Learn how to write a bass line using a music theory hack from Wu-Tang Clan “Seen a Lot of Things” (from “Of Mics and Men” EP).
Hello revolutionary music makers, we are Kate Harmony and Ray Harmony (AKA Revolution Harmony), and welcome to Hack Music Theory. We help you make great music that stands out, so you can move and grow your audience! If that sounds useful to you, then subscribe to our YouTube channel and hit that bell to get notified every Thursday, when we publish our new video. Also, if you’re new to our channel, be sure to download our free book “12 Music Theory Hacks to Learn Scales & Chords” below. Alright, it’s time to open your DAW to hack music theory. But first… tea!
“Seen a Lot of Things” (off Wu-Tang’s new EP) contains a music theory gem that’s as effective as it is hidden. Seriously, most people listening to this track won’t even notice this gem, but they’ll feel it for sure! And the reason they’ll feel it, is because it has to do with the 3rd note of the root chord. Remember, the 3rd in a chord is the note that determines whether that chord is major or minor. When the 3rd note is three semitones above the root, it’s a minor chord, and when the 3rd note is four semitones above the root, it’s a major chord. Now, Wu’s track is in the key of D minor, so the root chord is obviously Dm, and that’s the chord they use first in their four-bar loop. But, here’s where things get interesting. They change some of the Dm chords into Dmaj chords. And that’s crazy cool on its own, but they don’t stop there. The chords in their progression are not actually full chords, they’re “power chords”, which consist of only the root and the 5th, so on their own, “power chords” are not major or minor, cos they’re missing the 3rd. So, the way they change the Dm to Dmaj is by changing the 3rd note in the bass line, from F (the minor 3rd) to F♯ (the major 3rd). This also means that the same chord progression works over both bass lines, the one with F, and the one with F♯. And even the vocal melody in the chorus avoids that 3rd note as well, which means the same melody works over both choruses, despite the first chorus using Dm and the second chorus using Dm and Dmaj. And that makes the second chorus feel way more uplifting than the first chorus. Super clever!
Alright, now you’re gonna learn how to use this theory to make your own version, and what you see on the screen right now is our version that we made earlier. So, start by setting up four bars of 4/4, with your grid set to 1/16 notes, and your tempo set to 86 BPM. And as you know, Wu’s track is in the key of D minor, so we’ll use it too.
STEP 1. MINOR
Okay so you’re gonna start by writing a bass line using the D natural minor scale: D E F G A B♭ C. Now, be sure to play a long D in bars one and three, which will anchor your bass line into the root note, and therefore the key. And in bars two and four, make sure you play a relatively long F. Then you can fill out the rest of your bass line with other notes from the scale. But, in the first half, don’t play B♭, cos that’s the minor 6th so it will lock you into that minor vibe, which will then mess up step two.
And by the way, if you need help writing bass lines, lead melodies, chord progressions and everything else, then download our Songwriting & Producing PDF (click & scroll down). It’s your one-stop-source for everything you need to make great music now! And just before we jump into step two, a quick heads up. The sun is shining here in Vancouver and it’s feeling a lot like summer, and you know what that means: it’s time for our epic summer sale! So, everything on our website is now 33% OFF. And yes, that includes our online apprenticeship course, which you will SAVE $50 on. Are you ready to invest in yourself, and take your music to the next level? Then get involved now, and use the discount code “summer” at the checkout. The sale ends on Sunday, 9 June 2019. Enjoy!
STEP 2. MAJOR
Alright, here comes the clever bit. Take that relatively long F you played in bar two, and move it up to F♯. With that one simple tweak, you’ve now turned Dm into Dmaj. But remember, in the chord progression above this note, you need to be playing a D “power chord”, which is just the notes D and A. And now you have two versions of your bass line: the original version, and this new uplifting version. So, play around with using both versions throughout your track in order to change up the vibe.
Okay, so now that you’ve got one section down, how do you write the other sections? How do you transition between them (especially when they’re in different keys)? And, how do you structure and arrange your song? These are issues that many songwriters and producers struggle with, and that’s exactly why we made our online course Apprenticeship #1. So, if you wanna overcome these obstacles once and for all, then sign up now!
Kate & Ray Harmony (AKA Revolution Harmony)
Music Teachers & Producers in Vancouver BC, Canada
Level 1 - Read our free book (below) & watch our YouTube videos
Level 2 - Read our "Part 1" book & "Songwriting & Producing" PDF
Level 3 - Practice making music using our lessons (PDF+MIDI+WAV)
Level 4 - Learn our secret art of song-whispering & finish your music
Hack Music Theory is a pioneering DAW method for making great music that stands out, so you can move and grow your audience! Taught by award-winning music lecturer Ray Harmony, and his protégé 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), Devin Townsend (Strapping Young Lad), 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 method. On that note, the "Hack Music Theory" YouTube channel teaches relevant and instantly-usable music theory for producers, DAW users, and all other music makers (songwriters, singers, guitarists, bassists, drummers, etc.) in all genres, from EDM to R&B, pop to hip-hop, reggae to rock, electronic to metal (and yes, we djefinitely djent!).
© 2019 Revolution Harmony
Revolution Harmony is Ray Harmony & Kate Harmony
All content (script & music) in video by Revolution Harmony
Thumbnail photo of RZA by Todd Heisler/The New York Times
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