Final Kingdom

Tips on writing a bass line

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Anyone have any advice about writing bass lines? I don't really know what constitutes as a 'good' bass line, which puts me at a loss when I'm arranging. Teach me your ways! :puppyeyes:

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When I write them, I make sure it's not crazy. Playing too many octaves is tiring, playing strange intervals the whole time might be too hard, etc. I try to hum a bass line to accompany a melody. Try doing that, and then writing out what you hummed. Tweak it a little until it matches the groove of the melody. With practice, that might be able to come naturally (that's what I do if I'm stuck).

Generally if I want to check and see if it's 'good', I just think, could a normal person sing it, or play it? If not, what would they change to make their part simpler? Sometimes simple is good. Overall, it should fit the mood when you're done.

EX: https://app.box.com/s/x19ibwfak65ni91jtbnr

http://ocremix.org/remix/OCR01849

http://ocremix.org/remix/OCR02859

http://ocremix.org/remix/OCR02767

Edited by timaeus222

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Treat the bassline like a melody. You don't have to sit on the chord root all the time; even if you want to emphasize the root, it often works well simply to reference the root in a strong metric location then move off of it.

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Thanks, guys! Your answers were far simpler than I though they were going to be. I suppose I just over-think it. And thanks for the examples, timaeus :) If anyone else has anything to add, please chime in.

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Write something that'd be fun to play.

Okay, I'm a bassist, so maybe that's easy for me to say. No matter the type of bass, if it's fun, it's probably good. I started out on guitar, and if you can play a melody on guitar, you can probably make it a bassline. If you're a pianist/keyboardist/organist/accordionist or something along those lines, you should be able to come up with something fun, too. If you're a drummer and can't play anything else... just write something with a pattern that'd be fun to play on the toms. Write something fun.

Another option is to construct it. If you can't just drum out a fun rhythm over your beat, copy the kick notes to your bass track and start from there. Move one of them forth or back. Move another one. If it doesn't sound engaging, try adding a note somewhere in there, or keep moving stuff around. Go for a good rhythm.

Or you can listen to a fun bassline and copy it. Don't worry about copying it exactly, just get something in there that's fun. If it has a good rhythm, you're done with phase one of making a bassline.

If all you have at this point is a rhythm, start considering your chords and your scale. We'll assume E minor for this. An A minor chord contains an A, a C and a E. So you can use those, including at higher octaves (just don't jump octaves _too_ much. It's probably best to start on the A, at least for now. Though it depends on the scale, B, D and G are fairly safe bets for other notes you can use. You'll want to remind the listener that the chord is an A, so you should probably use another A.

If you don't have other chords in your song, this is all you need. But you probably do, so then you have to adapt it to the other chords. That's fairly straightforward. You can just copy this bit of the bassline over the other chord, and transpose it to the right key. If you have an ear for music, you can probably pick out any clashing notes. Otherwise, you can just transpose the notes that don't fit into the scale so that they do.

If you've written the bassline before any other chords, you can try out different chords on top of it. If our bassline only uses A, C and E, we can play Am and C over it, and chords like F and Em won't sound out of place as long as they're not the first chord. A less melodic bassline, one that's only a rhythm played on A, can work with almost any basic chords in the scale. Actually, it works okay with almost every combination of white keys I just tried. if you're struggling to make a bassline that's flexible, just keep it simple and stick to one note (and its octave, if necessary). Not that it's hard to transpose it if you know ho scales work.

Then you just have to adapt it to the rest of the arrangement so it doesn't clash melodically with chords or melody, or rhythmically with the beat.

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Treat the bassline like a melody. You don't have to sit on the chord root all the time; even if you want to emphasize the root, it often works well simply to reference the root in a strong metric location then move off of it.
One caveat there: you can write an awesome bass part that sounds great by itself, and then find that it clashes with the melody at a note or two. You have three choices: play an octave of the melody, skip the note, or play a note that sounds awful by itself but does harmonize. Bassist hate that last option, but it can sound great in the mix.

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One caveat there: you can write an awesome bass part that sounds great by itself, and then find that it clashes with the melody at a note or two. You have three choices: play an octave of the melody, skip the note, or play a note that sounds awful by itself but does harmonize. Bassist hate that last option, but it can sound great in the mix.

I think from many of the bass lines I've written, they tend to line up as fifths above the root, or fourths or major 7ths below the root on the note holds, and some other notes I just treat as passing notes. At least, that's how I instinctively hum bass lines.

Edited by timaeus222

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One caveat there: you can write an awesome bass part that sounds great by itself, and then find that it clashes with the melody at a note or two. You have three choices: play an octave of the melody, skip the note, or play a note that sounds awful by itself but does harmonize. Bassist hate that last option, but it can sound great in the mix.

Every instrumentalist likes it when his part sounds complete by itself, i guess. It's nice when you get that in your sequencing, but it's also fun when you listen to individual parts you did and they sound like cryptic random pieces without the context of the whole tune.

My guess is, the longer a bassist would play such a bassline that doesn't stand by itself but sounds great in context, the more he'd hear the whole tune in it, and it'd probably sound a little better over time just played by itself.

Bass just seems this weird super contextual thing, can be near nothing by itself and then become so much in interplay.

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Yeah, what's-his-face... Aaron Copland actually mentioned bass lines implying the underlying chord progression in "What To Listen For In Music". ;)

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So you can use those, including at higher octaves (just don't jump octaves _too_ much.

Though this doesn't pertain to octaves necessarily, I'm afraid of jumping too many intervals from one note to the other. I took a music theory class last semester where my professor encouraged us not to make jumps in the bass line. I mean, they weren't outlawed or anything, but he emphasized smoothness or, I suppose, a more melodic sounding bass line. When it comes to making melodies, I've never heard anyone discourage making large jumps. That's probably why making melodies is a simpler concept for me to grasp than writing a bass line.

they tend to line up as fifths above the root, or fourths or major 7ths below the root on the note holds

Never thought about using 4ths or 7ths. I'll try that.

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Though this doesn't pertain to octaves necessarily, I'm afraid of jumping too many intervals from one note to the other. I took a music theory class last semester where my professor encouraged us not to make jumps in the bass line. I mean, they weren't outlawed or anything, but he emphasized smoothness or, I suppose, a more melodic sounding bass line.

Well, pick a simple jazz progression and practice some walking bass. Small steps, up and down movements. Steady rhythm. It's one way to do bass.

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Though this doesn't pertain to octaves necessarily, I'm afraid of jumping too many intervals from one note to the other. I took a music theory class last semester where my professor encouraged us not to make jumps in the bass line. I mean, they weren't outlawed or anything, but he emphasized smoothness or, I suppose, a more melodic sounding bass line. When it comes to making melodies, I've never heard anyone discourage making large jumps. That's probably why making melodies is a simpler concept for me to grasp than writing a bass line.

Never thought about using 4ths or 7ths. I'll try that.

Avoiding bassline jumps is more a classical music thing than a pop music thing, so it really depends on the style you're going for. Huge leaps can be extremely effective at drawing attention to the bassline, if that's what you want to do -- check out

in which the bass jumps upward by a major ninth but other than that moves mostly by step.

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I'm not a bassist but I'm obsessed with bass and I play keyboard bass (hahahaha) If I were to learn any other instrument, it would be bass, no question.

When it comes to writing one, it all depends on what style of music you're performing. I'm not going to get into detail because something I never have been for is thinking way too hard about music. That may sound weird, but if I think too hard about what I'm doing or if I try getting skeptical as to how to approach something musically, it doesn't tend to do good for me. Let it just kinda come naturally.

However, I will say this: There are times when you get fancy and times when you keep it from getting too fancy. For example, with country music, generally that doesn't get way too fancy. With jazz, go all over the place. That's the idea. You kinda have to feel it out. That rule kinda goes for every instrument, but from going to performances and hearing certain songs, I can tell you sometimes there are basslines where the bassist has potential to play something really sexy at that specific point OR should pull back and not be so overly fancy.

I'm an idiot and my mind has gone completely blank with the name of these amazing bassists (even though I totally remember them haha), but I'll name a couple songs or artists with great basslines that immediately come to mind:

Chaka Khan - Whatcha Gonna Do For Me

Jackson 5 - I Want You Back (and all of Jackson 5 stuff for that matter)

Those are both much more in the Funk/RnB, so if you're going for a different genre, just simply study that genre and its basslines.

It's a bit more natural for me by this point because I just have a feel for it, but if you just really study it and keep trying and making mistakes and going back and fixing it, you'll continue to improve.

The best way to get good at something is to just keep doing it.

Edited by Garrett Williamson

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Also make sure that the bass lines you write compliment the kick drum and vice-versa.

Yeah this! The bass and drums should be one unity. IMO, the rhythmic aspect of the bass is as important if not more important than harmony and lines, because all the right notes are pretty much meaningless if the bass doesn't groove.

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Those are both much more in the Funk/RnB, so if you're going for a different genre, just simply study that genre and its basslines.

Interesting that you give me a more R&B kind of example. I'm trying to write a song in that genre, which prompted me to start this thread.

Also make sure that the bass lines you write compliment the kick drum and vice-versa.

If there's one thing I learned about being a drummer in a band, it's that.

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Interesting that you give me a more R&B kind of example. I'm trying to write a song in that genre, which prompted me to start this thread.

If there's one thing I learned about being a drummer in a band, it's that.

Oh. Well great. You're off to a great start. :)

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Listen to music that you'd like to emulate and study what the bass does. Relying on theory only works if it is from an analysis that you can extract from relevant music.

"Rules" are derived from the analysis of trends. Theory is descriptive, not prescriptive.

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I agree with Williamson in that it depends on the music style. And Timaeus provides a useful idea in presenting common intervals to use. At the most basic level, I find the bass notes to go with the melodic notes played on (or sometimes immediately after) the main downbeats by playing the notes that are at one, three, or five intervals below the melodic note.  I can further narrow down these three options by following this melody to bass note assignment:  

Play 1 or 5 interval below melodic note if melodic note is note I, 5 for II, 3 for III, 1 for IV, 5 for V, 3 for VI, 3 for VII. The gray colored interval numbers are those that occur less frequently. The diagram below provides a visual to help map the melodic note to corresponding bass note identified by the number of intervals below the melodic note. These intervals work for all major scales (not just C) and I think minor scales with slight changes in the note intervals.

70E9D68C-2BCE-451E-975C-1EA3887D117D.jpe

Would like to hear other’s thoughts on this process.

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On 4/19/2018 at 10:11 AM, aj32317 said:

I agree with Williamson in that it depends on the music style. And Timaeus provides a useful idea in presenting common intervals to use. At the most basic level, I find the bass notes to go with the melodic notes played on (or sometimes immediately after) the main downbeats by playing the notes that are at one, three, or five intervals below the melodic note.  I can further narrow down these three options by following this melody to bass note assignment:  

Play 1 or 5 for melodic note I, 5 for II, 3 for III, 1 for IV, 5 for V, 3 for VI, 3 for VII  

Would like to hear other’s thoughts on this process. You can find everything details at bit.ly/minutepianolessons

h2.0.JPG?attachauth=ANoY7cp1MNgV3HR7CFfk

 

Did you like, make an account just to necro a 4-years-old thread to plug a piano lesson site? :?

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5 hours ago, AngelCityOutlaw said:

Did you like, make an account just to necro a 4-years-old thread to plug a piano lesson site? :?

I worked hard to formulate and carefully articulate a process to match or write a bass line to a melody, and the content of my post advances the discussion without doubt. Although I want to make sure to get credit where credit is due for what I’m sharing in the post, I do see your point. So I’ll repost or edit my answer with the website URL removed from the graphic and post. :-)

 

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