Bass playing– ON the beat, please!

Red Henry

Yesterday evening I went out to a local weekly jam session. This event started a couple of years ago and has turned into an informal outdoor concert, with a dozen or more pickers and a hundred or so listeners every week. The players are all local folks, and I enjoy playing music with them. But every so often something will happen to make the music hard to play.

When I arrived and joined the session yesterday evening, a person was playing bass and doing well with it. She knew all the songs, and played solidly on the beat. This really helped the jam session hold together.

After about an hour, though, she needed a break, and was replaced by another player. He got through the first number, though a little shakily. Then when a fiddle player kicked off the next tune (Golden Slippers, in G), the bass player started playing his notes on the off-beat, and stayed there.

Now, bass players play their notes on the ON-beat, not the OFF-beat. When a bass player is playing on the off-beat instead (like a mandolin's rhythm), it makes the music sound pretty weird. This time, it seemed as if half the players stayed with the fiddler's rhythm, and the others were wandering a bit between the fiddle and the bass. It was a pretty diffuse sound. I stopped playing after the first few beats of the tune, and decided it was time to pack up and go home.

I applaud all the folks who want to come out and play, but it's better when the bass player just plays on the beat. It's easier for everybody!

Posted in By Red, jamming and tagged , , , on by .

About Red Henry

Began playing mandolin, guitar, fiddle, and banjo in 1967-69. I married Murphy in 1974. We led the Red & Murphy bluegrass band, playing professionally, from 1975-87. Since then I've handled the technical side of Murphy Method cassette, videotape, and DVD production. When you call I usually answer the phone, and I'm normally the one who sends out the orders.

2 thoughts on “Bass playing– ON the beat, please!

  1. Josh

    I went there last week for the first time. It rained (which we needed) but caused everyone to crowd under the awning. After awhile I couldn’t move and was almost holding my banjo upright to play. There was no bass that night and it was sorely missed!

  2. Kathy

    Josh, they always crowd under the awning. We attended last night for the 2nd time and my son Zac plays banjo and he has a hard time having enough room also but he makes due and enjoys it.

    Red, from the audience I could tell something was wrong with the music but couldnt put my finger on it so thank you for easing my mind. But as I have mentioned to Murphy, since Zac has been taking lessons from her I have a hard time going to listen to music and not hear or see something wrong so now I tease Zac that maybe I should just wait in the car.

    Its a nice little jam session they have there and Zac really enjoys it but there are some things that are kind of “weird”

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