How to Write a Bass Line & Lead Melody like Marshmello “Happier” (ft. Bastille) 

Happy New Music Friday, and welcome to the Hack Music Theory show! So, today Marshmello dropped his new single “Happier” (ft. Bastille), and there’s a theory hack in this song that pretty much guarantees it’s gonna appeal to a huge audience. What’s the hack? And how can you use it in your own music? The answers comin’ up. But first… Tea!

When isolated, the lead synth melody in the “Happier” chorus/drop definitely sounds like it’s in F major. However, when you add the bass line under the first bar of this melody, something strange happens: it now sounds like it’s in D minor. Why? And how? Well, F major and D minor have the exact same notes. They’re what we call: relative keys. So, what determines whether this melody is in F major or D minor? The bass. Yep, the bass line is the musical foundation upon which everything else is built. So if the bass emphasizes D (like Marshmello does in the first bar of his drop), then the lead melody sounds like it’s in D minor. But if the bass emphasizes F (like he does in his second bar), then the lead melody sounds like it’s in F major. Emphasizing both root chords in relative major and minor keys (like Dm and Fmaj in “Happier”), is super popular with EDM/Pop crossover producers, like The Chainsmokers and David Guetta. Using this relative major/minor crossover hack allows your song to appeal to people with a preference for music in major keys and people with a preference for music in minor keys, which covers pretty much everyone (other than the mavericks, of course!). And by the way, if you need help understanding scales and relatives keys and all that good stuff, no problem we got you covered, just read our free book “12 Music Theory Hacks to Learn Scales & Chords”, which you can download below.

Okay, so you can write this kinda chorus/drop in two simple steps. Step 1: Write a lead melody, using a major scale. Step 2: Write a bass line that emphasizes the root note of that major scale, and the root note of its relative minor scale. And for this example, we’ll use D minor and F major, like Marshmello. Alright, now let’s work through these two steps in more detail. So, start by setting your grid to 1/16 notes, then to get that “Happier” rhythm, play every third 1/16 note in each bar. And by the way, if you need help writing melodies, just use the Melody Checklist in our Songwriting & Producing PDF. Alright, now it’s time to get stuck into the low end! So, for Step 2 (the bass line), start by playing the root note of the relative minor key, which in this example is D. And that’s gonna make your first bar sound like it’s in D minor. Then, work your way up to the root note of the relative major key for the second bar, which in this example is F. And that’s gonna make your second bar sound like it’s in F major. Also, remember to use plenty of rests in your bass line, if you want that EDM drop vibe. And lastly, we used counterpoint to write this lead melody and bass line, which creates an awesome musical depth from the two totally independent layers. And if you’re interested in learning how to use counterpoint, that’s also in our Songwriting & Producing PDF (click and scroll down).

Remember, we intentionally wrote our example to be very similar to the original song, but we did that for the sake of this lesson. So, instead of copying Marshmello, please explore how you can use these hacks creatively with your own musical personality, so it sounds like you! Also, quick question. Do you struggle to finish your music? If you answered yes, then we can help you. Yes indeed we can, just check out our cutting-edge online apprenticeship course, where you’ll learn how to make new sections for existing sections, how to transition between sections (even when they’re in different keys), and most importantly, how to finish your songs. If that sounds useful to you, the head on over to: Alright, that’s it! We really hope you found this video helpful, and if you did, subscribe and hit the bell to get notifications. Also, we believe in sharing our knowledge for free. Please pay it forwards by teaching these hacks to a friend, so they can benefit from this lesson as well. I’ve been teaching music theory for 24 years, so I can safely say that the best way to learn something, is to teach it to someone else. So, go forth and teach! And on that note, thanks for joining the Hack Music Theory revolution. We’ll see you next New Music Friday!

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


1: Read our free book (below) & watch our YouTube videos
2: Read our "Part 1" book & "Songwriting & Producing" PDF
3: Learn our Secret Art of Song-Whispering, and effortlessly finish your music!

Hack Music Theory is the pioneering notation-free method for making great music. Taught by award-winning music lecturer Ray Harmony, and his protégé (and 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), 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 Hack Music Theory method! While these Hack Music Theory YouTube lessons teach music theory for producers and DAW users, they are designed to accommodate all music makers (songwriters, guitarists, etc.) and all genres, from Electronic Music to R&B, Pop to Hip-Hop, Reggae to Rock, EDM/Dance to Metal (and yes, we djefinitely Djent!).