I first thought about learning to play the bass guitar in the mid-nineties. A friend played a Warwick fretless, and the sound entranced and enthralled me. It had a similar quality to the trombone (which I already played) with the ease of timbre, flexibility and freedom of tonality. In 2002 I bought a Dean Fretless (a heavy metal instrument) and Calsbro 50 Watt amp. The dean had a beautiful, deep lush sound and I spent evening after evening investigating its mellow tones, I was hooked.
The bass guitar soon became a staple part of my practice as a music therapist with children with special needs. It is a deceptively simple instrument, but like all things which look simple, it has a complex underlayer. You can do a lot with a little on the bass. Just sonically holding a group’s music, can involve playing a few long notes on the E string, underpinning whatever sounds. But in addition you can take the bass out of its traditional box and throw away the rule book. The bass has hidden talents which are untapped.
As music therapists we have an improvisatory approach to instruments. The bass is no exception, it can be used in a melodic role, playing soaring melodies or short riffs that provide musical glue between people. It can leave harmonies wide open, playing two notes of a chord in a large register that spans opportunities for sounds between the notes. It can be a percussive instrument, twanging the strings, hitting the body. The timbre can be changed simply by placing your hand on different parts of the strings, the sound widens (becoming potentially double bass like) if you play on the neck, or narrows if you play by the bridge. You can hit, pluck, scratch your fingers over the strings, like a world within a bass world.
The instrument you choose might depend on the needs of the client you are working with. Use a large acoustic bass if you want to be independently mobile, have a child sit on it whilst you play, or run their hands over the strings. Or use an electric if you want the sounds to be more resounding, louder and enfolding.
All of this makes it a fascinating instrument to utilize as a music therapist. The sonic possibilities attend to the acute flexibility required. It has been an under-used instrument in music therapy, but one which has great possibilities and potential.