Learn how to write an uplifting bass line, using a music theory hack from Black Eyed Peas “Be Nice” ft. Snoop Dogg (written by Adam Friedman for Songland TV show). Subtitles/CC available.
Hello revolutionary music makers, we are Kate Harmony and Ray Harmony (AKA Revolution Harmony), and welcome to Hack Music Theory. We help you make great music that stands out, so you can move and grow your audience! If that sounds useful to you, then subscribe to our YouTube channel and hit that bell to get notified every Thursday, when we publish our new video. Also, if you’re new to our channel, be sure to download our free book “12 Music Theory Hacks to Learn Scales & Chords” below. Alright, it’s time to open your DAW to hack music theory. But first… tea!
The new single “Be Nice” from The Black Eyed Peas (which was written by Adam Friedman for the Songland TV show), has a super fun bass line that’s not only the central focus of the song, but it’s also perfect for conveying the super positive message behind the lyrics. So what makes this bass line feel so good? Well, there’s a few things, like the fact that it’s built around an ascending line, which is literally uplifting. But far more interesting than that, is the fact that the bass line is in a minor key. And as you probably know, major keys are usually used in feel good songs like this. So how do they make a minor key feel so uplifting? Easy, they made the song for dancing, and when we move to music, we feel good. So to get people dancing, they used lots of syncopation in their bass line, and that makes it really funky. And by the way, syncopation is when you accent an off-beat. Also, most funk bass lines are actually in minor keys, cos funk’s favourite notes are the 1, the ♭3 and the ♭7. And lastly, to emphasise all those off-beats in the bass line, the drums accent all the 1/4 note beats by playing the classic four-on-the-floor groove.
Alright, now you’re gonna learn how to use this theory to make your own version. And for the example in this lesson, we’ll be using our version that we made earlier. So, start by setting up two bars of 4/4, with your grid set to 1/16 notes, and your tempo set to 105 BPM. “Be Nice” is in the key of F minor, so we’ll use it too.
STEP 1. SYNCOPATION
Funkiness is all about syncopation. So to get people moving to your bass line, you have to accent lots of off-beats. If you don’t, it’ll sound rigid and stiff, and that ain’t gonna get anybody dancing! And for that reason, the best place to start writing a funky bass line, is with the rhythm, and more importantly, syncopation. And remember, great bass lines have a balance of notes on the beat and notes off the beat. So don’t just play everything off the beat thinking it’ll make your bass line extra funky, you gotta spank some of those 1/4 note beats as well! In our example, we’re playing beat 1 and beat 3 in each bar, and then everything else is syncopated.
And by the way, if you want our ultimate hack for funky bass lines, along with a MIDI file example, then check out our Songwriting & Producing PDF (click & scroll down). It also contains hacks on how to write great chord progressions, melodies, and more MIDI examples as well!
STEP 2. TWO LINES
Right, now it’s time to turn your rhythm into a bass line. And what’s cool about the bass line in “Be Nice”, is that it’s a 2-in-1. What I mean by that, is there’s actually two clearly defined lines playing together (obviously playing one-at-a-time though). The upper line carries the melody, while the lower line holds things down with one note (in the original, that note is C, the 5). And writing two lines like this will make your bass even more funky, as it mirrors the slap bass technique often used in funk.
Now, as with many of the songs we hack, the vibe and the production are super cool, but when it comes to the actual music, the songwriters and producers often choose to sacrifice longevity for popularity. And for the record, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, because the value of music is different for everyone. If music has extrinsic value to you, then you’re making music as a way of achieving something, like a hit. On the other hand, if music has intrinsic value to you, then you’re making music purely for the joy of creating art. And this song is the perfect example of music that was made for extrinsic value, as it was written to be a hit.
So, in their bass’ upper line, they simply ascend note-by-note through the scale. This makes it instantly appealing, cos the first time someone hears it they already know where it’s going, and the average person likes music that sounds familiar. The downside to writing predictable music though, is that people get tired of it quickly. But, if you’re aiming for a hit that doesn’t matter, because you only need it to be trending for a few weeks.
If you’re like us though, and you’re happy to sacrifice popularity for longevity, then write an upper line that people won’t be able to guess where it’s going on their first listen, as that will keep them coming back again and again!
Okay, so now that you’ve got one section down, how do you write the other sections? How do you transition between them (especially when they’re in different keys)? And, how do you structure and arrange your song? These are issues that many songwriters and producers struggle with, and that’s exactly why we made our online course Apprenticeship #1. So, if you wanna overcome these obstacles once and for all, then sign up now!
Kate & Ray Harmony (AKA Revolution Harmony)
Music Teachers & Producers in Vancouver BC, Canada
Level 1 - Read our free book (below) & watch our YouTube videos
Level 2 - Read our "Part 1" book & "Songwriting & Producing" PDF
Level 3 - Practice making music using our lessons (PDF+MIDI+WAV)
Level 4 - Learn our secret art of song-whispering & finish your music
Hack Music Theory is a pioneering DAW method for making great music that stands out, so you can move and grow your audience! Taught by award-winning music lecturer Ray Harmony, and his protégé wife Kate Harmony, from their studio in Vancouver BC, Canada. Ray is the author of critically-acclaimed book series "Hack Music Theory", and has made music with Serj Tankian (System of a Down), Tom Morello (Rage Against the Machine), Steven Wilson (Porcupine Tree), Devin Townsend (Strapping Young Lad), Ihsahn (Emperor), Kool Keith (Ultramagnetic MCs), Madchild (Swollen Members), and many more! Kate has the highest grade distinction in Popular Music Theory from the London College of Music, and is the only person on the planet who's been trained by Ray to teach his method. On that note, the "Hack Music Theory" YouTube channel teaches relevant and instantly-usable music theory for producers, DAW users, and all other music makers (songwriters, singers, guitarists, bassists, drummers, etc.) in all genres, from EDM to R&B, pop to hip-hop, reggae to rock, electronic to metal (and yes, we djefinitely djent!).
© 2019 Revolution Harmony
Revolution Harmony is Ray Harmony & Kate Harmony
All content (script & music) in video by Revolution Harmony
Thumbnail photo by James Hickey
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