Bass lines

  • Explore different types of bass lines including walking bass and riffs.

  • Listen to examples of bass lines from The 1975, Little Simz and Paolo Nutini.

  • Start making your own bass lines.

Watch the band experiment with the bass line for their song.

A bass line has a low pitch and is the lowest part of the music. It creates rhythm, as well as harmony with the chords. This adds to the texture of the music.

Some of the instruments that play bass lines are:

  • bass guitar
  • double bass
  • keyboard

Hip-hop and pop bass lines are often created using music software.

Different bass lines for different styles

Bass lines can sound different depending on the style. Here are some examples:

  • Rock bass lines are usually very simple, and relate to the rhythm of the guitar part.

  • Many pop songs will use bass riffs. This is a short catchy tune. They fit with the notes in the chord but other notes may be used to make it more memorable.

  • Folk music, such as American country music or Irish folk, will often use the root note and fifth of a chord (with a chord of C major, this is C and G).

  • In blues and jazz, a walking bass line is often used. These bass lines feature a note on every beat. It uses extra notes to create a smooth line in the bass part. These are called passing notes.

Listen to these examples of bass lines played by different artists

Listen to this bass line from Give Yourself a Try by The 1975. It is simple but gives the song drive, backing the guitar part with root notes of the chord.
Listen to this bass riff from Offence by Little Simz. This part of the song features drums, vocals and a bass riff, played on a synthesiser that makes a distorted bass sound.
Listen to the walking bass line in Pencil Full of Lead by Paolo Nutini. There is a note on every beat.

Following the chords

The notes in a bass line usually match the chords of the song, and they will often use the root note of each chord. For example, these are the notes that make up some basic chords, with the root note in bold:

  • C chord – C, E G
  • G chord – G, B, D
  • Am chord – A, C E
  • F chord – F, A, C
Listen to these four chords - C major, G major, A minor, F major.
Listen to a bass line playing C, E, G along with a C Major chord.

Give it a go

Find a bass instrument and practise playing the root note along with the chord. Hold the root note for four beats, then move to the next root note when the chord changes.

When you have mastered that, try to create more complex bass lines. Start by playing the notes in the chord, then experiment with different rhythms. If you use notes that aren’t in the chord, use your ear to decide whether or not they fit with the chord above. If it helps, you can copy one of the styles mentioned earlier in the article.

Listen to more

Listen to these parts of The Sound of Us. Can you hear the bass line in the song?

Listen to the whole band performing The Sound of Us.
Listen to the bass line of The Sound of Us.

Keywords

KeywordDefinition
bass lineThe lowest line of a piece of music. It is usually played on a bass instrument, like the double bass or bass guitar.
chordA group of notes that sound together.
pitchHow high or low a note is.
rhythmThe pattern of the notes in a music piece.
harmonyThe combination of chords used in a piece.
textureThe layers of musical sound in a piece of music.
riffA short repeated melodic idea.
walking bass lineA bass line with one note on every beat, and extra notes that are quite close together.
passing notesExtra notes used in a bass line to make it smooth.

Next steps

Playing together
Fusion music
British pop music