A Drummer’s Perspective on Bass Playing

Bassist and Drummer

For this week’s column, I asked a good friend of mine – Seattle-based drummer Tarik Abouzied – to talk about what he looks for in a bassist, from a drummer’s perspective. I thought he may have some insights as he’s also a pretty phenomenal bassist, in addition to being a complete badass on the drums. Whenever I can’t make one of his gigs, he’ll often just play bass and hire a drum sub. You’d never know that bass wasn’t his first instrument (yeah, another one of those guys). We just got off a week-long mini-tour with Skerik and I thought it a perfect opportunity to get his perspective.

Check out some of the links below to check him out and show him some love.

Bass Playing From a Drummer’s Perspective

Being a performer who works on both sides of the fence, I’m constantly learning new things about the interaction between drums and bass in a rhythm section. It’s astounding the amount of control over the group sound a bass player has, and how small changes in tone, note length, octave choice, and note density can drastically alter the sonic landscape. The more I pay attention to these details, the more I appreciate bass players who go beyond choosing the “right notes” and use everything at their disposal to support the music holistically.Here are a few characteristics common to all of the bass players I love working with. Keep in mind, I perform mostly in the jazz/funk world in a generally improvisatory setting, but these tools are universal in their effect on any genre of music.

Commitment to Feel

Our number one job in the rhythm section is to make the music feel good, and my favorite bassists always make that drum/bass lock their primary focus. They play simply and repetitively until a groove is settled, and only then will they begin to expand. If and when the feel begins to waver, they’ll turn their attention back to the groove, simplify, and focus on getting things back on track. It’s the automatic, lizard-brain response of every great bassist I’ve worked with.In my own bass playing, I notice it’s difficult to focus on feel if I’m uncertain of upcoming chord changes or the form of the song, or if I’m thinking about the next sweet lick I’m going to play or how to incorporate a scale pattern I’ve been practicing. Being prepared and focusing my attention on the group sound over my own fingers helps me avoid those traps.

Attention to Momentum and Energy

It’s rare to play songs that are static dynamically from top to bottom, and great bassists understand how to support shifts in dynamics and energy with changes to their basslines. Small shifts in tone (thumb plucking vs finger, palm muting, rolling tone knobs, effects, etc), playing staccato or legato, jumping to higher or lower octaves, playing less or more notes per bar, and choice of chord tones have huge impacts on the momentum of the music, and each technique/approach has its place in the dynamic range of a song. Some of my most frustrated moments on the drum throne are times when big resolutions to tension or section changes come and a bassist plays through them diddling notes in their higher register. I’ll never forget turning to one bassist in this exact situation and yelling “PLAY BASS!”We don’t play together anymore.


They don’t flaunt it. They don’t even like doing it in public. It’s their dirty secret and they don’t want anyone to know they can do it but, when called upon to do so, all of my favorite bass players can let loose a barrage of shred. They can improvise long, tasty solos, play fast, play mind-boggling harmonically-intricate lines, and have a bag of tricks deep enough to constantly surprise me. They don’t work on these things to show off, but instead to challenge and improve their facility on the bass. Most importantly, they never use these skills for evil-e.g., destroying a groove with a poorly placed, out of time, 3-bar long, pentatonic slap fill.

Not Being a Jerk

Nobody likes a jerk.

About Tarik Abouzied: Tarik Abouzied is a Seattle-based drummer and bassist, Sabian-endorsed artist, and founder of Happy Orchestra. He has performed with Jeff Coffin (Dave Matthews Band), Skerik, Brian Haas, Jessica Lurie, Nigel Hall, Mike Stern, Damian Erskine, Joe Doria, and many others. As an educator, he has led clinics and classrooms at universities and schools internationally and maintains a studio of a drum set, guitar, bass, piano, and music theory students. Visit his website for more.

Have a question for Damian Erskine? Send it to [email protected]. Check out Damian’s instructional books, Right Hand Drive and The Improviser’s Path.

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