Paying Attention to Bass Lines

Of all the non-melody lines we could listen to, bass lines may be both the most important and the most well-defined. Bass lines are important because they have long been recognized to give a kind of “foundation” to the music, and because they are strongly associated with chords—so following a bass line gets you a long way toward figuring out a chord progression.

Bass lines, like inner voices, are not usually as prominent to most listeners as the highest voice. But they have an additional, unique challenge: they tend to leap, making them more difficult to follow.

In a later chapter, we’ll work a bit more on learning to “think like a bass line.” For now, we’ll simply work on ways to direct our attention to them, through a series of practice activities.

Exercise: Follow that bass!

Goal: Direct your attention to the bass line of different songs

Before you start: Headphones or high-quality speakers are recommended!

Instructions: Listen to the following songs. Pay close attention to following the bass line. On your second listen through, try humming along in a comfortable octave or tracing the line in the air or on paper. Bass lines leap a lot, so your movements or tracing may feel jerky. See if you can follow the bass line through the song, even as the texture of the song may become thicker.


Suggest a song for this playlist!


Activity: Scaffolding bass line listening

Goal: Help those who have a lot of difficulty following the bass to find a more scaffolded way to practice this skill

Before you start: You’ll need to download the MidiTrail application and find a MIDI file of a song whose bass line you are interested in following. Searching the name of the song with the term MIDI may turn up results.


  1. Open the MIDI file in MidiTrail.
  2. Listen to the bass line as MidiTrail plays the file, using the visualization to give your brain some idea of where the bass line is and what it is doing.
  3. Since MIDI playback often leaves much to be desired, once you feel comfortable following the MIDI version, find a recording of a more musical performance and see if you can transfer your bass-following skills to the recording.


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Foundations of Aural Skills Copyright © 2022 by Timothy Chenette is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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