Music consists of a number of sounds harmoniously synchronized to produce a melody. One of the often underemphasized sounds in music is bass. Even though it is not played on its own, a bass instrument is fundamental to any musical performance.

Try listening to music without bass and one with it and you’ll notice the difference. For more clarity, if you have a sound system, you will notice that the music is complete when the bass is enhanced and sounds hollow without it.

the double bass
Image Courtesy of Pixabay

Why is this so? Research has been carried out to find out what role bass plays in music and how it should be appreciated. The following insights from Josh Jones give a clear understanding of what bass is all about:

The Human Perception of Sound

Studies show that there is a range of frequencies within which human beings discern sounds. Below this range, we are not able to clearly distinguish the sounds produced. The only way we are able to discern them is through our other senses – not by hearing. Another interesting fact about low pitched sounds is that even deaf people can discern them. This is because they aren’t perceived through the ears.

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

An Overview Of Bass Sounds

Interestingly, even though bass is not usually given much attention (probably because whether you give it attention or not, it is critical for your music), it is universally considered vital in any musical composition.

Bass Instrument
Image Courtesy of Wikimedia

It is true that it doesn’t feature as much as other instruments like the guitar or piano in the melody of a given song, but its sounds give the music its bedrock. The sounds of a drum are low frequency and together with the bass instruments, are used sparingly in most songs, with reason.

Studies show that the human brain detects low frequency sounds faster compared with high-frequency sounds. Here’s how:

Trainor and her colleagues have recently published a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggesting that perceptions of time are much more acute at lower registers, while our ability to distinguish changes in pitch gets much better in the upper ranges, which is why, writes Nature, “saxophonists and lead guitarists often have solos at a squealing register,” and why bassists tend to play fewer notes. Via Open Culture

Why Bass Is Essential

From the findings mentioned in the excerpt above, it’s clear that without the bass components of a song, it is likely that it will not follow a time structure. Can you imagine a song being performed out of time? The rhythms will not be as beautiful as when it follows the beat.

man playing the bass drum
Image Courtesy of Pixabay

Virtually all people will respond more to the beat when it is carried by lower-pitched instruments.” University of Vienna cognitive scientist Tecumseh Fitch has pronounced Trainor and her co-authors’ study a “plausible hypothesis for why bass parts play such a crucial role in rhythm perception.”

He also adds, writes Nature:

For louder, deeper bass notes than those used in these tests, people might also feel the resonance in their bodies, not just hear it in their ears, helping us to keep rhythm. For example, when deaf people dance they might turn up the bass and play it very loud, he says, so that “they can literally ‘feel the beat’ via torso-based resonance.” Via Open Culture

In other words, bass instruments and other lower pitched instruments give a song its time structure while helping us to perceive the beats and keep time.

In addition to giving a song its beat, the importance of bass can be described as follows:

Bass instruments don’t only keep time; they also play a key role in a song’s harmonic and melodic structure. In 1880, an academic music textbook informed its readers that “the bass part… is, in fact, the foundation upon which the melody rests and without which there could be no melody.” As true as this was at the time—-when acoustic precursors to electric bass, synthesizers, and sub-bass amplification provided the low end—it’s just as true now. Via Open Culture

Now we can all give credit where it’s due. Hats off to all bass players out there!

Featured Image: Image Credit

Why our brains love music with bass

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