In this week’s workshop, we focused on writing bass lines, something that our class has been asking about a lot. Bass lines don’t always get the kind of attention as a catchy melody does, but once our students started writing their songs they realized that they needed some bass to anchor the groove and harmony and in one student’s words, “add depth” to their songs.
During the first half of the class ,we listened to a playlist of songs that Dave created to illustrate a few important points. All of the songs featured a descending stepwise bass line. We listened chronologically, starting with Monteverdi’s 1638 madrigal “Lamento Della Ninfa,” and ending with Adele’s 2011 hit, “Rolling in the Deep,” and discovered that, while all of these songs share a similar bass line, they differ in just about every other way. Instruments in hand, Nathaniel and Hannah helped Dave to demonstrate the concepts of contrary and parallel motion, suspension, and chord progressions as they came up along the way.
One of the best moments was when the class started to notice things that were happening in the music before we even had the opportunity to point them out, like how in Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb” the chords move diatonically along with the bass line, which is different from Simon and Garfunkel’s “America” and the Beatles’ “While my Guitar Gently Weeps,” where a bass line descends underneath a static tonic chord. The girls observed that this makes it feel like there’s more going on in the music and can lead to greater harmonic instability, which creates tension.
After our lesson on the bass line (and it should be mentioned that the students weren’t the only ones to learn something from Dave’s demos!!), we divided up into pairs and trios to continue to write the songs that the girls had started last week. When groups were having difficulties developing a song into a new section, they were able to come up with really solid concepts, when pushed, for how to derive new material from what they had already introduced. We were getting great ideas, like how a melody could be repeated verbatim, but over a different chord progression, thereby creating a really different mood. The girls also realized that with the bass line alone, we can take a song from a major key to its relative minor and back without altering the melody or the rest of the chords. The most exciting thing was to see them come up with these hypotheses of how they might go somewhere new in a song and then hear their ideas come to fruition. We ended by letting the groups share their songs with each other. One of the best reactions from one student to another group’s song was, “I’d buy that!”
To check out Dave's Descending Bass Lines Spotify playlist, click on this link: https://open.spotify.com/user/123180854/playlist/2YUWbiYkpE9Ktvs3PeXRU1