The code of the beat.

Bass Framework Not Predicated on Concept of Bass Line

10

The Building Blocks of Bass Frameworks

By Amir Said (Sa’id)

To be sure, Hip hop/rap music is “bottom-heavy.” In most beats, bass tones and colors play a fundamental (if not major) role. But does this mean that most beats contain bass “lines” per se? Actually, no. Thing is, in beatmaking, the concept of using bass passages or phrases is more about bass “frameworks” than traditional notions of bass “lines.” And in beatmaking, bass frameworks are more often than not constructed through the use of individual bass sound-stabs.

Bass sound-stabs—individual bass sounds/tones—typically come from two main sources: (1) synthetic bass sounds, i.e. sound modules, keyboard patches, and/or VSTs; and (2) samples of recorded source material, i.e. vinyl records, CDs, etc. (A very small minority of beatmakers also play bass sounds from a traditional electric bass guitar.) Regardless of each beatmaker’s sonic preference and overall beat style, bass sound-stabs are generally what we use as the building blocks for the bass frameworks of the beats that we create. As such, when it comes to bass, we are not always focused on creating a bass line per se, but a bass “part” that fits the scope and slant of the beat that we’re working on.

In beatmaking, coming up with effective bass frameworks is mostly about accompanying the overall feel and direction of the beat. In some cases, bass frameworks are indeed made up of traditional bass line schemes. But in many more cases, bass frameworks are composed through the use of strategically placed bass “parts.” Thus, in many ways, beatmaking’s bass framework concept is about balancing bass tones with the high and mid textures of a beat. Moreover, bass frameworks are often simply the product of filling “holes” in the arrangement structure of a beat.

For educational purposes…

“Keep It Thoro” – Prodigy (of Mobb Deep), beat by The Alchemist

The Alchemist’s beat for Prodigy’s (of Mobb Deep) “Keep It Thoro” is an excellent example of the bass framework concept in beatmaking.


The BeatTips Manual by Sa’id.
“The most trusted source for information on beatmaking and hip hop/rap music education.”

Articles, Beatmaking, BeatTips, Drum Sounds and Drum Programming, Arranging, and Composing, Editor's Choice, Music Education, MusicStudy, Themes, Theories, and Concepts

About Author

Amir Said (aka Sa’id) is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of BeatTips. A writer, publisher, and beatmaker/rapper from New York, Said is the author of a number of books, including ‘The BeatTips Manual,’ ‘The Art of Sampling,’ ‘Ghetto Brother,’ and ‘The Truth About New York.’ He is also a recording artist with a number of music projects, including his latest album 'The Best of Times.' Follow him on Twitter at: @amirsaid and @BeatTipsManual

  • i the t

    your talk here of synthetic sounds called to mind the section in the book that speaks about the different production types – sampled, synthetic and hybrid i think they were (don’t think you mentioned combinations with live playing, mind you).
    Nowadays though the sounds in VST’s and modules are just as likely to be sampled and so can’t really be described as synthetic; it’s just someone else has sampled them for you.

  • i the t,
    In the section of The BeatTips Manual that you refer to, I do indeed “mention” (discuss) live instrumentation. In fact, I go into detail with the topic. However, I tend to down play the use of the term “live instrumentation,” as I consider all music creation to be “live” at its inception. After a musical piece is complete and recorded, well, that’s a different matter. But the process is “live” as it is going on. Thus, I often tend to defer to phrases like, “playing out…,” or “Playing…” Also, I should add that my discussion of the Synthetic-Sounds-Based and Hybrid styles really speaks to the use of live instrumentation along with sampling.
    Though I concede that VSTs, modules, and keyboards contain samples, it must be noted that not ALL of the sounds within them are samples! (Note. In footnote #135, I concede that VSTs and modules often contain samples. Not sure if you read that or not.)
    Also, perhaps I should point out that my use of the term “synthetic” is meant mostly to describe those sounds that are not actually sampled (in the common meaning) by beatmakers.
    Finally, I’m compelled to point out that this article isn’t about synthetic sounds or samples! This article is about the concept of bass (lines, phrases, etc.) in beatmaking. I’m not sure why you zeroed in on “synthetic sounds” rather than share your thoughts in reference to what the article was actually about. But I’m interested in hearing your comments on how the role of bass is approached in beatmaking.
    —Sa’id

  • The two most essential tools for me are my 5 string bass and my tuner. I don’t use the tuner for the bass, actually (ear training FTW) but I DO use it for getting a read on the “Bass Framework” you’re talking about hear. Everything is musical, even drums — that’s why guys from ?uestlove to Danny Carey (Tool) will tune their kits from song to song — and using the tuner is a quick way to “harmonize” with a bass framework that’s not exactly in key.
    I have yet to find a system for this that always works. Often the tones are “in between” notes, and from there it’s a matter of experimenting with different modes/scales until it feels right. Sometimes the weirdest shit is what works.

  • Justin,
    Yes, yes! Great comment… I know EXACTLY what you mean. I’ve used the bass strings of my guitar, to come up with some of the bass sounds that I then use for some the bass frameworks that I create. Actually, I’ve sampled myself playing the bass strings of my guitar, then in turn, I tune, truncate, and adjust the pitch of the sounds that I sample. (I use the same process when I sample bass sounds from records as well.) In this way as well as how I approach using the bass patch from my Fantom keyboard, I find that I am indeed going with tones that are “in between” notes.
    Do you find that your approach to coming up with bass frameworks has something to do with how you approach your drum patterns?
    —Sa’id

  • Sparkajuju

    Sa’id
    I have been lurking on your website for a couple of months now, just reading the many helpful topics you discuss from time to time.
    This topic on basslines has convinced me to buy your book I have been procrastinating about for some time.
    I try to make beats but I am not any good however I have used some of your tips to improve my beatmaking. Its a slow process but I thoroughly enjoy it when I make something thats sounds good to my ears or catches the ear of another person.
    I use the MPC 500, Beaterator (Sony PSP), Korg DS 10 Analogue Synthersizer (Nintendo DSi), because I have put so much time on Drum Programming there is a definite improvement. I have been struggling though with my basslines. I tend to fluke them rather than doing it deliberately.
    This Beattip on the Basslines makes so much sense to me even though I might not be able to translate it on my actual bassline composition.
    There is also an aspect about Basslines that I cant explain in words but know the feeling when I hear it. Sometimes it seems to me that certain Basslines are created by not the actual bass sample or playing but the manner in which the drums are programmed, in my ears it sounds like the basslines is actually created by the drums (i dont know if this makes sense)and I am sorry I cannot refer you to track I know right now.
    Who do you think makes the dopest basslines that may be I can check out and learn from? You always hear hiphop fans talking about such and such having the dopest drums.

  • Nowadays though the sounds in VST’s and modules are just as likely to be sampled and so can’t really be described as synthetic; it’s just someone else has sampled them for you.

  • R$ carte ds,
    Thanks for your comment.
    Not sure if you read my earlier comments to this post, but it must be pointed out that not all sounds in VST’s and modules are not “samples.” In even the “sampled” sounds in VSTs and modules are certainly not in the same vein and style of “sample” that beatmakers typically use. Also, I use the term “synthetic” both as a reference point for non-traditionally sampled sounds and for sounds that are “synth”-related/generated.
    —Sa’id

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