Home Studio Series Part 7: Programming Your Basslines

8bitjay is back with his continuing series on getting started with home recording. This week he shows you how to get started programming basslines.

Hello, hello! We’re back with a the latest part of the studio series. Today, we are going to be dropping in a bassline.

Bass guitar

Basslines are often a bit tricky, because it’s tempting to start getting too fancy with it. The trick, really is to be simple. Most of the time, the bass is just an anchor for the rest of the music. It follows the root note of the chord progression. As with anything, this rule is not set in stone. I’ve seen basslines that create the lead part of the music. However, for the most part, it’s best to keep it simple. Simple is catchy, and easy to remember. Later one, as you become more advanced, it’s easier to create more complex basslines that can carry more of the melody. It’s just best to start somewhere and learn from there as you progress.

The first thing to figure out is what kind of a bassline you want. Do you want fast and punchy? Do you want long, slow notes? That’s all up do you. One general rule I read once is that you should make sure that your bass works with the kick drums. If you have a slow, long kick that rings out a little more, you want something fast and punchy to compliment that. If you have a faster, shorter kick, you may want a bass that rings out a bit more. Again, it’s all up to you, and the most important thing is to experiment with sounds until something works.

If there is a single thing that I will say is important, it’s that you ensure that the bass and the kick drum do not fight for space in your mix. Have you ever worked on a song and added a bassline only to notice that your kick drum is completely drowned out by the bass? That’s because they are competing for sonic space (that’s stuff we will have to get to when we start learning more about mixing, but for now, it’s important to make sure that you choose bass sounds and kicks that don’t drown each other out.)

If you have a low, sub-bass kick, use a mid-low fast bass. If your kick is a bit more punchy, use a lower bass. Don’t be afraid to solo them out to hear what they sound like together. If they sound cool together, good. You’re on the right track. You don’t have to listen to me, just listen to your ears. Try it through your monitors, and try it through your headphones if you must.

Another trick is side-chaining. This is something I will get to next week. The concept is pretty much this: Each time your kick drum hits, your bass dips in volume. This creates a cool effect in which your kick drum doesn’t seem to lose power when the bass comes in, and is almost gives the bass a whole new groove as it pumps with the music. If you’re curious about that, you can look up tutorials on YouTube for your specific DAW. For instance, “Sidechaining kick and bass in [your DAW].” I will go over this next week with Logic. However, you can always learn how to do it with your DAW of choice. It’s very useful for sonic clarity (it helps separate the kick and the bassline), and it really makes your music pump.

While I normally prefer staccato notes for my bass parts. They are faster, shorter and more dance-oriented. However, you may want to go with a slower, longer note.

Below, is an example of shorter notes:

short note bars


short note pattern

Now here are some slower notes. It’s the same progression, just longer notes:

long note bars

long note pattern

I also changed the bass sound to be a bit more buzzy with the longer notes. They also have a slower attack.

One thing I try not to do is throw loops away. I also don’t normally change my synth patches (sounds) once I have something I like. If anything, I may save that synth patch. However, if I want to try a new bass sound, I will create a copy of that synth and tweak the patterns and sounds of the duplicate. That way, I always have the original to go back to in case I think that one sounded better. I usually just mute the channel I’m not using, or push it off far to the end of the song so that I can bring it in later if I feel that it fits in at some point.

As with any part, this is your song. Once you learn some of the basics of bass programming, you can start to take it anywhere. Always remember that. Play around, and make this piece yours.

If you need help with chords and scales, check this out. I use it quite often.

Well, that’s it for today. Next week, we will check out side-chaining your bass and kick to make those tracks pump a bit more.

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