Does Bass Guitar Follow Drums? Exploring the Rhythm Section

Bass guitar and drums are two instruments that are intrinsically linked to one another. They combine to create a merging of groove, rhythm, syncopation, and tone, complementing each other’s natural qualities perfectly.

On the whole, bass guitar follows the drums in many popular music styles, as the drums often keep the beat and tempo of a piece of music. However, there are times when the bass doesn’t strictly follow the drums, such as during a solo, when playing complex melodic parts, or when the drums drop out.

The relationship between the bass and drums ultimately depends on the style of music that is being played and the intentions of the performers or composers. In this article, we’ll take a deep dive into how bass guitar and drums intertwine, exploring when the bass follows the drums and vice versa and discussing other important information on rhythm sections.

Does Bass Guitar Follow Drums?

If you’ve played either bass or drums for a while, you’ve probably heard the term “locking in” mentioned by other musicians.

When the bass and drums are locked in, this basically means their timing is ultra-tight. They’re in sync on every beat, with the bass notes accented by the kick drum and snare and with no noticeable lagging behind or pushing in front of the tempo.

Before I became a bassist, I actually started out as a drummer. Many noise complaints later, and after a final warning from my parents, I made the decision to focus my attention on bass as I figured I could play for as long as I liked with the volume turned down or using headphones with my little practice amp.

Having gone back to playing the drums many years later, I am thankful that they were the first instrument I ever learned. This gave me an understanding of how to follow the drums when playing bass, as I could transport myself into the mindset and position of the drummer.

There are times when the bass undoubtedly follows the drums, and there are also parts where this isn’t the case. When the rhythm section is locked in, it’s very difficult to tell who is following who – and that’s a good sign.

Oftentimes the drummer and the bassist will naturally fall into a groove that provides a solid foundation for other instruments, like guitars, keys, synths, and vocals, to play over. The kick drum beats commonly accent the starts of a bass note, and the snare acts as an anchor for the bassist to stay in the pocket.

When you ask a bassist whether they follow the drums, you’ll probably get the opposite answer to the question than if it was asked of a drummer! The truth is these two instruments interlock with one another and form an integral part of almost all popular music genres.

If you’re considering learning the bass, it’s helpful to be prepared for the physical aspects. You might find our guide on the common finger pains that beginner bassists experience helpful.

How the Bass Guitar and Drums Interact

Bass and drums complement one another better than any other two instruments, but why are they such a great match? To fully understand the ways that they interact, we need to analyze several of their main attributes.

Frequency Range and Prominent Tones

To the average listener who isn’t a musician, the bass guitar is often seen as a low-sounding instrument, but it can actually produce a wide range of frequencies.

The average bass guitar frequency range stretches from around 40Hz to 4kHz, but the most prominent frequencies it produces are in the region of 40h-400Hz. In comparison, an average acoustic drum set covers a significantly broader range of frequencies, from around 40Hz up to 16kHz.

However, the frequency range of a drum kit can be a little misleading, as the cymbals produce the vast majority of the frequencies above 400Hz.

Why is this important when discussing the relationship between bass guitar and drums? Well, for starters, instruments that produce prominent frequencies in a similar range are more likely to blend together, which explains why bass and drums are often grouped into a “buss” when mixing a recording or sound for a live performance.

The kick drum, which is also commonly called the “bass drum,” produces the lowest sound of any individual drum in a set, at around 40Hz-100Hz. These frequencies match up with the lower range of the bass guitar, which means the sounds combine to create a thicker, punchier tone that simultaneously enhances each other.

A kick drum also produces a higher tone caused when the beater comes into contact with the skin. This sound, which is often called the “attack” of the drum, has a frequency range of around 2kHz to 5kHz, which is very similar to the higher frequencies produced by a bass guitar.

The other individual drum which complements the tone of a bass guitar is the snare, which produces a fundamental frequency in the range of 150 Hz to 250Hz, with its midrange, snappy tone falling in the region of 1kHz to 4kHz, and the highest tones coming in between 5kHz and 10kHz.

Here’s a table that demonstrates the average frequency range of the individual drums in an acoustic drum kit and the bass guitar.

InstrumentFundamental Frequency RangeCharacteristic Frequencies
Bass Guitar40 Hz – 400 Hz2kHz – 4kHz (Harmonics)
Kick Drum40 Hz – 100 Hz2 kHz – 5 kHz (Attack)
Snare Drum150 Hz – 250 Hz1 kHz – 4 kHz (Snap), 5 kHz – 10 kHz (Sizzle)
Hi-Hat250 Hz – 500 Hz5 kHz – 15 kHz (Sizzle)
Rack Tom (High)100 Hz – 200 Hz500 Hz – 4 kHz (Overtones)
Rack Tom (Low)80 Hz – 150 Hz400 Hz – 4 kHz (Overtones)
Floor Tom60 Hz – 120 Hz300 Hz – 4 kHz (Overtones)
Crash Cymbal300 Hz – 800 Hz2 kHz – 20 kHz (Sizzle)
Ride Cymbal200 Hz – 600 Hz1 kHz – 20 kHz (Sizzle)

As you can see, the bass guitar’s prominent frequencies are pretty similar to those produces by the kick and snare, which are the two drums most commonly used to keep a solid beat in popular music genres. This is a significant factor that makes these two instruments so compatible.

Musical Genres and Styles

Whether we’re discussing musical genres that have been around for over a century or modern genres that have emerged as a result of digital audio technology, bass, and drums are likely to be two staple instruments.

Here are some examples of music genres that often include the classic combination of a bass guitar and an acoustic drum kit in the “rhythm section.”

  • Pop
  • Rock
  • Jazz
  • Blues
  • Funk and Soul
  • R&B
  • Country
  • Reggae

Examples of genres that often use digital drums samples and synth bass sounds rather than physical instruments include:

  • EDM (Electronic Dance Music)
  • Hip Hop
  • New Wave
  • Modern Pop
  • Drum and Bass
  • Trip Hop
  • Dubstep

These are just a small number of the musical styles and genres that heavily feature drums and bass, and this illustrates just how integral these two instruments are to most of the music that we listen to.

In rock music, these two instruments create the rhythmic platform that gives the music its energy and power. The bass and drums need to be very tight in a rock band. with the kick drum and attack of the bass notes often being matched perfectly for emphasis.

Likewise, the bass and drums are a vital part of jazz music. Not only do they keep the pulse and swing of a song, but they also add decoration to the piece.

In jazz, the bass, whether it be an electric bass guitar or a more traditional acoustic double bass, often plays a walking bassline that is a constant throughout. These basslines usually consist of quarter-note loops and match the backbeat that is played by the drummer on their kick, snare, and cymbals.

It’s fair to say that bass and drums can take the lead in both rock and jazz music. The drums most commonly provide the consistent beat that is followed by all of the musicians in the band, but there are times in both genres when the bass takes center stage and dominates the groove.

If a bass is playing a piece that is more harmonically complex, perhaps that includes bass chords – a technique we’ve discussed in a previous post, the drummer is likely to play more reserved to give the bass the space it needs in the mix.

Related Questions

How Can a Bassist and Drummer Become Tighter When Playing Together?

Although it may seem like obvious advice, the only way for a drummer and bassist to become tighter is through consistent individual and collective practice. Learning new material which challenges both of your musical capabilities is the best way to develop rhythmic chemistry, and improvising together is another great exercise.

Should Bassists Play During a Drum Solo?

When a drummer plays a solo, they become the center of attention. If a bass plays many notes over the top, then the focus will be taken off the drum solo, defeating the object of having one in the first place.

A bassist can play during a drum solo, but they should try to keep it simple and minimalistic, only playing if it adds something to what the drummer is playing.

Which Instruments are in a Rhythm Section?

The instruments that are found in a rhythm section vary from genre to genre. In a stereotypical four-piece rock band, the bass and drums are the two components of a rhythm section, but in a jazz ensemble, the piano is added. In electronic music styles, low-end synths and samples may also form the rhythm section. 

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