When composing a song, the obvious place to focus on is the melody. In fact, I wrote a series of tutorials providing tips for composing melodies recently, which you may find useful if you're struggling with this part of song writing (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3).
Whilst a catchy melody is arguably the single most important element to get right, it's also seriously beneficial to pay close attention to the bass line too. Musicians and composers have been using bass lines to spice up their scores for centuries, across all genres of music from classical to blues, jazz to pop.
In this tutorial you'll pick up some tips, tricks and ideas to help you improve your compositions by creating better bass lines.
1. The Root Note
First of all you need to understand some of the basics about your song before you can write a good bass line. This means, you should first identify the following;
- What key is your song in?
- What are the main chords in the song?
Without knowing the above two answers, you'll just be 'fumbling' around on your instrument trying to 'pitch' tones which appear to match or sound good to accompany the melody and/or backing track.
This works fine for some people, completely naturally as they're able to do this by ear. But for the purposes of providing you actionable tips to spice up your bass lines, I'm going to assume you're able to determine the answers to the above questions first.
In this tutorial example, we'll keep things simple, with a demo song in the key of C Major, and the opening chords are: C major, G major, C major, F major.
Once we know the key signature and chord sequence of the song, we're immediately able to write our first basic bass line. How? Simply take the 'root' of each chord and play this for the bass line.
For example, the chord C Major has a root of 'C', so we play a 'C' bass note. The G Major chord has a root of 'G', so the bass line follows with a 'G' note. And so on. Here's how this really basic bass line would sound with our example song.
2. Use Other Notes from within the Chord
Using the root of a chord will provide the most 'stable' sound, and it's often good to open and end a song with the root. However, sticking to this technique all the way through a song will risk your composition sounding simplistic or a little dull. The next thing to try therefore is to replace some of the root bass notes with a different note from the chord being played.
For example, in our example, the chord sequence is: C, G, C, F. We'll keep the first bass note as the root ('C'), but we'll try a different bass note for the second chord G major. Here's an example of how it sounds with a 'B' bass note underpinning the G Major chord in bar 2.
Could you hear the difference? Sounds pretty good, right? We could instead try it with the other note of the G Major triad - 'D' - as the bass note, again in bar 2.
Notice how different this makes things sound? Both versions sound good, because both deploy the same basic principle of the bass note using tones from within the overall chord being played in the backing track.
We could follow the same principle, on the 3rd chord (C major). Lets replace the root bass note ('C') with an 'E' (because E is one of the notes of the basic C Major chord - C, E and G).
Again, this adds another element of interest to the song now that the bass line isn't following the standard root note for each chord.
What you'll also notice is that the base note is actually now forming a pattern, going up the scale note by note. This is the beginnings of what could be termed 'walking the bass'. More on this later.
So, if we continue to take this further, we're able to get quite creative, exchanging the root bass note of our simple chords C, F, G and A minor, to make a half-decent bass line with just this one technique.
Here's how the new bass line sounds in our example song, with added drums and piano accompaniment. Notice how at 0:20 the F chord, uses a bass note of 'A' followed by the G chord which has a bass note of 'B'. This creates a rather interesting sound, especially when the bass then jumps down to an 'E' at 0:25.
Try this technique on your own bass lines, you'll be amazed at how different your song sounds just with a few strategic replacement notes from within the chord.
3. Add Embellishments
Using the above two techniques alone will create some real interest in your composition. However, it's now time to try and add something extra - 'embellishments'. There are a few simple tricks you can employ when adding embellishments to a bass line.
a. Repeat Notes
Repeat the same note, adding a emphasis to the beat or rhythm of the music. This is often done on the last beat of a bar at its simplest level, or by several repeats of the same note throughout the bar.
Here's an example, using the song as before, but with a very obvious repeated bass note. This is rather exaggerated for the purposes of the tutorial, but you'll see what a difference it makes to the feel of the bass line.
Try adding more complex rhythms to your bass line to emphasis the main beat, or even provide some syncopation against the rest of the backing track / melody.
b. Hop Octaves
Simply play the same bass note an octave higher, or lower, to add another element of interest to the bass line, rather than staying on or repeating the same note.
If we take our example song, listen to how the bass line now utilise the above tips by repeating notes and hopping up and down the octaves using different patterns in the clip below.
c. 'Walking the Bass' (Basic Form)
When moving from one bass note to the next, try using the notes of the scale to 'walk' from the first note up or down to the next note. This sets us free from only using the basic notes of the chord, to using notes in the scale.
For example, you might have in your song, a move from the C chord, to an F chord. To 'walk the bass' at a very simple level, you could start with a bass note of 'C', then whilst the rest of the backing accompaniment is still on the C chord, the bass walks up to 'D', then 'E', and finally onto the 'F' just as the chord changes to F major. We've walked up from C to F using the notes of the scale in between.
Depending on the sound you're wanting to achieve, you could even test notes which are not in the standard scale. For example, how about in the above example, using an 'D sharp' too.
Just for fun, I've added some of this technique to our example song below. It doesn't always 'work', but you can at least listen to the example to get a better understand of the concept, for when to deploy it (and when not to).
Note: There's a more detailed explanation of the 'walking the bass' in Wikipedia.
4. Have Fun with the Bass!
My final tip is to simply enjoy playing around with your bass line. Don't be tempted to just choose the root note all the time. Remember that the bass line can drastically affect the overall sound of your song, so it's not something to just throw together without too much thought or effort.
Keep trying out new notes, adding embellishments and even vary the bass at different parts in your piece. Try use combinations of tricks in this tutorial to add a real boost to your bass lines!
Here's a final adaptation of our example tutorial song. Hopefully this shows with just a few simple techniques, how a 'boring' set of chords such as C, F, G, A minor, can be spiced up to something quite different - mainly because of the choice of bass notes (and some Apple La-La-La vocal Loops).
It’s been a long, strange, mobile trip. Part of the appeal of iOS apps for music when they first arrived was doing just one thing at a time.
But what if you want that focus on music making – and still have multiple tools working at once?
Audiobus was the app that popularized the notion of interconnecting apps on mobile, patching together effects and instruments and mixers and production tools. And now, more than ever, the idea of a device like an iPad as an all-in-one studio is starting to seem pretty reasonable. Apple’s latest iPad Air delivers on the promise of desktop-class performance in a tablet, and it’s surely just the beginning.
Now Audiobus 2 is offering still more-powerful stuff. It also answers the question of why you’d want to buy a third-party app when Apple’s own OS is slowly baking in its own inter-app audio features. Audiobus 2 might cost a few extra bucks, but its developer support is unparalleled, and it can complement Apple’s own functionality with stuff the OS on its own doesn’t do – like building a centralized hub in which apps can connect.
In this version:
- Multi-Routing. (US$4.99 add-on, in-app purchase, though for power users probably worth it.) Connect an unlimited number of apps to other apps – perfect for those new iPads, or advanced chaining. And use multi-channel input hardware.
- Save and recall presets – even save them as recipes and share on email, Twitter, Facebook.
- State-Saving: in compatible apps, save/recall your workspace in apps like Nave, JamUp, Swoopster, Sector and DM1.
- New UI, with iOS 7-style colored shading to reflect the apps you’re using.
I also hear from one tester that there’s a bit of a bug with the Multi-Routing in-app purchase. If the app is crashing for you after you buy the add-on, try deleting and reinstalling Audiobus. Your purchase will still be there, and everything works fine. This is unconfirmed, so your mileage may vary; I expect it’s something they’ll fix.
Now let’s watch some videos:
The post Audiobus 2: Chain, Multi-Channel, Presets, and More in iOS Audio Routing Tool appeared first on Create Digital Music.
For centuries, music was something made in a living room, made at home. It was a brief fluke of the 20th Century that music came out of a heroic process in a hidden-away studio. But if the gold-plated, magical record is threatened, some artists are trying to bring the daily ritual of home music making back.
Ólafur Arnalds and Matthew Flook are each making gorgeous, cinematic-ambient tracks, and each have made projects that involve doing so on a regular basis in their homes. Let’s listen.
Arnalds has been making some of the finest scores anywhere, and now has earned the appropriate recognition. In celebration, we get to enjoy the documentation of his achingly-pretty Living Room Songs project free – along with free downloads of the record (or pay for higher quality). Erased Tapes, which also happens to be one of my favorite labels these days (see also post-minimalist pianist Nils Frahm, among others), brings the good news:
In celebration of Ólafur Arnalds’ recent BAFTA nomination for his score work on Broadchurch, Erased Tapes are streaming his 2011 Living Room Songs film in full; including behind the scenes footage which has previously only been available as part of the special edition CD/DVD set.
Shot by Gunnar Guðbjörnsson and Bowen Staines
Edited by Bowen Staines
You can purchase physical and high-quality digital from the Erased Tapes store, or grab the downloads free from the Living Room Songs site:
We get over half an hour of footage to watch. This is all acoustic instrumentation, in case anyone wants to question whether it belongs on this particular site – but, then, that’s the joy of the mobility of today’s digital recording technology.
It occurs to me that part of the magic of the Living Room Songs project is that it was done in a fixed span of time. Regardless of the success of the artist, that sort of discipline is essential. For the emerging artist, juggling bookings with other jobs, it’s an almost radical carve-out of time. But for the successful, touring artist, too, it can be a rare set of moments of truly personal creative space.
Ólafur Arnalds made his work daily over the course of a week, with one composition for each of the seven days.
Matthew Flook wrote me this week to share his moody, lushly ambient creation Exit Signs. Here, the cadence was one creation per week, for 13 weeks.
He joined the Weekly Beats project we mentioned earlier in order to produce the project.
At the time, many of you expressed a desire to set your own timing and cadence. Sure enough, Flook decided after 13 weeks, he already had one record. The result, released yesterday: Winter Phase.
The day was January 1st, 2014… on which I was driving home from Long Beach, Washington with a mild hangover and a thirst for something new. I was tired and feeling beaten down by the failures of past endeavors, forgotten resolutions, and dwindling artistic productivity. This was it: the time to begin my new year with new ambitions, creations, and challenges. I needed to get back in the studio, and the only clear path in my hazy mind was to begin producing one song per week for the entire year; no excuses, no delays. This release is the culmination of the first quarter of this endeavor, recorded over the rainy winter months in my northeast Portland basement studio.
The individual songs from this weekly project have been mixed into a cohesive, linear album release, and re-mastered for better playability across audio systems. The recording, mixing, and mastering were all done in-house on a very strict schedule that required completing and publishing the results each Sunday by 12:00 AM GMT. The platform that helped me to establish this process is called Weekly Beats, found here: weeklybeats.com#/matthew+flook
This music is meant to capture a moment, and is recorded quickly without (my usual) excessive fussing over minor details. That being said, I put my best effort towards making these sound as good as possible in a week’s time, and suspect you’ll find some surprising subtlety in the mixes – especially if you give a listen with headphones. Enjoy!
Much is made of the cult of disconnecting from the Internet, abandoning Instagram and YouTube and Facebook and – yes, even SoundCloud. Yet Flook and other artists are paradoxically using those globally-connected tools to become more aware of the intimate, creative moments of their life. You can follow Flook on Instagram and see a kind of meditation on his creative spaces. It’s clear that these uploads, like diary writing to an unseen audience, somehow produce greater motivation rather than greater distraction. It’s part promotion, part self-incentive.
Matthew’s blog follows this process:
And the finished album:
You can follow Ólafur Arnalds, too, primarily on his Facebook. (Ah, the irony of “artists” posting Facebook pages maintained by someone else — it rather misses the point. Nothing like that here.)
Once upon a time, little production moments would be tightly-guarded secrets, unless manufacturer artist relations people were breathing down your neck to get an endorsement in. Here, they’re shared freely, almost as part of the process, and so we know, for instance, Ólafur is a fan of Spitfire Audio’s BML string library and the wonderful (though I’ve had little chance to write about yet) Universal Audio Ocean Way Studios reverb:
Ólafur joins Erased Tapes stable mate Nils Frahm to talk about what it means to make modern classical music in a new idiom:
And his latest record “For Now I am in Winter” came out earlier this year, as blissful as skating across a frozen, white pond:
I can’t really draw any connection to these two records other than they have “winter” in the title, and you can see parallel practices from the two artists to ritualistic production and accompanying Internet promotion and distribution. But they do give me a similarly happy feeling, so there’s that.
And it’s a pleasure to take these winter treats into spring. (Well, unless you’re in the midwest of the USA, where apparently you should hole up with these two albums and some long-lasting batteries during a major winter storm this week!)
The post In Living Rooms, Homes, Beautiful Music as a Ritual: Olafur Arnalds; Matthew Flook; Free appeared first on Create Digital Music.