The drummer and the bassist have to become a unified sound, and their output devices have to become one driver in space.
We live in an atmosphere of pressure waves. Low-end sound pressure (bass) is an everyday occurrence and if it’s missing from a musical (or non-musical) event, the complete sound is not considered faithful, nor is it trusted. Reality is filled with detailed low-end sound pressure, from the sound of a refrigerator door slamming to a book being dropped on the floor to the whisper of your lover’s voice in your ear. Bass is truly a visceral thing. It’s the point where you perceive music vibrationally and by bone conduction; it’s where you feel it in your gut and your chest. It’s a tactile sensation. It’s also a very primal, emotional, as well as sexual sensation. Bass is an instinctive sensation too. You know and trust true bass when you hear it. Effective low end will emotionally move the audience and musicians more.
A fatal mistake of all rhythm sections is to place the bass cabinet behind the drummer, so the drummer can hear the bassist. Low-end energy masks a lot of the highs, which is where the musical and subliminal cues live. A drummer needs to hear, and cue off of, the high-frequency attack of the bass guitar notes, which is the directional 1 kHz to 3 kHz sound output that originates from the center of the bass speaker.
A drummer is trying to hear his kick drum. The kick drum emanates sound from its front. When a bass cabinet is placed very close to and behind the drummer and he can no longer hear his drums, the drummer then needs to re-establish the sonic importance and perspective of his own instrument. To do this, the soundman usually winds up giving the drummer a lot of PA monitors so he can hear his drums, including the kick drum. Then the guitar player is turning up to compete with the additional monitors, then the singer can’t hear himself because the band is now blaring, and the fights escalate from there. The rhythm section, first and foremost, has to shut down the “I can never hear myself, the stage volumes are too loud!” confrontation before it starts.
A kick (or bass) drum is one of the highest output, mechanical, acoustic instruments ever produced. It has been engineered to move air on a major level. The bassist has to link his mechanical system–i.e., his bass cabinet, regardless of its driver configuration–to the loudest mechanical acoustic instrument on the stage, the kick drum. The drummer and the bassist have to become a unified sound, and their output devices have to become one driver in space. Therefore, proper physical, onstage placement of these mechanical devices is critical, as it will allow the bassist and drummer to sum the output and energy of the two devices, thereby creating a unified sound output.
To do this effectively, line up the centerline of the bass cabinet to the centerline of the kick drum. By properly positioning the equipment onstage, at an “acoustic ground-zero,” the band plays at a more acoustic sound pressure level and they hear each other, and the musical cues, much better. These simple suggestions are integral to lowering the stage volume by as much as 10 dB! Not only does this improve the timing of the drummer and the bassist, the timing of the entire band improves as well. The group’s low-frequency sound cue, the pulse, pocket and/or groove is more clearly defined, and it’s also more clearly defined for the audience, because they hear the rhythm section more clearly. Also eliminated are the phase-cancellation problems from which bassists and drummers have suffered since the creation of electricity.
In many cases, the relationships between drummers and bass players extend far beyond their personal marriages. A melded rhythm section has to have as much blend as possible; they have to be “as close to one” as possible. “As close to one” means that you’re not hearing every note. You’re going for the totality of the note, not the individuality of the note. At some point in your musical development, you’re going to become more interested in the totality of what you’re creating. You outgrow the necessity to hear only yourself.
Originally posted 2009-07-19 23:21:49.