked 12 songs in two days, that the guys played creatively, often nailed the song in 1-2 takes, seemed as eager as we were to come up with great parts, and did it to honor the Lord. Like I said, amazing.

This was Joel Sczebel’s first time in a Nashville studio. He was blown away by the quality and proficiency of the players. He told me he was inspired to go home and seek to practice a lot more. Because so few players get the experience of watching studio musicians at work, I asked the bass player, Joeie (pronounced “Joey”), if he would answer a few questions for me to encourage bass players on worship teams. He graciously agreed. If you’re a bass player, or know someone who is, this post is for you.

What most helped you over the years to play in time?
Learning to play in time I used a very unorthodox approach. When I was a teenager I used to go to sleep listening to a metronome. Sounds strange, and I’m not recommending it. But, to this day, .. I STILL hear it !

The most important thing I did was record myself playing with a click track. I would sit for hours playing anything and everything to a click. It’s so valuable to listen back and hear where you are placing every note. Over time it gave me the ability to place things where I wanted. There are times that you need to place things on the front or back side of the beat to create a certain feel. Being able to hear the difference and control where you place every note is so important. Remember, … every note counts! [Joeie said he’s expanded sessions on Pro Tools to see if what he thought he was playing was what he wasactually playing, timewise.]

What most helped you over the years to play in sync with a drummer?
Playing with “in sync” with drummers is not only an art, but one of your most important jobs. The secret, and there is a secret, is very simple. The drummer’s right hand, or hi hat hand subdivides the rest of the body. It’s physics. Think about it…. His foot may be playing kick on one and three, the left hand playing snare on two and four. The right hand is doing the driving. whether it is quarters, eights, or sixteenths it’s subdividing. So, by listening to a drummers right hand, you will always know where the kick is going to land. Regardless of the skill level of the drummer, the right hand will always tell you what the rest of his body is going to do.

What most helped you over the years to play melodically?
Listening to Paul McCartney!

What three things would you tell bass players who want to grow in their ability to serve their church more effectively?
1. Become the very best player you can be. Do the work. You are getting the opportunity to serve on your instrument. That should not be taken lightly. You are playing for an audience of one,… the ONLY ONE. He deserves your best!
2. Being a bass player means your entire responsibility, is to SERVE. This is not meant to be a spiritual comment. Your job is to provide the glue. If you want to solo, buy a guitar. Serve not only the song, but every other band member. Not getting noticed is your job! The attitude of a servant will make you a great bass player.
3. Worship involves emptying yourself. To take everything you have and empty it out! It doesn’t matter what kind of music I’m playing. Being able to play bass, or any instrument, is a gift. I strive to empty myself out on every single song. If there is anything left at the end of the day, I didn’t do enough. Play every note as if it were your last.

I can vouch for the fact that Joeie gave himself on every song. He was often the first guy to come back in the control room, while the other guys fixed a couple things on their parts, because Joeie’s part didn’t need fixing. He played the right notes at the right time in the right places. That kind of skill is the result of thousands of hours of listening and practice, combined with a genuine desire to serve.

It’s quite a concept, really. Playing our instruments as though it really mattered what we played. Working hard so that we’ll have more tools God can use to serve his people. Seeking to get it right the first time. May God raise up more of that kind of bass players for the glory of the Savior and the good of his church.

Let me know if you have any other tips for bass players.

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16 Responses to Becoming a Better Bass Player

  1. Steve Gonzales December 3, 2010 at 11:12 PM #

    Thanks for this post Bob! I am not a bass player, I play guitar, but I would say that everything in this article applies to guitar players, too. I am a fairly new worship leader for my CG, and I have come to realize that playing in time is one of the things that separates good guitarists from everyone else. I am inspired by Joeie to grow in skill and work harder so that I can better serve the Lord!

  2. Ron Reffett December 4, 2010 at 12:36 AM #

    Hey Bob, thanks so much for posting this today. I play bass on our worship team and this was very helpful and encouraging. I love what Joeie said about we bass players being the glue, it truly is such a privilege to serve playing my bass. Thanks again for posting this, your blog provides so much encouragement to me and helps me to keep the focus where it needs to be.
    Ron Reffett

  3. Mike Ruel December 4, 2010 at 8:00 AM #

    as a life long bass player i give a hearty AMEN!

    now when I lead worship I will play acoustic guitar and someone else plays bass and its like an out of body experience. :-) You feel the drums and the bass connected, powering the rhythm, the groove, the foundation.

    I’ve also found that the best bass players are often the most humble people. They know their role is to support everything else – together with the drummer they lay it down as the building blocks for everything else.

    Great post!

  4. David Santistevan December 4, 2010 at 8:45 AM #

    Great post. I will pass it along to my worship team. I love the thoughts on using a click. Typically drummers know they should but the rest of the band never thinks about it! Great stuff.

  5. Jeff Fuller December 4, 2010 at 2:06 PM #

    A metronome is every practicing musician’s best friend! Never learn an instrument without one. ;)

  6. Jon Perdido December 4, 2010 at 3:06 PM #

    Bob. Thank you for being mindful to ask Joeie these questions. His insight are a helpful encouragement even to me who play’s guitar and is helpful to help give directon to those who play bass.

    Will you be planning to ask other musicians these same questions?

  7. David Roberts December 7, 2010 at 3:03 AM #

    Hi guys,

    Is there a link so we can see them playing in the studio or some other time?

    • Bob Kauflin December 7, 2010 at 8:24 AM #

      David, unfortunately I didn’t have my Flip video with me, so no recordings. A Google search on You tube may yield some videos.

  8. James Beery December 8, 2010 at 3:56 AM #

    As a bass player for the High School and now Young Adult worship team, I find myself convicted by this. I know I could have used practice time so much better than I did. I see this stuff and I get somewhat overwhelmed, though. I’m in the awkward position of leading our team vocally, as our very gifted leader left for seminary in August. I’ve found my ability to play and sing has increased greatly, but o, how I wish I could just be a really good bass player!

    Realistically, would I be able to apply much of this if I’m leading vocally? I know I can always improve, but is there even hope of achieving an ounce of that skill for our team while leading vocally? (I’m not incredibly musically talented, but I certainly know enough to play decently, I’m just sort of filling a gap right now.)

    Perhaps a better question would be: What should I be more concerned with when it comes to musical and vocal skills?

    • Bob Kauflin December 8, 2010 at 8:00 AM #

      James, do what God has give you the time to do. Few of us have the time to practice as much as we’d like, but all of us can be better than we currently are. I’d set a goal of practicing a certain amount each day/week, and be content with that. There’s no reason why you can’t improve on both.

  9. Adam Anglin December 14, 2010 at 2:29 PM #

    Bob, thanks for the post. Encouraging and insightful. I have a some thoughts regarding the recording. (this is, admittedly, a little off topic.) It seems to me to be a packaged deal. Meaning, you have the songs, you send them over and these guys knock’em out with your help. This isn’t to say that it’s not God honoring/glorifying or well played, I’m sure it is. I’m just curious to know if you think this type of “proficiency” is going to produce the most creative and inspiring works? Or if you think taking more time to pour over the songs and develop the songs over a given period of time would be more ideal. It seems almost impossible to come up with really creative work on 12 tracks over a weekend no matter how talented people are. I’d love to hear more about the process of writing the album and recording it. (I’m sure there is more going on here behind the scenes then we could possibly know about from your blog.)

    We are about to record our first album at my church and I’d love to hear your thoughts. Thanks for your time and your blog.

  10. Tim Bushong January 24, 2011 at 11:25 PM #

    Here’s an old one:

    Q. How do I get a 70’s bass sound?

    A. Get a 70’s bass player.

  11. Anthony April 27, 2012 at 11:41 PM #

    Here is a tip for worship bass players…

    This article –

    Well worth reading.


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