We all know singer-songwriters. Noodling away with their guitars or pianos. That’s fine an all, but we as bass players simply cannot do that. Of course, there are some geniuses like Marcus Miller or Victor Wooten who can write a bassline so sick that it hardly needs other instruments or a singer, but most of us simply can’t do that. That’s not a problem, we can still write a bassline, but we are gonna have to do that in coöperation with a couple of bandmembers. Or if you are a multi-instrumentalist, you can do it all yourself. But where to start? How do you write a bassline?
Write a bassline – listen to the music
There are a couple of things that you should know before you start any attempt to write a bassline. First of all, be aware of what your goal is. In this case we have decided to write a bassline for a song that your band wants to play. This means that a guitarist or a keyboardist might have some chords or a melody. This sets up a different situation than if you were to start writing a bassline from scratch with no reference music.
You’re gonna have to listen to whatever your bandmembers have come up with. Listen to the drums, if there are any. Is it a clean, tight rhythm? Is it grooving and full like a latin rhythm and does it allow you to melodize over it? Just try to feel the rhythm of the drums. Once you get a feeling for this, begin listening to the chords and melody. Just try to figure out what chords they are playing and begin hitting notes. It doesn’t really matter if they are wrong or right, just make sure that they are in the rhythm and try to listen to what effect they have on the composition.
Some notes may immediately sound off-key. Some may sound a bit pitchy and some sound perfect. After a while you will figure out what the root notes of each section are. Try seeing each chords as a seperate part where you can try out all different kinds of notes. But be aware of the rhythm. If it’s a really tight rhythm, keep your bassline tight and basic. Figure out for each section what is possible and what sounds right. Once you have explored all the options, it’s time to connect.
A simple progression of a song might be C, F, G. By now you might have figured out where you wanna go on the C-chord. it might be a basic set-up for a nice groove on the F. The G in this progression is the chord that sets up the return to the C. When writing a bassline you could keep that in mind and create a climax by playing some high octave notes. In a tight rhythm you can repeat a simple bassline on and on. This creates a hypnotic effect if played right.
This should get you going to create basslines for the songs of your band. It does however ask of you to be creative and to listen closely to your bandmembers. If you still need more practice, then check out the bass basics or other links in the learn bass section.