Crafting Jay Dilla Inspired Basslines For Lofi Hip Hop
You said, “LoFi Hip Hop Basslines?”
There are a lot of misconceptions when it comes to creating jazzy lofi hip hop bass lines, and the big one is that making these are simple. Don’t fall for that! There’s a reason that there are many musicians out there who only specialize in jazz bass.
The biggest reason is that a bass player’s job is to hold down the rhythm as well as set the harmony of the song. That means that your bass notes must be played at the “right” time, and that they must match the harmony you’re setting them to, in some way. This can be as simple as just playing the root notes of your chords, but if you know some things about jazz you know they don’t like to settle for that.
The low end is an area of lofi hip hop that should not be ignored because so much of your arrangement will exist in this frequency range. The bass must coexist with your bass drums (kicks), guitars, and synths so that they add onto the musical content you’ve already created.
So, with all of that in mind, let’s dive into how to create some lofi jazz bass lines that’ll work perfectly in our songs!
The Source Of Most Jazz Basslines
When you watch some truly great bass players like Flea, Bootsy Collins, or some of the guys doing J Dilla covers (like one you’ll see below) it can seem incomprehensible how they create such great lines. The source of a lot of these ideas is simpler than you think though. It requires knowing a few scales, and then learning how to play around them and with them in an arrangement.
One thing to keep in mind when creating jazzy bass lines for lofi hip hop is that we’re wanting to chill the listener out. We don’t want a lot of stuff in the upper registers of the bass, but instead we want stuff that is descending mostly. Think of it like going up or down a hill. It takes more effort to create anything that goes upward, but a lot less effort to create something going down in pitch.
With that in mind, take a look at these two scales, A dorian and A melodic minor:
A dorian is the same scale as G Major because dorian modes start on the 2nd scale degree of any major scale.
Now compare that scale to the A melodic minor scale:
The only thing that’s changed is the b7 interval is now a 7, or maj7 interval! Stop complicating scales already because many only differ by one or two notes. However you must keep in mind that when you shift notes around that you’ll get a new set of chords.
So why am I focusing on these two scales? It’s because of an important chord change called the ii – V, which you can see broken down below using A dorian.
G Major = G – A – B – C – D – E – F#
A Dorian = A – B – C – D – E – F# – G
Am7 (ii7) = A – C – E – G
D7 (V7) = D – F# – G – A
Notice that all these notes are in the key signature of G major/A Dorian! That is why we’re focusing on this scale and why we’re telling you that you should see it as the source of so many jazz bass lines. However with the A melodic minor scale you get some interesting chord choices that you should look at in your own time:
A Melodic Minor = A – B – C – D – E – F# – G#
Ammaj7 = A – C – E – G#
D7#11 = D – F# – A – C – G#
Cmaj7#5 = C – E – G# – B
How To Match Bass Notes To Your Harmony
So, let’s continue on the ideas behind A Dorian and ii-V changes. You should be able to see now how perfect this scale is for playing over these changes, which will occur all throughout jazzy basslines in lofi hip hop. It’s a really good idea to learn your circle of fifths so that you can recognize these changes whenever you see them in an arrangement:
Key of C Major = Dm7 (ii) to G7 (V)
Key of D Major = Em7 (ii) to A7 (V)
Key of E Major = F#m7 (ii) to B7 (V)
Key of F Major = Gm7 (ii) to C7 (V)
Hopefully you get the idea. Please learn these in your own time.
Now though, you should be able to see how easy it is to choose the right bass notes for your arrangements. Let’s say you’re using a fairly common progression of I – vi – ii – V in G major/A Dorian.
Gmaj7 – Em7 – Am7 – D7
You can just choose all the root notes like G for Gmaj7, E for Em7, and so on. What if you used some of the other chord tones though? Why not use the notes B, D, or F# for Gmaj7 when landing on the 1 or 3 of a bar?
A lot of times you can make this idea work to your advantage, but your ear is going to want to land on the root note eventually. Let’s explore more of this idea in the next section.
Chromaticism In Jazz Bass lines
The whole idea around using chromaticism in bass lines goes like this. As long as you land on the root notes, or other chord tones, at the right beats (i.e. the 1 or the 3) then you can play almost anything you want in between. Most of the time though, it’ll be a good idea to play notes around the note that you’re approaching.
Let’s go back to our ii-V in A dorian: Am7 – D7. Some possible notes you can use include Bb, Eb, or G#/Ab. It takes a little practice to make these work, but you’ll see many bass players using these notes and their respective intervals when creating bass lines.
Another good idea is to use these in combination with other notes in the scale, which I’ll show again here for reference:
A Dorian = A – B – C – D – E – F# – G
So when you’re on Am7 and headed to D7, you could play a figure using F# and E going downward (remember descending motion?). You could also throw in some chromaticism in between those notes to see what you come up with. Obviously this is a very broad topic to cover, but the key tenets of this idea have just been revealed to you!
Try Using These Concepts Over These Progressions By J Dilla
The Am7 – D7 example is pretty basic and admittedly not very exciting. That’s why we’re sharing these great YouTube videos that’ll give you some practice of these concepts.
So first go and watch the video below to hear some of J Dilla’s best bass lines in action:
We don’t have chord charts or tabs for these lines, but once you’ve listened to these a few times, you’ll have a good idea of what to go for. After that, you should go watch this video that has many chord progressions that J Dilla has used:
You’ll see several ii-V chord changes, as well as more chords that sound more natural for a real song, instead of a musical example like the ones above. Practice matching the bass tones you may be able to use to the chords you see in the video.
Now finally, we’re going to take a look at an actual bass tab example:
Notice he’s playing from A (fret 12 on the A string) to D (10th fret on the E string)! The 11th fret is Eb and thus an example of the chromaticism we’ve been talking about.
Remember that this is only the start of your exploration of lofi jazz bass. It will take some time to play around with these scales and explore several chord progressions to get the hang of creating some lines of your own. Your productions will only benefit from spending time studying tabs like the one above, and immersing yourself in some of the sheet music of any artists you love that you can find.
So finally, go and make some bass lines. Experiment with 16ths, 8ths, rests, upward and downward motion, and anything you can think of. The more bass lines you create and imitate, the better you will get at this. You only get better by doing it!