It’s about 8:00 pm on a Sunday night. This weekend was my turn to play at church. By the title, you already have gathered that I play the bass guitar. The great thing about playing at church is that I get to do several things I love at once, play music, worship God and reflect on my week. This time, my reflection was on my job as a father and how bass playing has taught me how to be a better father.

My Musical Explanation

The bass is an interesting contemporary instrument. It is part of the rhythm section, along with the drums. Together they create the tempo and what is called the ’groove’ of the song. When the bass player is doing everything right, people do not notice them, even wondering what they are even doing up there. On the other hand, if they make a mistake, it is very noticeable, suggesting that they don’t know what they are doing. If they are not playing, it is often very missed.

From a technical perspective, the bass player defines that chord that the entire ensemble plays. The following is very musically technical, but not difficult to understand. Let’s say, if the band is playing an E minor chord (guitars, piano) and the bass plays an ‘E’ note, then the band is playing an E minor chord in its entirety. However, if the band is playing an E minor chord and the bass player plays a ‘C’ note, then the entire band is playing a C Major 7. This phenomenon means that a bass player can change the entire chord structure from a minor to a major and it so happens that the reverse is true, they can change a major to a minor chord as well. Here is a direct quote from one of the most famous bass players, Sting:

”It’s easier for the bass player to lead the band than almost anyone else, because you can lead without seeming to. It’s a very powerful yet very discreet instrument. You can control the music because you can dictate what the chord is – I mean, it’s not a chord until the bass player decides what the root is. I can pull the rug out from under everybody when things aren’t going right. No matter what the keyboard player and guitarist are doing, I can subvert the whole thing by changing the chord. I can also change the rhythmic feel of the song with the drummer. I manipulate these elements all the time.”

The Feel of the Music

When watching a scary movie, did you ever notice the underlying music? Technically speaking, it is called ‘scary music’. Seriously, scary music is usually written in a minor key while ‘happy music’ is usually written in a major key. Given this phenomenon, the bass player, with one note can change the mood of the scene, from a scary one (minor chord) to a happy one (major chord). See in this scene from ‘V for Vendetta’ where the background music moves from major to minor chords and back based on the use of positive words (major chords) to negative words (minor chords). Very similar to what fathers are urged to do.

Fatherhood as a Bass Player

Fathers can change the family situation with one ‘note’. When the family is scared, unhappy or sad, fathers are called upon to fix it. If they are not there, it is noticeable. If they are, and do ‘their job’, it’s not noticeable, but the family is better off. If they screw-up, it is noticeable and often is questioned on their fatherly skills and intention. I am not lamenting being a father, on the contrary, I have great clarity in what my job is and the role that I have been given, my responsibility as a father, if you will.

The parallel I draw between playing the bass and being a father is that they both can move the music/situation from a scary one to one that is full of joy and happiness. Similarly, both can also choose to change the mood to one that is somber if required for the occasion. It is an influential position that we should take great pride as well as responsibility.

As I played this weekend, I reflected on these parallel notions. What might be those ‘notes’ be for a father? Being there when they lost their first hockey game. Encouraging them when their heart is broken for the first time. Helping them fulfill their dreams by guiding them and providing them with the requisite resources. Not all chords are major. Reprimanding them when they are not in line with their potential. Pointing out their mistakes that will only lead them down a dark path. Nipping seemingly inconsequential lies, so they do not grow into consequentially life hindrances.

So, as a father, are you playing the right notes? I would be honored if we could share each other’s experiences.