The bass guitar may not always be the ugly stepsister in the band, but it’s close. Consider this study a win for the John Entwistle and John Paul Jones-types of overshadowed bandmates in Rock’n’Roll history.
From Guitar World:
A study conducted at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, set out to determine the importance of low-frequency information on music listeners. Their results, published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, were revealing.
The study notes that music contains streams of tones throughout the auditory spectrum and is polyphonic, or multi-voiced. And you don’t need this study to tell you (but it does) that the most important melodic information is carried by the highest voice, such as the lead singer or lead guitar, and the most vital rhythmic information by the lowest voice, i.e. the bass.
In the study, participants were played high- and low-pitched tones simultaneously, with the tones sometimes shifted in time: either the high-pitched tone was off the rhythm or the low-pitched was.
The study found that listeners could more easily detect when low-pitched tones were out of rhythm, “indicating better timing encoding for lower-pitched compared with higher-pitch tones.