Writing A Bass Line – Primer

So you’re here, looking for the answer?

Same as it ever was, these are just ideas, musings if you will.

All music and writing is subjective – it’s personal and down to individual taste.

But as always with practice gettting what you want will get easier with time spent exercising your compositional brain.

As with all primers on this site this primer is going to deal with the basics, I will expand on the bigger issues in other articles and also show tutorials using  ‘piano roll’ in Reaper and ‘staff view’ in Sonar 7.

Hopefully both views should help anyone using other daws as the prinicples are the same, but don’t hold me to that, these are the only DAWs I use.

Knowing a bit about theory will be of use and knowing the difference between a major 3rd and a minor 3rd will be important. Also knowing your key signatures and chord spellings will be of use here.

Don’t panic though, in the individual articles that expand from this one I will explain what these are and show you how to work it so that you understand in a better way.

Don’t let theory own you – it’s just short hand to getting quicker results.

Take bitesize chunks as you go and don’t allow it to become the big white elephant in the room.


Learning to play bass is almost the same as learning to program bass.

What I mean by that, is that it’s a skill more than a virtuoso thing.

Think about it, the best bassists are not always the up front guy.

There are exceptions, Flea from the Chill Peppers is one, but for ths most part think about the big bands in the world. Now think about who the bassist is. If your not a bassist or basscentric then can you answer that?

Guitarists always assume that playing bass is easy, it’s not.

You have to have a musical brain and a real dedication to the music to play bass, for the most part ignored and derided.

But without a good solid bass, your music will fall apart.

So when you program or play bass think about the music – it should govern what you want.

A few quick tips – apply to playing and programming…

1. Follow the kick drum – if you deviate too much from the kick you’ll get a muddy effect – try and zone right in with each note so that it hits each kick – occasionally you can throw in a run or an accented note on the snare but try not to get too busy.

2. Try intervals – the most common bassline is the root note fixated bassline -you’ve heard it or maybe not – it’s the plodding solid bass line that doesn’t excite but rather just allows everything else to exist without causing too many problems. This kind of bassline is great some of the time and can work really well but sometimes it sounds/feels lazy ands uninspired. Try and mix it up a bit more with intervals.

To expand…

The root note is the lowest note in the chord or triad – the triad is the three notes that make up the chord.  Each note in the triad is an interval of the root note. You can play these as well.

Confused? You should be.

Let’s make that easier to understand.

Basics of chords(article).

3. Play in key – playing in key is not as difficult as it sounds or as you perceive but it does take time to learn.

As a guitar teacher I believe knowing the notes on your guitar and knowing your key signatures is more important than knowing a scale pattern.

The same goes for piano – in fact it’s easier to do.

4. Start small, that is start with one key and learn it inside out – if you take the key of C Major as your foundation to work from you can expand as you get more comfortable.

An idea would be to practice using the key of C and carry on composing as normal – don’t let understanding theory get in the way of your creative impulses. Instead let the theory be a seperate entity until it starts to seep into your conscious.

Knowing the notes, the keys, and the Basics of chords(article) is important but don’t let it stop you from creating music – it is after all a tool and not the rule.

Below are some related articles – some have been written others are to be written.

Related Articles:

Basics of chords(article).

The Major Scale and Intervals

Key Signatures.

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