How to write a great bass line depends on just a few points. These are points we here at MondoFYI haven’t covered yet, so why waste time? Let’s go.
1. Bass lines don’t usually come first
If you only play bass, then you probably spend a lot of time noodling around and discovering neat riffs to show the people you play with.
That’s good! That’s great! You should absolutely do that!
(But it’s not the usual way songs are written).
Usually, singer-songwriters do the songwriting because the vocals and melody instruments need to work tightly together. If the bass comes first, then the rhythm and lead guitars need to write themselves around that bass line, and then the singer needs to write around that, too.
Which leads to …
2. Find the root note of the song
There’s a central note which is played more often than the other notes in every song.
That’s called the root note.
For instance, if the guitarist plays a scale (do-re-me-fa-s-la-ti-do) then the first note played is the root note. It is also the key of the song. Notice, too, that the first and last notes are the same, except that one is an octave higher than the other. (There are eight notes in do-re-me-fa-so-la-ti-do, so it’s called an octave, just like an octopus has eight arms).
Once you find the key and root note of the song, you know which note you should write your bass line around.
3. Keep it simple
Bassists aren’t usually best when they’re super busy. Don’t run up and down the neck of your guitar with 20 notes every five seconds.
Great bassists, like great drummers, are usually the most bored people onstage.
(Never look like it, though. That’s crappy performance, and it matters).
4. Play to the kick drum
Now that you know what notes to play, when do you play them? What rhythm do you use?
The general rule of thumb is to play a note whenever the drummer kicks his bass drum.
If you do this correctly and consistently, this marries the drums to the bassist. Other bands will wonder, “How do they get that nice, tight sound?”
Nothing muddies music like bass players playing notes whenever they want to. If you play on top of the kick, you’ll blend into the percussion section like a wraith and everything will sound amazing.
5. Don’t leave out the chords!
Just because it’s harder doesn’t mean you’re exempt from playing more than one string at a time on your instrument.
Maybe you’re very small. Flea (Red Hot Chili Peppers) and Bill Wyman (Rolling Stones) are both notoriously small, yet both play beautiful chords on their basses.
Try that. Do that.
6. Experiment with different plucking techniques
Every bass player who’s played for more than a week has tried a few different plucking techniques.
Very few continue to change their own technique up for the proper sound for the song.
Slapping, picking, plucking, strumming, thumbing … They all produce different tones and a good bassist should match these to the song at hand.
That’s all for this week’s MondoDIY! Don’t miss out on last week’s piece giving pointers to the vocalists out there. Have fun! We love you!