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How To Program Bass Lines

July 14, 2017

How To Program Bass Lines

A Bit Of Background

When I started listening to hip-hop music, the beats were all about those 2 to 4 bar bass loops. If you didn't have that special bass line, your name or song just didn't get around as much.

Fast forward 20 years, hip-hop bass lines are no longer about soulful bass melodies. I LOVE me a great 808 sequence, but there's just something about a human being shredding on that big ol' axe.


What This Video Is About

But enough with my nostalgic rants. I created this video tutorial to show keyboard players and bedroom producers what I have learned watching my best friend playing the bass guitar. Mind you, this guy plays Louis Johnson, Bernard Edwards and Stuart Zender licks effortlessly.

Creating groovy, realistic bass lines on the computer has never been easier. With the advent of libraries such as Spectrasonics Trillian and Native Instruments' / Scarbee MM-Bass and Pre-Bass, producers with no skills to play the real deal can now churn out incredible-sounding bass licks in time, given they possess the major keys I impart in this little Youtube tut.


4 Steps To The Madness

1. Knowing Your Libraries
For acoustic and electric bass patches, what you are looking for are release samples, pickup noises, bends and everything else that happens in between each individual notes. This will give your bass line some much needed realism and modern virtual instruments DO deliver in this department. Now for synth patches, it's a bit trickier because you will need some sound design basics. 80's keyboard players more often than not used the very famous Minimoog Model D for funkier bass lines, and my theory is that the thick sound was as important as the incredible filter / filter envelope. To me, this is really where the Model D shines. The slapjack effect between the player and the filter envelope is truly magical. So make sure you play around with your filter's ADSR!

2. Scales
Whether you play by ear or can actually read musical notation, playing in harmony with the beat means you "know" what works. When you know your basic scales on the keyboard, you don't even have to worry about what "works" anymore, you simply let your fingers hit the right keys. It's really a beautiful thing.

3. Building Basic Grooves
To start creating interesting bass lines, you first want to learn each of the root notes to the chords in the progression of your beat. Once you know the root notes, start creating tension by playing "around" those root notes. Try playing the root notes on the "one" as well as before and after it.

4. Modern Styles (EDM)
Now for popular modern styles in the EDM realm, such as house, deep house or even future bass, you'll also need to complement the kick which is the most important sound in the whole backbone of the beat. It will often mean placing bass notes "around" the kick instead of on it, like in hip-hop.

I'm going to leave you with the video, but always remember this: nothing makes people dance like a good bass line.

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