Today, you will learn exactly how to make a powerful rolling bassline in 3 easy steps. Whether you’re making trance, house or techno, the key strategies in this video will work for any EDM genre. So, take a seat, read until the end and let’s get started.
What is a rolling bassline
Now, if you’re an EDM producer, sooner or later you need to know how to make a strong rolling bassline. A rolling bassline, commonly found in trance, house or techno music, is a bass that follows an upbeat rhythm, or a sequence if you will.
But the problem starts if you don’t know how to make one or how to do it correctly. Else, you will end up with a lame bass or a pathetic mix, which is very frustrating and a waste of time.
How to make a rolling bassline
That’s why I will give you all the essential steps to make an energetic rolling bassline AND keep an impressive mix. So, stay with me as I need a little bit of your time to explain everything. And, I’ll save the best tip for last, so you definitely don’t want to miss it.
Start with a kickdrum and bass sound
Now, when we’re talking about rolling basslines, the key ingredients are the kickdrum and the bass. They alternate but work together in a fast rhythm to get the right effect. That’s why for your project, always start with a tight kick sample and a bass sound. Of course, you can pick any sound or sample you wish to use.
I’ve done the same for the FL Studio project in the video (be sure to watch it). It has a kick, a bass and a hi-hat loop just for fun. Now, I’m NOT going to explain how to make a kick or how to make a bass from scratch. We don’t have time for that here. However, if you want me to, comment down below and let me know what you want to see next.
If you are reading this post but you are new to FL Studio, click this link right now for the FL Studio Beginner’s Guide. This is the best place to start if you want to make your own songs as quickly as possible. So, check it out.
Now, let’s say you have two of the instruments, a kick and a bass. How do you make an epic rolling bassline with them?
STEP 1: Make a kick drum rhythm
The kick will set the pace of your song. Therefore, just put your kickdrum on-beat. Each beat has 4 steps. So, draw a note on the first step of each beat. This will leave you with a simple regular loop.
Of course, you can always make nice rhythmical variations in your song, but we are going to keep it simple here. By the way, feel free to adjust the BPM of your project to your preferred tempo.
STEP 2: Make a bass rhythm
The bass rhythm will dictate the “feel” of your rolling bassline. To make your bass roll energetically, draw the notes in a quick offbeat sequence. Now, there are a gazillion ways of doing that but let me show you a few of the most common patterns.
Rolling bassline template 1
The first pattern has 3 offbeat notes per beat. The rhythm skips the first on-beat step and fills up the 3 other steps in between. Keeping the first step empty is necessary, because this is where the kickdrum is. Also, the bass follows two octaves: a higher and a lower. The notes in the higher octave are placed in between the notes of the lower octave. And this creates a little bit more bounce and variety.
Now, this is just an example and this way, you can alternate the notes of the octaves in any way you like. You can play two higher notes and one lower note per beat. You can play two higher or lower notes back to back. You can also keep it steady and only use one octave. Just be creative and experiment.
Rolling bassline template 2
The second pattern is slightly less exciting but very famous. It has 2 offbeat notes per beat. The rhythm skips the first two steps and fills up the other two steps right before the beat. Also, there are no jumps between octaves. However, you could always experiment with that.
Rolling bassline template 3
The third pattern is mildly exciting and alternates shorter with longer notes. Just as the other ones, the rhythm skips the first on-beat step and fills up the other steps in between. Also, there are no jumps between octaves, but feel free to try it out.
Rolling bassline template 4
Finally, the fourth pattern is a combination of multiple different rhythms to create a unique sequence. It is just to show you that you can be creative and build your own interesting rhythms and variations this way. So, you can make it as common or uncommon as you want.
Use the right notes
No matter which rhythmical pattern you use, you also must play the right notes. This means, the bass should probably follow the root note or lower layer of your melody. So for example, if the lower layer of your melody plays the G, A and A# notes, your bassline should play these notes as well.
Now, if you don’t know much about notes, layers or melodies, you can start now with the well-received Ultimate Melody Guide. You will quickly learn how to make your own awesome melodies, even if you don’t know anything about music theory. Check it out.
STEP 3: Mix the kick and bass
The last step you must take is mixing the kick with the bass to get a tight and powerful sound. Unfortunately, there are a million ways of doing this and it depends on which kick and bass you’re using and when they play. It’s impossible to talk about that here, but luckily, there is one universal mixing strategy that always seems to work surprisingly well.
How to mix the kick and bass
Now, the problem with mixing the kick and bass is that they both fight for the same spot in your mix: the lower frequencies. If they interfere or clash, your mix will suffer tremendously. Your headroom will be guzzled while losing power at the same time. So, a worst-case scenario.
Sidechain the kick and bass
To fix this, you can use a technique called sidechain compression. Don’t get intimidated by this word, because it’s actually really simple. All it means here is when the kick hits, the bass ducks. In other words, when the kickdrum plays, the bass lowers in volume. And when the kickdrum stops, the bass will come back to its original volume level. This way, the bass will make some room for the kick and there’s less interference between the two.
How to sidechain the bass with the kick
And I can guess what’s in your mind right now: “So Cep, how do I sidechain the bass with the kick?” As always, there are many ways of doing things, but let me show you an easy method.
Select the Fruity Peak Controller for the kick
First, make sure to assign the kick and bass to an individual Mixer track. Then, open the Mixer and select the track of the kick. Then, click on an empty slot and open the Fruity Peak Controller from the list of effects.
Select the Fruity Balance for the bass
We will go back to the Peak Controller in a second, but first select the Mixer track of the bass. Again, click on an empty slot but this time open the Fruity Balance from the list of effects. Though, if you want you can also use any of the other fruity effects, as long as they have a volume parameter.
Link the Fruity Balance to the Fruity Peak Controller
Now it’s time for the magic. Right-click on the volume knob of the Fruity Balance and select “Link to controller”. A window will appear. Go to the “Internal controller” tab, click the drop-down box and select “Peak ctrl – peak”. Then, go to the “Mapping formula” tab, click the drop-down arrow and select “Inverted”. Simply press “Accept” and this will sidechain the bass with the kickdrum in terms of volume. The volume parameter of the Fruity Balance is now connected to the Fruity Peak Controller.
Use the Fruity Peak Controller to control the volume of your rolling bassline
All we have to do now is use the Peak Controller to control when and how the volume of the bass changes. Therefore, go to the Mixer track of the kick and open the Fruity Peak Controller. Then, set the “Base” to 20%. In this case, it will straighten the volume of the bass to its original level. You could also leave it at 0%, but you will find that the bass plays a bit louder than initially intended.
Anyhow, the two knobs you really want to focus on are the volume and tension. The volume controls the volume level of the bass when the kick hits. The tension controls how quickly the volume of the bass comes back when the kick stops. I know examples speak louder than words, so you can actually hear what happens in the video.
By the way, if you suddenly don’t hear your kick anymore, it could be that the “Mute” function on the Peak Controller is turned on. Just switch it off to get your kick back.
Which sidechain settings are optimal?
Anyways, the sidechain effect can change a lot based on the volume and tension settings. And that leaves one question: which settings are optimal? I really hate to disappoint you, but there is no single right answer. It simply depends on your instruments and your preferred outcome.
But what I CAN tell you is that a peak volume of around 25 to 100% seems to work really well. In the video, I went with 50% or so. Thereby, a peak tension of 0% gives a quite natural sidechain effect. But if you want less of a pumping effect, decrease the tension. If you want more of pumping effect, increase the tension.
Your chosen kickdrum also affects the sidechain effect
Thereby, be aware that the duration and shape of the kick affects the Peak Controller as well. A longer kick will give a more sluggish sidechain effect and a shorter kick will give a more rapid sidechain effect. So, the length and shape of the kick in combination with the peak tension will dictate the rapidity of volume recovery. In this case, how quickly the bass goes back to maximum loudness.
Pfeew, you got that? Just keep it simple and always remember why you are sidechaining in the first place: you want to make room for the kick. Simply focus on that and if you don’t really accomplish that, maybe you should make some changes. It’s always an interesting experiment.
How to make an awesome rolling bassline in 3 steps
So in summary:
- Step 1: Make a plain on-beat kick rhythm.
- Step 2: Make a fast-paced offbeat bass rhythm. Think short notes and different octaves.
- Step 3: Sidechain the bass with the kick, so they will not clash in your mix.
Experiment with different bass sounds
Now, last but not least, I do invite you to experiment with different types of basses. The video only contains one example, but each bass will respond differently to these bassline strategies. You will be surprised about the results you can get.
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