Jazz music has been hailed as one of the most sophisticated genres of modern music. Not only are most jazz songs free form improvisational sessions, but they also employ some of the most advanced techniques in the simplest of ways, using them as if they are, in fact, simple techniques.
If you want to start playing jazz, you’ll have to start from a basic point, as jumping head first into an all-out improvisational form of music is very, very difficult.
So in this article, we will talk a little bit about the role of the bass guitar in the jazz genre so that you can get a feel of what to be prepared for. Getting right into the meat of the subject, let’s throw the question right out; as a bass player, what is your role in the jazz genre?
Well, you’d be surprised to find that it is very much like that of the role of the electric guitar in any other genre. You are the rhythm keeper. When the guitar is playing a lead, you keep the progression flowing. While this does mean that you can still improvise, it also means that you are a bit more restricted than, say, the drummer or the guitarist.
You won’t always be, but during a solo, you’ll have little choice.
This is because the bass plays a much more prominent role in jazz, and as such, you will be heard more in jazz than you would be in, say, rock and roll music. If it makes you feel any better, during your improvisational leads (and more often than not, you’ll get just as many as the guitarist does) the guitar will have to play the same role of keeping the rhythm going and the progression on track.
Now, unlike most styles, jazz music makes use of different progressions with extreme intervals involving seventh chords. As such, jazz bass guitar requires more than a simple ability to keep a progression flowing. It also requires musical knowledge, and a very good amount at that.
If you don’t have a full understanding of intervals, the construction of chords, the use of triads, the building of seventh chords, the relationships between different scales both major and minor, and the knowledge of the fret board inside and out, you are going to have a very difficult time moving on from the basic elements of jazz.
We suggest that you take a dip into theory in order to learn these things, as they will help you to build up a better understanding of what to expect in jazz, and how jazz music works. It may sound like a lot, but those are truly the most basic elements of musical theory, and they aren’t close to the amount of theory-based elements that will be used in jazz later on.
In the end, the role of the bass guitar in jazz playing is greatly varied, from one of rhythm keeping to one of a lead instrument. If you want to start, we suggest that you take a dip into some basic musical theory principles as well. Good luck!