Poor bass players — especially in rock music, they’ve become the butt of many the joke.
From jabs about Sid Vicious or Seinfeld to being considered the only band member completely invisible to the opposite sex, the aspersions cast upon their characters go on and on. However, a new scientific study suggests that bassists are not just important pieces of the musical puzzle but are actually imperative to how we experience music.
McMaster University psychologist Laurel Trainor (who has neither confirmed nor denied that she’s a closet bassist, or whether her last name is actually spelled Traynor) led a study that she said explains why in so many cultures the rhythm is carried by low-pitched instruments while the melody tends to be taken by higher pitched ones. In this study, subjects hooked up to EEGs were played two streams of simultaneous piano notes — one stream in a high register and the other low. At random intervals, a note from one stream would be played slightly out of time.
Overwhelmingly, subjects were able to recognize mistimed lower notes more easily than the off-time ones in the higher register. Not only would their ability to adjust finger tapping to changes in the lower notes be superior — monitored brain activity showed that, without a doubt, the lower pitches were being recognized to a higher degree. Cognitive scientists have noted that the study “provides a very plausible hypothesis for why bass parts play such a crucial role in rhythm perception.”
Haters gonna hate though. Cognitive musicologist Henkjan Honing (who we suspect may be a lover/avid creator of bass player memes) was quick to point out there could be alternative explanations for the study’s results. He pointed out, for instance, that timbre (the quality of a note rather than the pitch) could be playing a large part, and that instruments with differing timbres should have been included in the study.
Whatever, man. I say: bass players rejoice! Carry this article around with you and hand it out to fans in the audience before a show. What does the Internet know? Science says you guys are just aces.