GCSE Key Stage 3 Composition

All About That Bass

In this Sound Advice for Soundtrap blog I will be looking at adding a bass-line to a drum rhythm in Soundtrap. This is an ideal task for a class who have been creating their own EDM beats and want to think about adding a baseline. There are so many examples in music where it is all about that bass. Building understanding of basslines is therefore something that our students will really benefit from.

What is a Bassline?

In essence, it is the lowest part in a piece of music in terms of pitch. It is the grounding of the melody and harmony, and the bassline can determine the nature of the chords above it. The bassline also has its own textural role and it can take on the melody. There are lots of examples of famous basslines that very much define the song. The way the bassline is used is different depending on genre when it was created.

Exploring basslines over time is a good way of approaching the full and complete understanding of a basslines. It is important for students to understand that a bass part can give the piece character, as well as harmonic grounding. But basslines can also be fairly simple and repetitive and that will be in line with the style e.g. a walking bassline or ostinato.

Famous basslines

Here are a few examples of famous basslines that students might like to watch to get some ideas and build their understanding. The inter-related dimensions of music are such that students should aim to listen, compose and perform basslines to truly understand them. So let’s start with some listening

The great thing about this video is that they can now go away and start to learn some of these. If you have bass guitars available then get them out and start playing.

This video will give them a Grade 1 bassline to start them off. It is also good to teach them about tab and how it is used. Some students will only ever learn traditional notation and some will only ever use tab – we need to show them both!

Creating a drumbeat in Soundtrap

Hopefully by now you are familiar with how to get your students creating a drumbeat in Soundtrap. It is always good to start with some physical rhythm making using real drums, clapping or beatboxing. They can then maybe use some notation software such as Noteflight to realise their rhythms using notation. But then they can move to Soundtrap to consider making a beat using a pattern beatmaker. Please see my previous blogs on how to enhance your beats in soundtrap

Pattern Beatmaker

Creating the bass

This project is more than just using Soundtrap to create a bassline. It is about understanding what a bassline is before then attempting to compose one. Students should always start with listening and playing. If bass guitars aren’t available, then use keyboards, or voices. Then they will be ready to add a bassline to their existing beat in Soundtrap. It is nice to layer a bassline over a beat, but they could start with a bass on its own if they wish.

In Soundtrap it is easy to add a bass guitar and play ideas using the QWERTY keyboard or a MIDI controller. Here you can see I have added a bass guitar to a rhythmic pattern that I created using the patterns beatmaker.

Onscreen keyboard is ready for students to play

The on-screen piano is easy to use and students can quickly see the corresponding keys for their QWERTY keyboard. Using the computer keyboard isn’t quite the same as a “real” piano keyboard, but it is something. It is also handy if space is a premium or you don’t have any hardware to use.

Click Record and Create

Students are now ready to click record and create something over their beat. They should be encouraged to record lots of ideas, editing as they go. They can think about how many notes to use – or you can give them guidance on this. Listening back to their work is important and they can even collaborate with other students directly in soundtrap. Here is a bassline that has been captured in Soundtrap and is ready for editing and developing

All About that Bass
All About That Bass – a bassline added in Soundtrap

Helping students compose a bassline

Being creative and imaginative is one thing, but students will sometimes need more scaffolding in order to make progress. Whilst Soundtrap is great to use, they need to have the musical ideas and knowledge to create something that works as a bassline. Listening, experimenting and creating are all important, and they can learn a lot by simply trying. But they may the need some ideas:

  • Focus on notes I & V in a key – C & G might be a good place to start
  • Create a rhythm for your bassline and then add just 2 notes to bring it to life
  • Use the first five notes of the major scale and then switch to the first five of the minor scale. Starting in C Major and then moving to C Minor can be helpful.
  • Use the Pentatonic scale to create your bassline.

Knowledge & Understanding

This project will give the students a good deal of knowledge and understanding and there are links to wider listening, GCSE set works and compositional understanding in general. Students will be considering rhythm, metre and note values, as well as degrees of the scale and intervals. You can use basslines to explore Baroque Ground Bass as well as pop and rock riffs. Students can build understanding or scales, keys and chords and they can start to think about how a piece of music can be structured around a bassline.

When we undertake projects in the classroom we must always think about the knowledge and understanding that we are imparting to our students. If we can get them listening, playing an instrument and composing, then we are bringing together the inter-related dimensions of music. But we aren’t teaching them to be a bass player, well maybe a bit. We are teaching them what a bassline is, how it can be used and also how one can be created. If we can always keep the knowledge front and centre, then our students will make excellent progress.

All About That Bass

Creating a bassline is a great way to help students understand how a piece of music is created from the ground up. I hope that this blog has given you some ideas and shown you how Soundtrap can help. We don’t all have a class set of bass guitars handy, but we can use Soundtrap to get them playing basslines. Keeping it practical is helpful, and listening is always key. And hopefully as a result they will start to listen out for basslines, understanding their value and how the composer might have created it.

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