4 Essentials to Enliven Your Bass Lines 

No matter what genre you make music in, you can easily funk up your bass lines, which will get people moving to your music. So in this video, you’ll learn how to apply four essential funk elements to your bass lines. But first… tea!


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. Alright, let’s jump in...

Local Vancouver band FIVE ALARM FUNK just dropped their new single “Wake the Funk Up” feat. Leo P (Too Many Zooz), and it’s one helluva funky tune! All the funk essentials are here: Every beat 1 has a funk flashlight shining on it, there’s enough syncopation to make any dancefloor get on up, the ♭7 is tearing the roof off the sucker, and the song takes you on a chromatic rollercoaster. By the way, chromatic (AKA non-diatonic) refers to notes that are not in the scale. Now, always remember that funk is an attitude, not a genre, so any time you wanna get the party started with a bass line, use these four funk essentials:

  1. Accent beat 1 in every bar
  2. Syncopate almost everything else
  3. Use the ♭7 everywhere you can
  4. Seal the deal with chromatic notes

Alright, now you’re gonna learn how to use this theory to make your own version, and what you see on the screen right now is our version that we made earlier. So, start by setting up eight bars of 4/4, with your grid set to 1/16 notes, and your tempo set to 116 BPM. “Wake the Funk Up” is in E♭ Dorian with a bunch of chromatic notes, but we’ll be using E (instead of E♭), as it has a smaller key signature so it’s easier for learning. 

As James Brown famously requested from Bootsy Collins back in the day: If you gimme the one, son, then you can play whatever you want for the rest of the bar. So, make sure you play beat 1 of every bar. We alternated between playing the low root on beat 1, then switching it up with a higher note on beat 1 of every other bar.

The funkiest bass lines often use the blues scale, which is simply the pentatonic minor scale with the ♭5 added in. So, while the horns will be playing in E Dorian, the bass will be playing in E Blues. This scale combo is a funk favourite! And yes, these two scales work perfectly together as their notes overlap (other than the ♭5, but, we’ll throw the ♭5 in the Dorian horns as well). Right, so E Blues contains the notes: E G A B♭ B♮ D, so you can use any of those notes in your bass line. And by the way, if you want our blues scale hack for funky bass lines, along with a MIDI file example, then that’s all included in our Songwriting & Producing PDF (click & scroll down).

Now, as you’ve given Mr Brown all the ones, you’re free to do whatever you want everywhere else. So, you’re gonna create a syncopated motif, which you can then repeat (and vary) to make your bass line. And if you’re new to those terms. Syncopation is when you accent an off-beat, and that injects energy into your groove. And a motif is a short musical idea, which you repeat to give your bass line structure and make it memorable. Our motif consists of a three-note descending line, where the last note is a syncopated 1/16 note. We then repeat our motif, starting on the note we ended on, to form a larger six-note motif. Right, now it’s time to create a motif in your second bar. And yes, you’re leaving the rest of your first bar open, cos space is essential in a funky bass line. And once you’ve created your motif, repeat it in your fourth bar with a variation. We varied our motif by playing it ascending. Next, repeat the original motif in your sixth bar, but add a couple notes. Also, throw in some extra notes at the end of your fourth bar and in your fifth bar. These extra notes start building the energy towards your big ending, which is coming up next.

Many great funk bass lines have a wild sound to them, which is often a result of venturing out of the scale. And the classic place to do this, is at the end of your line. This not only builds tension, it also prevents your bass line from becoming boring and predictable. So, in your eighth bar, you’re gonna write a melodic run that uses our old friend Syncopation, as well as our new friend Chromaticism. In Dorian, some funky favourites when it comes to chromatic notes are the 7 (especially when played between the ♭7 and the root), and the ♭2 (especially when played between the root and the 2 leading to the ♭3). Also, remember the funky ♭5, which you should use liberally throughout your bass line.

Okay, so now that you’ve got one section down, how do you write the other sections? And then, how do you transition between all the sections (especially when they’re in different keys)? And then, how do you structure and arrange your song? Well, these are issues that many songwriters and producers struggle with, and that’s exactly why we made our online apprenticeship course. So, if you wanna overcome these obstacles once and for all, then our course is definitely for you!

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 photograph by Brendan Meadows