Part 3: The Bass Line

Now that we’ve got our Groove and Melody (and we’ve had some fun playing around!) it’s time to add the Bass Line. Like we talked about in Part 1, the Bass often rhythmically aligns with the Drum Set, forming the Groove Locomotive that drives the rest of the band. But the Bass, unlike the Drum Set, Also serves a melodic function as well, providing the foundations for countermelody within the band. In this way, the Bass Line is the bridge between the Groove and the Melody.


Throughout the course of the Melody, the Bass Line takes a journey. At the beginning, it starts at HOME. Throughout the course of the Melody, it goes AWAY to different notes, but it always works its way back to HOME. There can be as many AWAY notes as we like, but there is only one HOME note, so establishing this note as the fulcrum is essential. In Music Theory terms, the HOME sound is the “Tonic”. But when first introducing the idea to students, we don’t need to get into the jargon. We want them to listen and ask “HOME or AWAY?”.

It’s helpful to introduce this concept by choosing repertoire that has very simple bass movement. Let’s look at Just a Closer Walk With Thee once again. The Playbook arrangement is in Concert Eb and our Bass Line starts and ends on Concert Eb. We have found our HOME note! As we learn the Bass Line, we can ask our students, “Are we HOME on Concert Eb? Or are we AWAY?” When we go AWAY in this song, there are only two places to go: Concert Ab and Concert Bb. By keeping the note choices simple (there are only 3 – 1 HOME, 2 AWAY) our students can turn their focus to the more complicated underlying concept.


  • Phrases: Yep, our favorite word is back from Part 2! Teaching the phrases in the bass line is a little different because there aren’t often clear gaps between each phrase. However, Bass Line phrases accompany Melody phrases. We can use the structure we’ve already built in Part 2 to teach Part 3. This can be really helpful when paired with the ideas of HOME and AWAY. For example, when teaching the Bass Line to Closer Walk, Phrase 1 starts at HOME (Remember, Concert Eb!) then moves AWAY to Concert Bb. Phrase 2 starts AWAY on Concert Bb and moves back HOME. Suddenly, we’ve learned 8 measures by chunking them into two phrases!
  • Singing and Call and Response: Again, many of the same ideas used to teach the melody can be used here as well. When we’re teaching the bass movement, we’ll sometimes give the notes in each phrase (“We’ll start at HOME (What’s our HOME note?), then move AWAY to Concert Bb. Listen for when you hear the Bass Line move AWAY”). This is a helpful way of simplifying things. Remember, breaking down Call and Response into phrases is another way to simplify the information to make it easier to comprehend and retain.
  • Listening: Prioritize hearing HOME and AWAY over finding the right pitches right away. Placing an emphasis on listening for these categories creates a better foundation and gives students more confidence to open their ears to specific details. Hearing one’s own mistake and correcting it is often the best way to make that information stick the next time. 

Once we begin talking about Harmony, and eventually Form, being able to hear the Bass movement is essential. This is a long term goal and will continue to get tougher as the music gets more complicated. Regardless of how complicated things get, the rule stays the same. We might leave HOME and go AWAY several different places, but we always come back in the end. There is only one HOME!

Just like after learning the Melody, take a moment once the Bass Line is learned to add it into your arrangement. 

  • What does it sound like if the Brass Section plays the Bass Line while the Saxophones play the Melody?
  • What if the Bass and Bones play the Melody while everyone else plays the Bass Line?

It’s OK to come up with some combos that sound a bit wonky! If we’re giving them the tools, we want to give them the opportunity to experiment. As always, the final goal is allow them to create and connect for themselves!

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