Bass: John Stark

1. Play to the kick drum (and the drummer).

Kind of a bass fundamental, but working with the drummer is a must to lay a solid rhythmic structure - also always stand where you can see the kick drum (or the drummers foot). As bass playing is playing to a rhythm (not melody) you’re working with the drummer and the kick rhythm. Don’t work against it.

2. Go high when the song dynamics allow.

Playing bass in church is really different from playing music purely for performance, because often there will be more dynamics in the song to allow the congregation’s voice to be heard (i.e. the band backs off - sometimes completely). Sometimes this can be a significant portion of the song. In these periods the drums may not play, and playing the bass down low will simply overpower the song and disrupt the feel, so the question comes; “What should the bass do?" In these times the bass can still play a role to help those singing by keeping the melodic-rhythmic link going, but it can do this by going high into the solo register of the bass (anything higher than the 12th fret). Getting comfortable in the top frets can really help the band and the congregation if used correctly (and sometimes its still best not to play at all).

3. Follow the melody when building a bass line.

This one is a little subtle, but when building a bass line, the temptation can be to stay in one area of the bass, particularly as many songs are cyclic in their chord patterns. There are many ways to build a solid bass line, but when the goal is to support everyone singing, a good idea is to follow the melody. If a verse ends high - follow up the octave rather than returning to the low note (even go above 12th fret!). Again - the goal is to help people to follow the melody, have your bass pattern follow the melodic movement (great walking bass lines do this all the time).

4. Practice in the right key.

Maybe this is obvious, but probably the single biggest thing to help me was to use an iOS app to transpose a piece of music into the specific key to played on any Sunday (yeah - I’m old - but trust me - its painful to retune to a cassette player!) - sometimes its not always easy to transpose only one hour before church starts. There are a number of apps to do this - they are worth the investment. This most importantly helps with the last tip (which is the most important of all)….

5. Free yourself from your music (practice practice practice).

Playing as a band is a team effort. To be a tight unit (which ultimately helps people to sing to), its essential to work together, all instruments as one. That means having eye contact with each other (and watching that kick drum!) and genuinely playing together (not just the same song at the same time and hoping it works). The only way to do that is to be familiar enough with the song to be free from your music, it doesn’t mean not having ANY music on the stage, but the music on stage is only a safety net, a memory jogger, not something you need to watch slavishly to actually make sure you know where the song is going. That means practice (in the right key) until you don’t need your music; then walk away for 24 hours, then practice some more. This is where your band leaders can really help by getting the songs out early.