January 2019

Techniques: All About That Bass

Basslines are often the foundation of a song, along with being the first thing that might grab a listener.

National Standards: 1-3, 5-7, 9, 11

Prepare

Have the class read Techniques: All About that Bass (page 24 of the student edition). The article uses four examples (roots and fifths, triads, chromatic notes, walking basslines) to illustrate the way baselines captivate our attention and bring a song to life.

Key points in the article:

    • The bass part is central to the movement and overall feeling of a track, and it is important to be familiar with how the bassline connects with the rest of the song even if you’re not the one playing it.
    • Composers and songwriters must understand which instruments can have a bassline and what those instruments might do to move a song forward.
    • There are many ways to write a bassline, and these four applications are a good place to start.

Begin

Example 1

Play “With or Without You” by U2. 

  • Listen closely for the movement of the bassline, and have students follow along. If available, play example 1 on a piano beforehand so that students understand exactly what to listen for.
  • Ask students about the relationship between root and fifth. What do each of those terms mean? Why are they important things to take into account when writing a bassline?

Example 2

If available, play the line in example 2 on a piano. Announce the chord changes and their relationship to each other as you play through each measure so that students can hear how each step of the scale relates to the previous one.

  • Be sure to explain what G/B “G over B” means. This is still a G chord, but the lowest note in the chord is B instead of G, giving the chord a new “color” and allowing the line to move in a new direction.

Example 3

Review the definition of “chromatic” with students, and how this type of scale allows a player to use notes that are outside the original key.

  • Play Herbie Hancock’s “Chameleon 

  • What stands out about this bassline compared to the one from “With or Without You”?

Example 4

Play “So What” by Miles Davis

  • What does a “walking bassline” mean?
  • What stands out about this bassline compared to the other one’s you’ve heard?

Close

  • If available, have students volunteer to play their own bassline on the piano as you (or another student) plays the chords from one of the examples.
  • If you don’t have access to a piano or students don’t feel comfortable with this, play video below to give an overview of how to create basic basslines from a new perspective.
  • Encourage your students to give this a try with their instruments at home