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Performing Live: Adapting to Your Environment

Q: I had a gig last night at a church and the room resonated right on F#. The designer of the church could not have designed it any better to mess up anybody playing F#. When I would hit an F#, it would instantly double or almost triple my output. Very crazy. I tried to remember to play it lighter when hitting the note, but I couldn’t always remember to do so. It affected mostly the lower two F#’s but the upper ones were also boosted by the room. A lot of our songs are in D and that F# kept catching me on transitions when I reached for a major third of the I chord to transition to the IV chord. How do other players handle situations like this when the room resonates on a certain note?

A: There may well be a sound-designer out there who can help us with this one (if so, please share in the comments below). As a player, here are my thoughts.

My first thought is the front of house sound guy. Assuming that someone is running sound, there may be something they can do in the mix to alter the way that frequency is reacting with the room. This may mean that you need to turn way down on stage and let him handle the bass sound in the room.

If there is no sound guy, or he or she can’t seem to help, you might try experimenting with your own EQ on stage, or even lifting the amp off of the floor. It’s possible that the bass was traveling through the stage (especially if it’s a hollow stage) and resonating up through the vocal mics. Lifting the cab off of the floor can sometimes fix this problem immediately.

If you try that, as well as tweaking your EQ, and nothing helps, then we are left a little bit between a rock and a hard place, and we’re faced with some tough (and not so tough) choices:

  1. Turn way down on stage and lose much of the low end for the performance as a whole
  2. Avoid the F# at all costs (hard to remember but if you can remember to change your lines by, say using an A (5) to transition from D to G instead of the F#, for example, you can at least maintain your presence in the sound of the band and sound the way you want to sound for the night)
  3. Move your speaker cabinet. You could always set up your cab to face sideways or backwards (but facing you, in front, essentially) so you change the way the bass is bouncing around the room. This may mean, again, that the front of house guy needs to handle the bass out front, but at least you’ll hear yourself the way you like.
  4. If there’s no sound guy though, this will change the way the band sounds in the room but might, at least, alleviate your issues with that particular frequency. Hopefully.

With a good sound guy, it should be a problem that can be solved in a way that’s not too painful for you as a performer. But some rooms just weren’t meant for amplified music, and there really isn’t all that much that can be done about it.

Readers, what’s your approach to dealing with multiple (and sometimes frustrating) environments? Share your thoughts and stories in the comments.

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