The Importance of Bass in Music
Humans have devised a practically endless amount of methods for playing and creating music. Our voices alone are capable of producing all sorts of sounds, but we’ve also developed a plethora of physical instruments, as well as the ability to manipulate digital sound waves in order to generate pretty much any texture or tone we could imagine. But no matter how we choose to structure our instrumentation, and no matter what style(s) of music we’re working with, there are certain frequencies and layers that have to be accounted for, if we really want our compositions to sound full and balanced.
There are three main components to music: rhythm, harmony and melody. With the exception of ambient and noise music, these components are the most fundamental properties of a song’s composition.
The rhythm mainly consists of drums and percussion, which regulate the tempo and drive the pulse of a song. Whatever the other instruments in the mix might be doing, and regardless of transitions in mood and atmosphere they might undergo, the rhythm section provides a consistency that makes a song easy to follow – and fun to dance to!
The melody is a sequence of notes that express a musical phrase, or motif, that might play during a verse, a chorus, or just coming and going throughout a track’s progression. It’s often the most memorable part of a song, the one that sticks like superglue to the mind, like the tune of “Here Comes the Bride,” or Pharrell Williams’ vocal part in the chorus of “Happy,” or Paul McCartney’s in “Hey Jude.”
The harmony is the combination of notes or chords that are played together to form a more lush and detailed whole. You can hear harmony when two singers sing different notes while singing together, or between the guitar, bass and piano of a band playing a song, or in any other situation where chords and notes meet other chords and notes. Usually harmonies are designed to be pleasant to the ear, but sometimes they can be used to create tension and even fear, when they’re dissonant.
So why mention all of these things, if this is an article about bass? Well, because the bass is unique in comparison to most other instruments, because it can create rhythm, melody and harmony all in one!
Think of the bassline in Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean,” the main riff of “Give it Away” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, or pretty much any drumnbass or dubstep song, and you can see just how important bass can be. Bass deals with low, deep frequencies, which resonate as they emerge from sound systems and create physical vibrations that surge through furniture, the ground and even our bodies.
And that’s exactly why humans have such an impassioned visceral response to these tones: it’s a sound we can not only hear, but literally feel, as it reaches out from the wall of sound and stimulates us. Just as we physically feel percussion and obey when it commands us to dance, bass has the power to make us move, while also supporting the main melodies and harmonies of a song.
Bass is unique because it forms a bridge between rhythm and melody, accentuating both while tying the riffs and patterns of the other instruments together into a single, cohesive whole. Think about how empty one of your favorite songs would feel if there was no bass – a majority of its exciting appeal would be gone!
There have been several scientific studies done that investigated this phenomenon even deeper, like a recent one from McMaster Institute for Music the Mind in Canada, led by Dr. Laurel Trainor. The conclusion of her research indicates that humans can pick up on lower frequencies more quickly than higher ones; we respond to them because they’re easier for us to detect and follow.
Aside from this finding, however, it’s clear that bass is an extremely important element of music for us, because not only is it easy for us to follow, it’s a frequency we can feel, something that sinks into our bodies and makes us move – as anyone who’s ever been to a concert, club or music festival can attest!
So if you make beats and you haven’t gotten around to working in some basslines, now you can see that it’s time to get crackin’!