Bassists are often the most overlooked instrumentalists in any musical group. In fact, there’s a chance you’ll find several members of an audience with no idea about what bassists do or why they’re even there.

Bass Player
Image Courtesy of YouTube

This doesn’t take away from the critical important that bass plays in any performance. In fact, while they may not consciously be aware of it, human beings are physically highly responsive to bass sounds.

At the lower range of hearing, it’s said humans can hear sound down to about 20 Hz, beneath which we encounter a murky sonic realm called “infrasound,” the world of elephant and mole hearing. But while we may not hear those lowest frequencies, we feel them in our bodies, as we do many sounds in the lower frequency ranges—those that tend to disappear when pumped through tinny earbuds or shopping mall speakers. Via Open Culture

This explains why bassists don’t receive the respect they deserve. In fact, they are often the brunt of many jokes, being sidelined as the underperforming members of the band.

Bass Player
Image Courtesy of Flickr

Why couldn’t the bassist get through the front door? He couldn’t find the key and didn’t know when to come in.

The plight of the poor bass player, the most maligned member of the rock ’n’ roll band. Of course there are the exceptions — Paul McCartney, Bootsy Collins, Sting, Flea, Geddy Lee, to name a few — but more often than not, bass players are typecast as the knuckle-dragging Neanderthals in the corner of the stage who don’t know what key the song is in. Via CBC Music

Fortunately, Science is on the side of these amazing instrumentalists. According to research, the bass player could actually be the most important band member, particularly as far as the song’s rhythm is concerned. It is the low bass notes that keep the entire song from falling apart. They also fill the background of a song, making it complete, even though it’s the higher, more theatrical notes take center stage.

Research into the critical importance of low frequency sound explains why bass instruments mostly play rhythm parts and leave the fancy melodic noodling to instruments in the upper range. The phenomenon is not specific to rock, funk, jazz, dance, or hip hop. “Music in diverse cultures is composed this way,” says psychologist Laurel Trainor, director of the McMaster University Institute for Music and the Mind, “from classical East Indian music to Gamelan music of Java and Bali, suggesting an innate origin.” Via Open Culture

In fact, the researchers go further to illustrate how listeners are more likely to notice when a low note is out of sync than when it’s a high note that’s off its time.

This was done by hooking up the participants to EEG sensors to monitor their brain signals as they listen to a high and low note as they were played on a piano. Although the intervals for both were the same, one of the notes was occasionally played earlier at a difference of 50 milliseconds. Generally, listeners noticed the errors more when the low notes were off sync.

Researchers also measured participants ability to tap their fingers to a random stream of notes and found that subjects were far better at adjusting speed for the low notes.

The takeaway? Our brains are better at recognizing the rhythm of a song if it occurs on the low end, which means that if a bass player was even slightly off key, more people would notice and the song would fall apart. Via CBC Music

Image Courtesy of Wikimedia

According to the researchers, these findings revealed that bass-ranged instruments are actually responsible for laying down the musical rhythms because there is, in fact, a higher level of time perception in human beings for lower music pitch. This is also the reason why people tend to respond more to the beat of a song when it’s carried by bass and other low-pitched instruments.

And bass parts often define the root note of a chord, regardless of what other instruments are doing. As a bass player, notes Sting, “you control the harmony,” as well as anchoring the melody. It seems the importance of rhythm players, though overlooked in much popular appreciation of music, cannot be overstated. Via Open Culture

It’s also worth noting that bassists are always on demand – especially good ones.

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Like any good joke, there’s some truth to it: Bassists are criminally overlooked and underappreciated members of most every band. Yet there’s scientific proof that bassists are actually one of the most vital members of any band. There are powerful neurological and structural reasons why our music needs bass. It’s time we started treating bassists with the respect they deserve. Via Music Mic