Get all of your bassist jokes out of your system now, because science is coming in with the smack(slap?)down. According to a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America journal, bass is pretty darn important. In fact, it’s crucial for helping us follow the rhythm of a song.
Scientists played two streams of music simultaneously — one high-pitched and one low-pitched — and found that subjects processed the rhythm of the lower-pitched stream more easily. If they were asked to tap along, the rhythm that they chose more often followed the lower-pitched stream.
Basically, the study found that we love bass so much because we’re wired to understand musical time better if it comes from the lower end of the spectrum. As the study puts it “superior time perception for lower musical pitch explains why bass-ranged instruments lay down musical rhythms.” This knowledge is pretty well innate to anyone who has ever used the term “rhythm section,” but it’s nice to have science backing it up.
“The low-voice superiority effect for encoding timing explains the widespread musical practice of carrying rhythm in bass-ranged instruments and complements previously established high-voice superiority effects for pitch and melody,” the study said. So even if you could write off the bass (you can’t), the higher voiced instruments like guitar would suffer for it.
All those kids fiending for the drop don’t seem so silly now. Or at least they wouldn’t if they’d learn to wear shirts with sleeves.