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Strumming on a Bass Guitar, like.One of the perks of my relationship right now is that my ladyfriend has both been a professional and studied musician, and she’s of a scientific bent. This means I can ask her fairly pointless questions and get hugely satisfying, thorough explanations with very little work invested on my part.

I’ve been wondering, for example, why the bass guitar parts of musical ensembles seem to be simplistic and dull compared with the more complex parts played by other instruments—lead guitar and keyboard most obviously. This is more blatant when comparing solos, and seemed to be consistently unflattering to the bassist, presumably in terms of compositional attention (if not the performer’s ability). So, I asked Carolyn, “is the discrepancy between the complexity of lead and bass guitar parts a function of the physical characteristics of the instruments, musical conventions, the egos of band leaders, or…?”

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