STING: How do professional musicians characterize his bass?

Antonella Frau writes ...

The guy is a beast.

I understand we get used to regarding a guitar or bass player as “talented” or “virtuoso” because of their shredding[1], finger tapping, fingerwork and so forth.

When it comes to Sting, however, specially during his Police years, we fail to spot any of the aforementioned parameters. What sticks to our minds is instead this:

What is even worse, his image today does not quite help:

A worn out bass, a playing technique that is not the most stylish one, and so on.

There are a few things to understand, however, from these images:

  • Sting is a singer and a bassist. He never puts aside either musical aspect to favour the other one. Both coexist at the same time and any bass player knows how important it is to give rock music root notes for melodies to be built on top of them, as well as to work as a link between tempo (i.e. drumming) and melody (i.e. singing);
  • Sting can play and sing at the same time. Should you ever try to do it, you will soon find out how tough it is to do both. After that, let me know when you master his singing while playing those bass lines. The second ones are made out of repetition, of course: however, this should be taken as a sign of greatness, rather than poor musical taste. Think about, for example, When The World Is Running Down, built on an insistent bass riff that allows Sting to effortlessly lay out a very articulate (and tricky) sequence of lyrics that almost seems to be rapping. Moreover, such riffs are often syncopated and this does make singing even more difficult;
  • speaking of bass lines. Sting loves to play off the beat and this was quintessential in a trio like The Police, in which there was a lot of space to fill. In rock bands, bass and drums usually act as foundation instruments. On typical 4/4 tempo signatures, kick drum and bass lock themselves together on beats 1 and 3 to yield a familiar time. However, in The Police it was Andy Summers’ guitar the true tempo keeper and this would give drums and bass lots of freedom. Just think of Roxanne and that tango-like feeling from Sting’s bass and Stewart Copeland’s kick on beat 2. These two click beautifully with Summers’ reggae guitar;
  • ever noticed Sting’s ghost notes on bass? You are missing a lot, then. Where does that continuous yet “crackling” feeling during his songs come from? It is Stings bass! Such a trick provides a lot of barely audible ghost notes that fill spaces which may otherwise become an issue in a trio like The Police. Basically, the music never stops;
  • he is an innovator. Had you ever seen to see a bassist-singer who played a fretless bass or even a double bass before Sting? I thought so.

Sting’s playing style is not about what notes he plays, but rather when he plays them.

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