7 ways to create dynamic bass lines
Do you want to create bass parts that move people emotionally?
Here are 7 tips that will Help you breathe life into a song using dynamics!
Note: Though these 7 tips are designed for bass players, they can be adapted to any instrument.
1. Short and long notes- This is something I have preached for years, ever since my friend,
guitar player Fred Schreuders, pointed it out in my playing maybe 10 years ago. He
described how he really liked my variations in note lengths. I had never intentionally varied
note lengths before that, I was just trying to be musical, you know, serve the song, take
the audience on a musical journey. But now that I am more aware of it, I explore this
concept even further by strategically placing staccato and legato phrases in most every
bass line I play. It is my go to concept whether performing or teaching.
2. Technique- Use different techniques to create dynamics in a bass line. I may start a
bass line playing pizzicato or finger style, then evolve into slap bass on the chorus, maybe
muted with my thumb on the bridge, all to create a change in mood, different flavors.
There are many techniques you can use, various thumb techniques, slapping and
finger style as I mentioned, playing with a pick, using double stops or chords, tapping, they
all have the potential to make a bass line more dynamic.
3. Busy and sparse- Many times I discourage over-playing, but there are times to make your
bass lines busier. Going from a section where there is more movement in your bass line to
a more sparse or simpler bass line can be effective in creating dynamics. Look no further
than James Jamerson, Jaco, or even Paul McCartney to observe the effectiveness of a
busier bass line.
4. Soft or loud- This is the essence of dynamics. Playing softer in sections and louder in
other sections will make your bass parts stand out. You can use this effect in conjunction
with some of the other approaches like various techniques or short and long notes for
instance. These are all things that are done solely with your hands, not requiring a change
of bass, amp settings or equalization. I appreciate the value of a great bass, but ultimately
work towards your sound being in your hands, not as dependent upon the instrument or
5. Expression- Slides, trills and various other forms of expression can also create a more
dynamic bass line. Executing these at the right time can lift a section of music and make a
bass line more animated. Placement is crucial because you don’t want to over-use any of
these expressions and risk them becoming predictable and ineffective.
6. Crescendo/Decrescendo- Not only is playing softer and louder an effective way to create
dynamics, you can also gradually become louder or softer. All these work best when the
whole band is doing them together, but you can spearhead the effort and ideally the other
band members will hear you and play something complimentary. There is nothing like an
8th note build, or a band gradually bringing their volume down to a whisper, very powerful.
7. Tacet- This last one may seem obvious but few things are as powerful musically as not
playing at all in the right spot, and eventually coming back in to create a huge dynamic shift.
What you don’t play can be as musical as what you do play. I love using this effect, not
only does it make the song more interesting, but your bass line is more pronounced when
you re-enter. The point is not to draw attention to yourself, but enhance the listeners
experience by creating a dynamic shift in the music.
Some of the synonyms associated with the term “dynamic” are lively, compelling, energetic, influential, powerful, productive, vigorous, magnetic or effective. I don’t know about you, but these are definitely the traits I want associated with my bass lines. Depending on the genre there are exceptions, but in general most listeners will be better served by a more dynamic presentation.