The Guitar-Strumming Singer-Songwriter often merely needs to strum a few standard chords which accompany his or her vocal-melody in order to proclaim the birth of a new song. Guitars, and especially Acoustic Guitars, are lovely chordal instruments, supplying six notes with each and every upstroke (and with each downstroke). In some ways, the six-stringed guitar simulates an entire band in and of itself, the strumming pattern supplying percussion, the deeper three strings providing the emotive bass-frequencies, and the higher three strings accompanying the vocal melodies. Writing demos for a band on an acoustic guitar is a logical choice, because the strumming pattern plus vocal melody sets out the parts for all of the band members. In more ways, songwriting with an acoustic guitar is TOO easy.
The songwriting singing-bassist must endure longer journeys in birthing new song. Donning the cape labeled “Vocalist”, he or she begins a song with a rhyme or poem set to melody. Maybe this melody is accompanied by a chordal instrument such as a piano or a six-stringed guitar during the first months after conception. Donning the bassist hat, the chordal accompaniment is filled-in or adorned with an expressive bass-line that must simulate and even replace the chords with an ornate string of single notes. And wait, low and behold, this concatenation of single notes must in some way fit with the often frenetic participation of a drummer!
Once the bass-line is invented, the two sometimes contrapuntal, often completely dissociate compositions for the Vocals and for the Bass-Guitar must be united for the end-product of the singing-bassist, which is the schizophrenic “song and dance” of performing a completed song. One quickly sees that the gestation period for a song written by a singing-bassist is necessarily longer than that for a song written by a singing-guitarist. However, the singing-bassist probably acknowledges and embraces this fact, much in the same way certain connoisseurs prefer aged wine to recent swill, or home-cooking to fast-food. A slow brew ensures a deep character.
It must be mentioned that certain singing-bassists elect to outsource the authoring of vocals.
- Jack Bruce collaborated with lyricist Pete Brown in Cream
- Rush is a Canadian rock band … composed of bassist, keyboardist, and lead vocalist Geddy Lee, guitarist Alex Lifeson, and drummer and lyricist Neil Peart.
In these band formations one quickly perceives that the songwriter views himself primarily as a composer and performer. Possibly the topic of the song’s text is mutually agreed upon between lyricist and vocalist, but then the singing-bassist is tasked with weaving his bass-work together with the work of his lyricist (and furthermore with the drummer of his band).
The case-study of Rush could become a doctoral thesis about the consummate singing-bassist, and not in the least because of the fact that it is the drummer who authors the lyrics for the singing-bassist. Does Neil Peart strive for creating non-intuitive vocal rhythms to propel Geddy Lee to ever-increasing feats of musical coordination? Many open questions for interviews….. In any case we are overwhelmed with the impression that Rush always strives to “keep it in the family“.
Returning back to the point of this post, I speculate that songwriting for singing-bassists is more time-consuming because of the fact that it is more all-encompassing.