American Horror Story "1984" Bass Line (Music Theory) 

With Halloween around the corner, horror movies and TV shows are flooding Netflix. So, it’s the perfect time to learn how to write spooky and scary soundtrack music like the creepy new American Horror Story 1984 theme song. 

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 (or Podcast) and hit that bell to get notified every Friday, when we publish our new lesson. 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.




Halloween is coming! So in this lesson, you’ll learn the music theory secrets behind American Horror Story’s theme song, and how you can use them to write your own dark sounding bass lines. But first… tea!

So, in this Halloween series we are revealing the music theory secrets that were used to make the new American Horror Story theme song sound so spooky! And by the way, if you missed last week’s lesson How to Write a Spooky Melody, check it out, cos we uncovered the mystery behind their creepy sounding lead melody. Right, now here are the two theory secrets that make the American Horror Story bass line so dark:

The most shocking thing about their bass line is that it’s not shocking! I know this sounds totally counterintuitive, but it’s the truth. Seriously, if you mute everything else and listen to the bass on its own, it’s just a pretty normal bass line. So, what’s making it sound dark and creepy then? Well, it’s the harmony created by the bass line and the lead melody playing together. On that note, this melody above our bass line is the lead melody, which we covered last week. It’s on another track, so it’s muted here, we’re just using it for reference. Right, so as you learned in last week’s lesson, the ♭6 injects mystery into a melody, and the ♭5 brings the horror. So when the lead melody plays those notes, it’s essential the bass plays the root note below. Because remember, the emotion is in the harmony!

Okay, you’re probably still thinking: “Yeah but their bass line does sound a little creepy, there must be something in there?”. Well, there is one small element in the actual bass line that does make it sound a bit unsettled. What is it? Arpeggios. And by the way, an arpeggio is when you play a chord one note at a time. By moving through the notes of a chord like this, it creates movement in the melody, but not the harmony, as you’re still on the same chord. And when this is done descending (like they do in the American Horror Story bass line, by playing 5 ♭3 1 of the root chord), it gives us a sinking feeling that is unsettling in the context of all those creepy sound effects. And also, their opening arpeggio sounds kinda dark simply because it’s a minor chord. 

So, now that you’ve got one section coming together, how do you write the other sections? Then, how do you transition between them (especially when they’re in different keys)? And then, how do you structure and arrange your song? These are issues many songwriters and producers struggle with, and that’s exactly why we made our online apprenticeship course, which guides you through every step of the music making process, from blank screen to finished song. So, if you wanna learn our secret method for writing (and finishing) great songs, which we don’t teach in these free lessons, then sign up now for this one-of-a-kind video course.

Thanks for reading/watching/listening, and we’ll see you next week!

Kate & Ray Harmony (AKA Revolution Harmony)
Music Teachers & Producers in Vancouver BC, Canada


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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 multi-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!).

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Revolution Harmony is Ray Harmony & Kate Harmony
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