One of the most difficult parts in making a beat is putting together a bassline. I think one of the main reasons why is because a lot of beatmakers aren’t trained in writing music or even reading music, so it leaves them feeling lost when it comes time to fill out the low end.
I can’t speak for other genres of music, but with Hip Hop, it can be pretty easy to get away with a simple bassline that will have a huge impact on your beat.
Do You Need A Bassline?
There are many times when you don’t actually need to add any bass to your beat. Some of the best songs ever made didn’t have any bass, or very little at that. When I’m creating a beat, I always try to add some sort of bass at one point or another, but there are times when all that does is muddy up my track.
Just yesterday I sampled some music from a movie and what was interesting was that the sample had a part with some heavy bass in it. Once I chopped the sample into different sections, it was really easy to just leave the listener with the impression that there’s a bassline filling out this beat, when in fact there’s not.
Bass Notes Or Basslines?
Even though the sample I used had bass in it, it wasn’t a bassline, but the way that I tweaked it, it sounded like there was bass filling everything out. The bass in the sample lasted about two seconds, but I still went ahead and added a saturator plug-in effect to it, and boosted the bass. What this did was it didn’t literally extend the length of the sample, but it made it resonate longer, which gives off the impression of a longer bass note.
Now this was not intentional. My goal was to actually boost the bass, but having the bass resonate longer was actually a positive side effect for me.
Thinking about basslines is funny to me because it always reminds me of a friend of mine that just hates making basslines. He can’t play a bassline, even if a gun was pointed at his head, so instead he always ends up doing one of two things:
- Not having a bassline.
- Using a bass note every few bars.
And this is interesting because in certain genres of music, such as Hip Hop, it’s easy to just use a bass note throughout your beat, and in fact, it’s common practice.
For example, my friend would take a sub bass note and just have it trigger every four bars. It seems lazy and may sound boring to some, but think about it for a second:
The bass note is every 4 bars, but since he’s using a sub bass, the tone is lengthy, so even though it’s one note being played, it gives the impression that the low end is full. This is what I mean when I mention bass notes versus basslines, because they both have similar characteristics. You don’t need to always play a bassline pattern, because bass notes are just as effective.
Not Using A Bassline
There are times when you won’t want any bass at all, and that’s fine, just as long as you have something else filling out the low end. For example, alternatives to bass are:
- 808 kick drum.
- Thick kick drum.
- Thick melody.
It can be argued that an 808 kick drum is essentially a bass note, but it’s still a drum. Plenty of times I’ve added an 808 on the first kick every four bars, and it fills out the low end beautifully.
You can also just have a heavy sounding kick drum that doesn’t hit the low end as good as a bass note or bassline, but it can definitely trick the listener into thinking there’s a low end.
The same can be said for a thick melody because some melodies sound thick, so it fills out enough of the auditory spectrum, that the listener won’t notice.
The Other Option
My favorite option for bass is simply taking my melody, copying it to another track, and applying a low-pass filter to it, then increasing the volume on it.
This was a popular method back in the 90’s, and it was popular because it just worked. I still use that method today because it sounds great, it gets the job done, and it makes it really easy to transition from the verse to the chorus.
Always remember that a bassline is not always needed, and in some genres it can be frowned upon, so that’s why it’s always good to look at alternative methods. A bassline or bass note should compliment the other tracks in your beat, but should also have a life of its own, if needed.