I was reading how the drum and bass are related in a band. Especially the kick. I think it's the main drum part the bass is listening to (?).

My understanding is that the bass is giving the kick a note/pitch. This video section shows what I mean. Without it it's just a 'boom' but with the bass the 'boom' has direction. Is that the main role of the bass guitar?

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    Depends on the genre. Sometimes true in EDM, less likely to be true for a jazz trio.
    – PeterJ
    Commented Jan 14, 2020 at 11:52
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    Watch what Les Claypool does with a bass and then ask yourself this question.
    – J...
    Commented Jan 14, 2020 at 21:10
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    Maybe its composed the other way as an example, but as a listener without clue I would rather feel that in the example video it's the drummer who chosed to place the kicks at the melodic tune changes; bass just follows dominants. I would also think that to bass/drums line is quite boring for this style of music. The pattern you describe is more common to metal music, where there is less room for arrangments at the bass.. Also from personal experience I would add that the snare is equally listened as the kick.
    – Kaddath
    Commented Jan 15, 2020 at 8:08
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    You may want to look into (and I suspect you may already have done so) 808 kicks and their function as a pitched bass drum.
    – user45266
    Commented Jan 15, 2020 at 16:06
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    This may be obvious, and some of the answers below address it already, but this question really needs some context in terms of style (genre) and composition of the act you're talking about. Bass played with drums in a mindless pop song will be very different from bass played with drums in a jazz trio. And of course, there are acts in any genre that are composed outside the norm (i.e. featuring bass as the primary melodic instrument).
    – dwizum
    Commented Jan 15, 2020 at 19:31

8 Answers 8


The main role of a Bass is going to be different depending on the style. My answer is going to relate to Pop/rock.


  • The Bass guitar is part of the rhythm section. Obviously the drums are also part of the rhythm section so the two are going to be tightly coupled. But that doesn't mean the drums and bass are locked together. It is common for the bass drum (also known as the kick drum) and the bass guitar to be in sync however it is also quite common for the bass guitar to accent the snare drum or other rhythmic accents that the drummer may or may not be playing on other parts of the drum kit. One responsibility of the bass player is to make sure the rhythm section is grooving. In a band like The Who where the drummer is playing wildly the bass player is really acting as the solid ground for the rest of the song to ride on.


  • The cool thing about the bass guitar is that it does more than rhythm. It also plays pitches. This means it can help define the chords that are being played. You may have read or heard that when playing chords on the guitar, for example, you can leave out certain notes, especially if someone else in the band is playing the note you are leaving out. Well, here comes the bass player, laying down that root note so others in the band can leave it out and not fear that the chord will sound like a different chord.
  • However, they can play more than the root, and if doing so they can dictate that the chord heard is being playing in an inversion, which can greatly alter the feel of the chord progression.

Melodic playing:

  • Some bass players can get quite melodic. Players like John Paul Jones (led zeppelin) and Paul McCartney (The Beatles) come to mind.
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    +1 for the different roles you gave. For the part about melodic playing: Flea (Red Hot Chili Peppers) and Andy Rourke (The Smiths) tend to do that too. While I'm at it: I think you meant "quite* melodic" instead of quiet.
    – Aldoggen
    Commented Jan 14, 2020 at 22:25

Certainly not the main role! It's going to depend a lot on the style of music played.

In a couple of bands I work in, there are what I call 'listening drummers'. Not every band is lucky enough to have one!When I'm on bass, we listen to each other and complement what's happening. Yes, sometimes the bass adds pitch to the kick drum, others, I play on some but nowhere near all of the kicks. It depends a lot on the song and style. And it's not the only thing I'm listening to while on bass! There's the rest of the kit, the other guitars/keys, and also the singer!

But, at a basic level, the kick and bass will work together - provided they listen properly! Anything from a simple thump on 1 and 3 to very complex patterns woven together.

That, though, does not mean, as you intimate in your last part, that it's the main role of the bass guitar. Many of us would be offended by that concept!

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    I didn't mean to offend, I think the bass is super important that's why I keep asking about it. I was thinking it acts like a drum with a pitch essentially. but maybe I was off.
    – user34288
    Commented Jan 14, 2020 at 19:54

Yes, in your clip the bass drum dominates doesn't it! But I still think the music would make more sense without the drums than without the bass guitar. It has much more musical function than just supporting the drums.


I was taught the bass guitar acts as a kind of glue between the rhythm of the drums and the instruments playing actual notes.

I understood that as the bass guitar being a part playing notes and a part playing rhythm, covering the gap between vocals and guitar and other instruments and the drums. So I don't think the main role is to give pitch, but it is one of the roles the bass guitar can fulfill.

  • The Glue comment came from Alex James of Blur originally. He states it in his book. Commented Jan 17, 2020 at 11:58

I think the point is just that when the bass guitar part and kick drum coincide rhythmically the rhythm section likes to get those points as "tight" as possible. Tight being perfectly synchronized. When it's tight both parts reinforce each other. The bass gets a percussive kick and the drum gets pitch.

Of course the bass and kick drum aren't always coinciding rhythmically. It depends on the patterns. It's then an over statement to say the main role of the bass is to give the kick drum pitch.


I think it would be misleading to call it the main role of the bass guitar.

In most genres, the bass is busier than the kick drum. Having the bass playing on the same beats as the kick drum would often mean that the bass would sound very slow, making the piece as a whole feel ponderous or slow. I feel that this is the case in your example.

In many genres, much of the interest in the bassline involves having it "play off" the bassline, playing on weak beats and upbeats that the bass drum typically doesn't play on. Basslines can be quite elaborate, whereas very intricate bass drum parts are unusual.

In some genres, the bass drum is typically mixed so that its lowest frequencies are the foundation of the piece, while the bass sits above it in the frequency spectrum. This makes them sound like distinct instruments, rather than blending into one sound.

  • I think the key is it's a teaching video. If you listen closely to the actual live recording - youtu.be/6xx0d3R2LoU - you will hear the bass doing more than simply doubling the kick drum, such as repeating the note on an off beat or even adding other harmonic or melodic notes in between the kick hits.
    – Ddddan
    Commented Jan 15, 2020 at 18:01

No, the main role of the bass is not to give pitch to the kick drum. Neither is the main role of the kick to provide weight to the bass.

Typically the role of both drums and bass is to provide a foundation for the rest of the song and they do this by working together as a rhythm section. The linked video section is a fantastic example of the two reinforcing each other to provide that foundation. The bass drum in this section is providing a slow steady beat which the lyrics are able to flow or wash over, meanwhile the bass is providing the underlying tone or pitch for the lyrics while reinforcing the beat by not playing additional notes. You can contrast with this later section where the bass guitar is playing additional notes beyond what the bass drum is doing, it takes some of the punch out of the bass drum by doing so but also pushes the song forward beyond what the bass drum alone would thereby giving a bit more of a driving feeling without overdoing it. Note also how the first linked section can be characterized by what both the bass and drums are not playing in comparison to the second section.

While this is a common role for both drums and bass to play it is by no means the only role they can play. Many bass parts provide aspects of the melody either directly or by their interplay with the lead parts. Les Claypool is a great example of a bass player where the bass is rarely playing anything which most people would consider is the main or typical role of the bass but it still works.

  • IMO your later example tend to illustrate more that the snare is as much important as the kick than a bass that doesn't follow drums (appart from a small transition, they still stick together). Reggae has good examples of bass that dont stick only to drums
    – Kaddath
    Commented Jan 15, 2020 at 8:39

I recognize that the kick has a pitch of it's own, ( I've watched a few drummers tune their kits). That would lead me to believe that the bass is actually providing harmony to that pitch, as is every other instrument that is being played at the same time. That's a slight variation on the idea put forth in your question, and probably not quite so insulting to most Bass players because it doesn't minimize their purpose for existing in a band. They add very much to music. Just ask yourself why do acoustic groups have bass players even when they have no drummer?

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