The bass line, called a “riff”, is the foundation of your song. It matches the rhythm of the drum groove and supports the lead instrument and singer. Here are step-by-step hints for writing a bass riff:
1. Open your bass track. In your Digital Audio Workstation (like Logic, Ableton, or AudioSauna), go to “Track” or “Create” on the top menu, and create a new MIDI track of a synthesizer. Choose your bass instrument from the preset instrument sounds. When you are ready to compose, make sure your grid composition window is open and choose the “Pencil” tool from the top menu. Remember that you can click any square to turn on the note and click it again to delete the note. Drag the side of the red note square to make it into a longer note.
2. Start composing with a blues scale. We’ll talk about the blues scale in music terms here, but if you’re not comfortable with music terms, you can find simple examples of blues scales here: Blues Scales on the Piano. If you use only the notes of the blues scale in your bass riff, it will sound good by itself and with the other parts of the song. In this tutorial, we will be using the popular C minor blues scale.
In music terms, a blues scale is a minor pentatonic scale plus a “blue note”. The added “blue note” is the sharp (#) fourth scale degree or flat (♭) fifth scale degree. Remember that “scale degrees” are the number names of the notes counting up from the lowest note. So in the C minor scale, C is the number 1, or first scale degree.
The minor pentatonic scale is a scale of 5 notes made of the first, third, fourth, fifth, and seventh scale degrees of the minor scale. So how do we change C minor pentatonic into C minor blues? If we add a G flat as a “blue note”, the flat (♭) fifth scale degree in the C minor scale, then we have a C minor blues scale.
Use these notes in your bass riff, and you will hear that bass blues sound! End your riff with G going to C, or B flat going to C, so that the riff sounds like a complete line.
3. Think about how your bass notes will move. You can “walk” or “hop” the bass notes. If you have a “walking” bass, the notes will be close together, going smoothly up and down the scale. If the notes are “hopping”, they will be far apart, jumping up and down from high to low sounds. In this example below, notice how the notes are “walking” by steps, until three notes from the end, when there is a bit of a “hop” onto the final two notes.
4. Move at the same rhythm as the “beat” of the song. Don’t use bass notes that are too fast or too slow. The bass line keeps your song moving at a steady, danceable tempo. If you are not sure how fast or slow to write the bass notes, look at your drum groove and match the main beats. For example, for each kick drum in a “four on the floor” House music pattern, put one bass note. The bass riff and rhythm groove should work together. This will give your song a strong Drum & Bass groove!
5. Loop your bass riff. Make sure that the loop, the green bar at the top of the track, is in the right place. This will loop all of your tracks at the same time, so make sure it is in the right place to loop your rhythm track (drums) and your bass riff together.