Writing On The Bass


Usually, when we think songwriter, the image that comes to mind is one of an artist alone at the piano or playing an acoustic guitar. Yet interestingly, many bass players are the main songwriters for their band.

The best examples include:

  • Paul McCartney (Beatles)
  • Sting (The Police)
  • Nikki Sixx (Mothley Crue)
  • Tobin Esperance (Papa Roach)
  • Marcus Miller (Miles Davis)
  • Steve Harris (Iron Maiden)
  • Phil Lynott (Thin Lizzy)
  • Geddy Lee (Rush)
  • Chris Squire (Yes)
  • Mark King (Level 42)
  • Trevor Horns (The Buggles, Seal, Art Of Noise, Franky Goes To Hollywood)

I think bassist have an advantage since they are the “glue” that keeps a song from falling apart. The role of a bassist is to support the chords played by the keyboard and guitar players, while following the drummer’s rhythms. As such they have a unique viewpoint of a song’s landscape. They have to keep the house standing while everyone else goes wild.

Switching instrument is a well-known way to explore new songwriting possibilities. Next time, try the bass and see what happens.

PS — Thanks to Sean for reminding me of Geddy Lee, Chris Squire and Mark King.


5 thoughts on “Writing On The Bass

  1. Just saw this post via my WordPress readomattic thing which I forget to check… I definitely agree -there’s something about changing an instrument to help you get out of a rut. As a guitarist I find myself falling back on the same old patterns and style…

    Also, since the bass often holds the root of the chords, you kind of use your imagination over the top -hard to explain, but definitely leads me to write different songs!

    • Hey, I just checked out your blog. You are doing something I’ve been wanting to do for awhile: a music cartoon blog. This is really cool. I’m adding you to my blogroll.

      Jumping from one instrument to the other allows you to see the song from different angles, which is I find fascinating. I’ve tried to reproduce this in the Xsong software by using different “writing instruments” like keyboard, guitar, bass & drums.

  2. Most of the bass players in that list are probably frustrated lead guitarists. You could add Geezer Butler, John Deacon, Chris Glenn in that list as well as all are accomplished song writers.

    With the exception of Paul McCartney (not heard enough of Nikki Sixx to comment) those bassists are pretty much soloing all the way through each track. Top bass players make songs dynamic. A half decent guitarist sounds twice as good when soloing with a top notch bass player at the helm.

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