Learn how to write bass lines using a music theory hack from Thom Yorke (Radiohead) “Traffic”, off his new album “ANIMA”. Subtitles/CC available.
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Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke has been rather prolific lately, and he’s back with another new album. “Anima” continues his journey into electronic exploration, and contains some mesmerising moments, like the hypnotic bass line in album opener “Traffic”, which we’ll be hacking in this video. What makes this bass line so hypnotic? Two things: depth, and syncopation (which is accenting an off-beat). Thom creates depth in his bass line by using a layering technique. And while most people think of layering as adding instruments, you can actually achieve the same effect in a bass line alone, without adding any tracks. You simply write two melodies that work together harmonically, then switch back and forth between them. And Thom assigns his top melody to beats 2+, 3+, and 4+, which results in a hypnotic pumping against his bottom melody that plays on the beats in between.
Alright, now you’re gonna learn how to use this theory to make your own version. And for the example in this lesson, we’ll be using our version that we made earlier. So, start by setting up two bars of 4/4, with your grid set to 1/16 notes, and your tempo set to 129 BPM. And Thom’s bass line is in G minor, so we’ll use it too.
STEP 1. CHORDS
Musical depth is created from harmony, so when you wanna write a bass line with depth, write your chord progression first. And the chords in G minor that you can choose from, are: Gm, Adim, B♭maj, Cm, Dm, E♭maj, and Fmaj. In our progression, we play Gm for one bar, then Fmaj for half a bar, then Cm for one beat, and then we finish with B♭maj for one beat.
STEP 2. LAYERS
Now it’s time to split your harmony into two layers: a top melody, and a bottom melody. Thom’s two layers are actually just the same melody played at different octaves, but we decided to kick it up a notch by writing two completely different melodies. We used the root note of each chord for our bottom melody, then we filled in the harmony with our top melody. For example, over the Fmaj chord, our bottom melody plays the root, then our top melody completes the harmony by playing 3, 5, and another 3 an octave higher.
STEP 3. RHYTHM
Right, the last step is to assign rhythms to your two layers. Thom only plays his top melody on beats 2+, 3+, and 4+, which creates that hypnotic syncopation. So we used a similar rhythm for our top melody, but we added beat 2 as well. And in our second bar, to spice things up even more, we used a few 1/16 notes. The shortest note value Thom uses though, is an 1/8 note, so stick with that if you want something simpler.
Lastly, we get loads of people asking how to transition between sections, and also, how to structure and arrange songs. And while these are essential skills to learn, please understand that we can’t teach them for free, because that is our secret sauce, which we teach in our online apprenticeship course. So, if you wanna learn how to go from a blank screen to a finished song, then join over 700 other music makers also on the course. And, it helps us pay the rent too, so it’s a win-win! You can join anytime at https://HackMusicTheory.com/Apprenticeship
Hack Music Theory is a pioneering 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 home studio in Vancouver, Canada. Ray has been teaching music theory for 24 years, and along the way he's 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!
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Revolution Harmony is Ray Harmony & Kate Harmony
All content (script & music) in video by Revolution Harmony
Thumbnail photo of Thom Yorke by Vittorio Zunino Celotto