1. Please take 30 seconds to register your free account to remove most ads, post topics, make friends, earn reward points at our store, and more!  

How do I make an interesting basslines?

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by _allen_09, Jan 28, 2016.

  1. _allen_09


    Sep 20, 2015
    Hi all,

    So I've been playing bass for 1 year, and I realize that my technique is not effective or interesting.

    I know the Basics, the scales and their modes. But, I'm having trouble into applying it effectively on a song. I mainly play rock, funk, reggae and little bit of jazz.

    My question is How do I apply the scales on the songs? And What should I focus on when I'm making bassline?

    Thank you!
  2. Scale notes are used to play melodically. As in a bass solo. Are you now playing with a band where a bass solo is needed? Brings up the question why am I running all these scales? Answer; so your fingers learn where the notes are on your fretboard. I know of no instrument that does not start you out running your scales. It is a right of passage thing. How you apply those notes is a very long story. Best answered by what are you expected to be playing? Melody or harmony? Melody you play the tune which is made up of the scale notes. Harmony is made of the notes of the active chord. Those chords are made from those same scale notes -- it all starts with scale notes. Moving on.....
    We normally think of bass lines providing harmony, not melody, so when laying down a bass line groove we play notes of the active harmonizing chord, i.e. Cmaj7 chord is made of the C, E, G, B notes of the C major scale. These notes are normally called the 1, 3, 5 and 7 scale degrees - or chord tones of the Cmaj7 chord.

    Recapping; As music is made of melody, harmony and rhythm you apply the notes of the scale in melody or harmony to the rhythm of the song.

    Question now is how many of those notes are needed and when do we need them? One shared note of the treble clef (melody) and the bass clef (harmony) PER MEASURE gets harmonization. Two shared notes would be a little better and three are probably not necessary as one got you harmony. So, roots first, need more grab the 5, still need more I like to bring in the octave 8 and if more is needed the correct 3 and 7 normally round out what is needed.

    • The root is the name of the chord -- Cmaj7 chord -- find a C note.
    • Want a 5, it'll be up a string and over two frets from that C note, or right below the C note (root) same fret.
    • Want an octave 8 it'll be up two strings and over two frets - right above the 5.
    • The 3 will be up a string and back one fret. A b3 will be right after the two which is same string as the root and over two frets.

    See a chord sound the root to the beat of the drummer's kick drum. Do a google on locking with the kick drum.

    That'll get you going. Have fun.
    Last edited: Feb 6, 2016
    ethikz and CatSquare like this.
  3. _allen_09


    Sep 20, 2015
    I play like worship rock every week, I know the 3rd , 5th and octaves. I'd like to know when do I use it?
  4. In Praise music you will use the 3, 5 and 8 very little. Praise is roots to the beat. Question now is how do I play the root so it is not boring?

    Praise can and does use a lot of the chords in a key, i.e. six or seven different chords in one song is not unusual and those chord changes come quickly. Normally there is not room for much more than roots. Relax, in Praise "less is more" normally works best. The Christmas song "Joy To The World" has 40 + words in the first verse and there are 20 + chord changes, involving six of the seven chords in the key. JOY TO THE WORLD Chords - Hillsong | E-Chords Roots to the beat and hitting the chord changes dead on is about all the room we have. Other than that and the music is going off and leaving us.

    Locking with the kick drum and following the pattern of the kick is the groove we follow through out the song. Stand by the drummer where you can see his kick drum pedal - If he is using a boom, boom de boom so do you. Slow ballads, like the prayer song, give you an opportunity to move from the beat of the kick drum and augment the message being told. You can augment the message by sounding a whole tone (4 count) root note at the chord change and nothing more until the next chord change. When the drummer brings out his brushes - that is a good time to try this whole tone bass line. There is a lot we can do with rhythm to where those roots do not get boring... Talk with your drummer and the two of you work together as a team. You and the drummer are the rhythm section, work together so you offer a unified groove.

    Is there more? Sure, but roots to the beat will play a lot of Praise music. There probably will be one to two places in a song where you could add a chromatic or diatonic run to the next verse, phrase, etc. IF someone else is not already using that space. Nothing worse than two instruments taking off on a run and not being in synch.

    Roots to the beat for now. More will show itself later. How much later? A year or so working in the same church band will normally be time enough to work out who does what and when....

    I never did specifically answer your question; "And what should I focus on when I'm making bassline?" IMO the groove, the notes you use do help with the harmony, however, are secondary to the rhythm of the song. That brings up the question who sets the groove? Normally the drummer, however, the groove can, and hopefully does, come from the efforts of all members of the band. That is a long story and will take awhile to sink in.

    Have fun.
    Last edited: Jan 29, 2016
  5. Listen to music in the genre you're playing. Listen to what those bassists are doing, and learn some of the norms of the genre.

    I had a high school band director who told me, "If you can sing it, you can play it." I've written most of my bass lines with that in mind. Listen to the song, sing a line (do do do do) that serves the song well, start to learn the line on the bass, and you're on your way.
  6. lfmn16

    lfmn16 Supporting Member

    Sep 21, 2011
    charles town, wv
    Learn to play bass lines that you like. Start making them your own. Repeat.
    aaronious likes this.
  7. Oldschool94


    Jan 9, 2015
    The bass drum really.
  8. JimmyM


    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Yamaha, Ampeg, Line 6, EMG
    You think of parts that would please you and you play them. If it sounds good, keep it. If it doesn't, try something else.
  9. aaronious


    May 23, 2011
    Denver CO
    Start playing with other humans. IMMEDIATELY!!! Take what you know and just play it. If they aren't total asshats, they will help guide you. No one is as critical of your playing as you. You penalty sound better than you think. But playing with others is the sure fire best way to get better.
  10. Personally I don't think just learning generic basslines gets a person too far.

    Yes you learn basslines.....but most songs don't use the same bassline throughout the song exclusively.

    To make a song/bassline interesting you need to apply all the nuances that may be required at points in the work.

    I think that is what makes a great bass player.

    Take some of McCartney's basslines in songs for example. The turn-arounds/accents/slides/ note punctuation/ emphasis points/sporadic double-plucks etc etc etc are all what make the song interesting instead of just a repetitive lock-in.

    A song is an emotional sonic painting and the instruments are the musical paintbrushes. A song is a work and you "color" it with an instrument.

    The way and how you color it is what will make the song bad, ordinary or great.

    Just about any song can be made more interesting by what the bassist does with the entire song ...not just the root bassline.

    Notes are like the man said in the song:> "You've got to know when to hold them, know when to fold them".....

    "More" bass notes doesn't always make a song better....it's quality not quantity.
    1stnamebassist and Aberdumbie like this.
  11. Aberdumbie


    Jan 22, 2016
    South Carolina
    I played rock many years ago and just recently started playing in my church. We have an accomplished piano player and I record his playing and practice to that and it has elevated my playing to new levels. Finding the patterns within his keys is magic sometimes.
  12. syncopation is the key
  13. AaronVonRock


    Feb 22, 2013
    Forget scales and patterns. If you are trying to come up with your own songs and are having difficulty, copy songs that you already like. Straight up copy them. Look at how the songs are structured and how everything fits together. Chances are you may not be able to play the song 100% accurately and you start doing things a little bit differently or maybe even play a part completely wrong. That's when you may come up with something totally new. Those mistakes and misfires can turn into something interesting and orignial if you keep plugging away at it.
  14. Sixpack324


    Jan 10, 2012
    New Jersey
    I would start learning songs you like, paying attention to what the bass player is doing.......Not just what notes they're playing, but what notes they're playing when. After a few songs, you'll start to see how they have applied the music theory you have learned to their songs....... If you've learned your theory, a lightbulb will eventually go off and you'll realize "Hey...He's just stacking 3rds there!" or "That's just a Root-3-5 phrase to the next chord" or whatever theory happens to be applied. After a few lightbulbs.....you'll be able to start applying your theory to your songs....
  15. A lot of great advice has been given here! A lot of worship and praise is pretty basic pedaling the root note. It may get boring after a while! Like Malcom said you need to learn your chord tones or arpeggios for any given chord. Then you need to learn how to apply them with a good sense of rhythm. Their is more than one way to skin a cat. One person may play a song one way on bass and someone else will do something totally different. Both may be right, but maybe one will sound better than the other. Right now listen to the songs and see whats going on in them. Also your worship leader may want you to play the songs pretty much like the recording so follow that. If he or she is a little more open about the arrangement, then you are really at the mercy of what the drummer is playing. I've played on teams where every time I did a particular song I had to adjust to what that drummer of the week was doing. I may have played it one way one week, then the next its like a whole new song with the same chords but different rhythm. So learn your arpeggios,use your roots, and listen to drum bass relationships in different songs. Once you learn to lock in with the drummer you'll be grooving in no time!
    Also how many instruments are on your worship team? If you have several instruments going on, its best to keep the bass lines simple, especially if you have instruments doing solos.
  16. Cuzzie

    Cuzzie Supporting Member

    Jan 1, 2016
    Agree with all things said especially about singing a bass line.
    You can go standard lines like The Cult, slightly off harmonies like Alice in Chains, or slapping like fishbone or living colour, or good Southern rock with good bass lines like black stone cherry.
    For other types of music look at Chic and Bernard , lots of disco where the bass line is the song, he uses lots of techniques and will get your fingers working.
    Just some interesting examples of different ways.
    If you have the money, maybe get a looper play the root nite to a song and then later on top to have a play with what may sound cool.
    I'm no expert, but it's all fun
  17. Off-Beat


    Dec 8, 2014
    Vienna, AUT
    There's no bass solo needed for playing "scales". The rest I'd sign, kinda. Yes, the chords are more important than the scales themselves. The key(s) the song is in and the used degrees are most important - they give away the chords and by that 90% of what to do on bass. Let's say you have the said Cmaj7 on I and you play the V and ii it would be G7 and Dm7.

    Knowing that, you could play root and 5th over all those chords, but imo that wouldn't make it interesting. That's the easy way out. Let's take Dm7. The chord consists of D F A C and their octaves ofc. None of those tones will sound off, and you could also fit all of them into 1 bar, but it might sound busy. The importance is where the band puts the emphasis on. You can decide to hit the same notes at the same time or to counter them. Countering them might sound good, might not. You'll find out yourself.

    Let's say drum beat puts emphasis on 2 and 4 and guitar play plays 3rd and 5th at those hits and you do it too will sound right 100% of the time. In between you can apply those chord tones, but you can also play notes of the scales that fit the key or the chord itself. You can also "borrow" tones from different scales; all of these tones should be passing though.
    So if the piece is in C Major and you're at the ii you can use the 5th of CMaj7 which would be G, although it's not in Dm7, but it shouldn't be used as a tone to "land" on. Just a note that leads to a resoluting or harmonic note of the chord. You can borrow the Ges of another scale, too, and run down to the third chromatically. It wouldn't sound way off, although without context it is.

    Also: Repetition builds emphasis. Let's say you have song in i-iv-v. You could go all pentatonic runs on that all day without hitting a note twice each chord, but some bassplayers decide to just play eights there on the root with an occasional 5th, although they're surely capable of more. This builds strong emphasis on the chord and helps the guitarists shine as the bass always gives away where the song is. You take that away and the song might become structureless mess. Think ACDC.

    What I find very good is to sit down with the guitarist or other leads in the band and jam. Jam on one chord first. 4 bars each. 4 bars of guitar solo, bass playing the riff/chord, 4 bars of bass noodling, guitar plays the chord/riff. If you got that down add songs structures and repeat. It will help you find out what you can do to help a song and it will also let you find out what's too much.
    MalcolmAmos likes this.
  18. Verdigris


    Jun 4, 2015
    There's a lot of good advice here. Additionally, you might want to take a look at Scott Devine's (of Scott's Bass Lessons) videos about what he calls the groove grid concept and the groove formula. They're free online. He breaks down how to construct bass lines in a really clear way. I found them really helpful.
  19. Acoustic356

    Acoustic356 Supporting Member

    Jul 3, 2014
    A firm understanding of music theory works...
    • Sure, you can play the chord tones, but you can also play upper extensions and notes below the root for variety.
    • You can introduce passing tones as approach notes or to create tension.
    • There's the firm understanding of knowing what notes you can land on and when/how to resolve notes.
    • There's knowing what alternate scales you can use (for example, the Mixolydian mode, blues scale, minor pentatonic over a Dom7 chord)
    • There's the understanding of substitutions (tritone and subdominant)
    • There's being able to navigate the entire fretboard to tell a melodic story and not just staying in one position
    • There's knowing when to play with/against the kick drum
    • There's articulation (slides, stings, hammer on/pull offs, trills)
    • There's technique (slap, pop, double thumb, sweeping [like Adam Nitti])
    • There's feel/groove (are you playing on the beat, behind the beat, ahead of the beat)
    • Understanding notes, pentatonics, chromatics - and being able to leverage these with your scales, modes, and arpeggios
    This is just the tip of the iceberg!

    It's really life long study, but more than just knowing the scales, it's knowing how/when to use them.

    One of the best ways to get the knowledge is to listen to songs that you like, and not just learn the lick or groove, but understand what they are playing:
    • what chord is the band band playing
    • what is the drummer doing
    • what scale is being used
    • if a note or run is "outside" - why does it feel good?
    Once you get a hang of these - you think less about it in the moment and just do it... but until then, it's a little bit of work!
    Last edited: Feb 3, 2016
  20. Nev375


    Nov 2, 2010
    If I'm unhappy that my bassline is too generic

    *AND IF*

    The song in question actually NEEDS something interesting
    (remember sometimes it's good to be boring, just keep it tight)

    Then I usually just pick an off-note at random from outside the
    scale and find a way to work it in smoothly. Usually from a
    chromatic passing run. But sometimes I keep it funky and odd.

    Don't forget dynamics too. You can accent other things than the
    kick drum. You can even play AGAINST the beat of the kick drum
    at certain times. Best to mind the 1 though ...except sometimes
    in reggae.

    Just don't kill the song. Remember that you all can't be too busy
    doing your own thing at the same time except in jazz.

    Listen to interesting bassists and analyse what they do.
    Cuzzie likes this.
  21. Primary

    Primary TB Assistant

    Here are some related products that TB members are talking about. Clicking on a product will take you to TB’s partner, Primary, where you can find links to TB discussions about these products.

    Apr 23, 2021

Share This Page

  1. This site uses cookies to help personalise content, tailor your experience and to keep you logged in if you register.
    By continuing to use this site, you are consenting to our use of cookies.