Bass Solos – Not a Filibuster

“Two people go to a marriage guidance counsellor. He tries to work with them, but they absolutely refuse to talk about anything in front of each other. The counsellor gets fed up, gets

his bass out and starts playing it. The couple get angry at him for wasting their time, then they start shouting at each other, and pretty soon a lot of their problems are out in the open. The counsellor can then get them to address these issues. At the end of the session, the couple thank him for a stunningly good session, and ask “So where does the bass come in?” “Ah”, says the counsellor, “people always talk during a bass solo.”


I remember this hearing this old joke on several occasions over the years, and while it’s a joke, there is some truth to it. If people are not enjoying bass solos, then we either need to stop doing it or do it right.

In our U.S. Congress, if a minority party wants to tie up an impending passage of a bill, they will “filibuster”, which is to have members stand at the podium and ramble about anything that comes to mind for hours and days to stall for time. There really is no relevance or purpose for the speech, since its only purpose is to fill time.

Like congressional filibusters, a lot of bassists play random, nonsensical pitches to fill up the 16 bars that are designated for bass solos. They play a lot of chromatics, a bunch of 16th notes, slide up and down the fingerboard and play variety of scales. Let’s face it; who wants to hear that? Other instruments play melodic line during their solos; they quote, they phrase, and they make their instruments sing, yet when it’s our turn bassists filibuster. There is a place for everything, so I wouldn’t say to completely take those elements out of your solo if they are relevant, but relevance is the key determinant.

Next time you think about bass solos, think about how your audience is reacting to your solos versus their reaction to good solos on other instruments. Are they connecting with you and intently enjoying your solo, or do they look lost or bored. Listen to recording of your own solos and evaluate yourself. Listening to yourself is hard for a many musicians, but if you can’t listen to yourself, why should anyone else listen to you. Listen to solo on other instruments by musicians that you like and think about why you like them.

By improving your solo, you will improve people’s perception of you as a bassist. You will know that you are doing it right when some random stranger walks up to you after a gig and tell you how they enjoyed your solo. Other instrumentalists have enjoyed that compliment, so should you.

One Response

  1. ….I guess thats where ones idea of musicianship really comes out to play on the instrument ! One ‘take’ on this is to respond to the pressure of needing to appear ‘interesting’ or a virtuoso when solo-ing ….. but one of things that stands out with great bassists often is that their solos are understated , playing the ‘money notes ‘ nothing needs adding…. nothing should be taken away – just well crafted stuff.

    I started off as a classical guitarist playing fast flamenco type of music – really impressive pyrotechnics….. but I really learned on slower tempo pieces that playing slowly and with feeling takes a lot more skill, precision and musicianship ( i,e not just technique ) . Your audience hears every note , theres empahsis on tone production, dynamics …..and so more time for your audience to be critical.

    It reminds me of something a head teacher once said……if you want to be heard in a crowded room then speak quietly rather than shouting……it requires people to pay attention. I think that should be the aspiration of any good solo – it should essentially connect with the audience first and foremost as good music …..not just a showy peacock displaying its feathers !

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