Pulse

Space CapsuleI think I will tell you a secret how to become a very successful musician in any combination of instruments, guitar, bass, drums and so on. I’m kind of surprised it is seldom mentioned. Usually the discussion is about technique, how many notes you could play every second, how many chords you know, how to apply music theory and so forth. However if you have this talent I guarantee you will be a very busy session or band musician.

It has to do with the fundamentals of modern music. Rhythm. Rock and roll and its derivatives, rhythm and blues up to hip-hop, techno, all the forms we enjoy today as modern music are based on rhythm. You might even argue that there’s something in our mental gene pools going back to the origins of dancing around a fire to someone playing primitive drums. So humans are in general inclined to enjoy rhythmic variations.

But there’s more to it. If all a musician needed was perfect sense of rhythm, then it would be easy. However, mechanical following of a rhythmic pattern is not organic. It’s very machine-like; even after years and years of perfect drum patterns using drum machines, most audiences are not that keen to listen to a robotic player.

However, if you start to really analyze and think about the tonality of a band, if there’s a strong driving factor the audience will get very excited. This is what I think the main drive behind arena bands, modern hard-guitar bands and so forth.

And what’s behind all this? It’s really the pulse of a band. I think of it as the pulse because if it is weak the band is weak. If it is strong, the band is strong.

Looking at this as a bass player, where I think the bass player usually provides a large part of the pulse of the band with the help of a drummer, you could think of the bass player providing the energy behind the song. Let’s say a simple 4-bar pattern of quarter-note bass lines: if those are weak and non-specific, it colorizes the whole band sound so the outcome is weak. If the bass player places a lot of emphasis to drive the band so it has a strong pulse, it makes a big difference.

You could think of this as a guitar player, keyboard player, even as a singer. If you take the effort to make the pulse strong, the whole band will be elevated on stage. It’s somewhat hard to describe this all without taking my bass or electric guitar and do an A/B example. Anyway, it has to do with the alertness of a musician. Those who know this will place a lot of work on each note — even with each song constantly thinking that the playing they will provide will elevate the energy level of the band. And the rest is history.

Just to point out this from another angle, many, including me think that Frank Zappa was really a percussionist and the reason he could provide such complex music to the general audience was that he could integrate the percussion/pulse elements even to very complex arrangements.

Anyway, each time I do a session as a musician I have this mantra in my head: pulse, pulse, pulse.

Feedback always appreciated.

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