The age-old joke of bassists being the guys in the band that just couldn't hack it at guitar can finally go down the proper six feet it needs to go down and take a dirt nap. Bassists are super important and I'm backed up by science this time! Not beer, which is what I'm normally backed up by for this argument.
Mic.com compiled a study that explains exactly why bass is super important in music and why we as human beings tune into the bass guitar, even if we're not fully aware that we're tuning into anything specific at all.
Last year, researchers from McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada, found that there's a reason why bass lines tend to fill out the background of a song, leaving the theatrics to higher-pitched instruments. Our brains are far better suited to establishing a song's rhythmic feel if they occur in lower tones.
Laurel Trainor, the study's lead author, hooked up participants to an EEG to monitor brain activity while they heard simultaneous streams of two piano notes — one high-pitched, the other low-pitched. Every so often researchers played one of the notes fractions of a second too early. Participants were far better at recognizing these errors if they occurred in the bass notes. That same study also found that, if asked to tap their fingers along to this unpredictable stream of notes, subjects were much better at adjusting their tapping when the lower tones began to arrive early than they were if the same thing happened with the higher tones.
The study also ascertains that the bass holds down the music tonally as well, which I agree with to an extent- sometimes it's a little more of a lead instrument than anything else. Not often, but still! Primus, anyone?
The bass often defines the chords that set a song's melody in context. The bass note doesn't always define the chord's root, but it frequently commands that role. Sting, one of the world's most celebrated and richest bassists, absolutely relishes the harmonic control of the bass.
So next time your guitarist tells you some lame-ass bassist joke, tell him he's nothing without you. Then high five the drummer because you're the rhythm section and ain't nothin' keeping you down.