In this tutorial today, I’m going to show you how I make bass-lines using Garageband, however, considering I first wrote this piece over a year ago (I’m currently editing it now), some of the things that I would’ve done are now tactics I no longer use. For example, I find that just using a better 808 instrument is probably the best way of going about it, rather than trying to improve the sound of a stock instrument. So how would I do it then?
To make 808s in Garageband
1) Use the root and 3rd notes of the chords used in your song for the bass line
2) Switch to an instrument that’s higher in pitch like the piano to better hear if the notes are on key
3) Switch to Garageband’s 808 Bass once you’ve determined the bass line is on key
With all that said, many of the things I’ve talked about here are still applicable to the 808 Studio II synth (which you can grab here from Plugin Boutique). I’ll walk you through the process of making bass-lines in the first part of this guide, and then we’ll run through some music theory in the ending of the tutorial, that way, if you so choose, you can understand the theory behind why something works. However, for the sake of not wasting time, we’ll just dive right into how I made a bass track for a recent song.
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How To Create Boutique 808s In Garageband
A lot of people like to just wing it and see what sounds good, which is a great way of going about it as well, but sometimes you may need a little extra help to make something that sounds good.
1) Figure out the Key Signature
The best way to build a bass-line, a melody, or a harmony of some kind is to understand what key you’re in first while using my guide on Traveling Guitarist as a reference.
For this, you can just look at the very first note of your melody, either by looking at the actual standard notation option in Garageband or by clicking on the note in the Piano Grid.
Hover your cursor over the note and the DAW will tell you what note it is. This is likely the key signature of the song. Typically, the very first note of the song is representative of its key signature, but not in all cases.
Sometimes it’s the last note as well.
Let’s say you’ve made a song and the very first note is not the key signature that it’s in.
You’ll know because if the first note is A, and then you google what the notes are of A Major (A, B, C#, D, E, F#, and G#), you’ll play those notes and they won’t sound good with the rest of the music.
But at least you know that the key signature of the song features an A note.
Just open the Musical Typing in Garageband, or play the notes on the MIDI Keyboard, and play up the notes from that A.
So, you play A, then A#, then B, then B#, and then C, and then C# until you’ve figured out how many sharps in are in the song. Once you have the number of sharps, you can determine what the notes of the scale and the key signature are.
For instance, the song could be in the Key Of E Major, but the very first note of it is A.
In the Key of E Major, the notes are the following, E, F#, G#, A, B, C#, D#, and E, which looks like this:
With that said, in most cases, you won’t have to do any of this, because usually, the first note signifies what key the song is in, so don’t worry too much, additionally, Melodyne 5 from Plugin Boutique can analyze the song’s key as well and it does so automatically.
2) Play Around With The Scale/Notes Of The Chords
Now that we’ve figured out the song is the Key of E Major, you can play around with the notes mentioned above: E, F#, G#, A, B, C#, D#, and E.
You can also use the bass-line to outline entirely new chords in the song, which will add more melodies to the song, rather than just outlining the notes of the chord – a tactic that I learned from PianoForAll (their site here) (which is one of the best ways to learn piano for music production purposes).
For instance, we could play an E Major Chord with the bass-line: E, G#, and B, or an F# Minor Chord, F#, A, and C#.
Basic three-note chords are built from every other note of the scale.
After you’ve created the bass-line from playing around with the aforementioned scales and chords, you can move on to the next important – arguably the most crucial – part of the process which is mixing them so they sound cool.
In hip-hop or trap, the bassline and the boutique 808s are pretty much always matched up directly to the kick drum, which creates that strong, massive bass-sound that kicks the subwoofers in people’s cars.
You can hear the bass kicking in when people are driving around in their cars.
As I wrote in my article, 10 Tips For Better Boutique 808s, I stated that one thing I like to do is draw out the note until the next Snare beat kicks in, that way the bass stops thumping right before the Snare.
This really has the effect of illuminating or emphasizing the flow of the bass and rhythm section.
You can see what this looks like in the image below:
You can experiment with the 808 in terms of at which point you want to stop it. Playing the 808 all the way up to a clap or a snare will have the added effect of illuminating the Snare beat.
Explained in another way, if play the 808 all the way through claps and snares, it probably won’t sound as good. It’ll just sound like a bunch of noise, and won’t add to the rhythm of the track.
Moreover, If I’ve created a beat with many different kick beats (notice I didn’t say snare/claps), I’ll extend the bass-line so it plays all throughout those beats, but also at the same time, create a new bass-line – which is the same note – that falls on each kick beat.
It’s hard to explain in words so here’s what that looks like:
Another that I like to do when creating bass-lines is using what’s called a “slur,” or as guitar players call them, hammer-ons and pull-offs.
The “slur” is a term used in Western notation that signifies that two or more notes should be played together without separation.
For instance, on the guitar, it means you pick the one note with your picking hand, but then you play the rest of the notes with your left-hand without doing any more picking.
Regarding bass-lines, especially in the DAW scenario, this means that you’re quickly oscillating between one and two notes, and you usually do this so that the bass-line falls on the kick – as I noted above.
You can see what this looks like in the image below:
You don’t always have to match the bass-line with the kick, as I did in my song Lydia, which you can hear in the link below.
The very first 2 minutes of the song features a bass-line that doesn’t always match up with the kick, however, in the last section of the song, which is about 2:49 minutes in, you’ll notice that that the bass falls more on the kick notes because I’m trying to make the track far more aggressive.
Another tip for making a bass-line is to use a different instrument to play a melody, such as the piano or the bass guitar, and once you have the melody created, you can switch the software instrument track to a Boutique 808 or a Deep Sub Bass synthesizer, and then select all of the notes in the Piano Grid, and then drag and drop them to the desired octave.
I find that using the bass guitar or the piano is a great way to ensure that your bass-line sounds good melodically, and it’s also a better way to actually hear what the notes sound like, otherwise, you may find yourself with a bass-line that’s off-key – a common occurrence when producers create bass-lines (more on the differences between 808s and bass in my guide).
Another important thing to keep in mind is to use a kick that has a lot of mid-range (500Hz to 2000kHz) and “punchiness” to it, so to speak.
This makes a significant difference in how the 808 and the kick work together. Personally, I’m a big fan of the Beat Machine kick.
I think it sounds great.
Also, make sure that you’re elongating the 808 note for a little while. In other words, let the note ring out. This looks like the image you can see three paragraphs down.
You’ll notice that the desired note is much longer than the shorter one. A short note won’t sound that good as a bass frequency. This matters more for actual “Boutique 808s” rather than a Deep Sub Bass synth.
If you’re confused by use of the terms, boutique 808s are actual software instruments that you can find in the Software Instrument track section in Electronic Drum-Kits.
The Deep Sub Bass synth is found in the Synthesizer sub-category.
Also, you could use pitch correction on the 808 to ensure that it’s not slightly detuned, which is a common problem when using different drum kits or bass synthesizers.
Explained in another way, you’ll hit the note ‘C,’ on your Musical Typing/MIDI Keyboard, and the note will actually be a D or possibly a C#.
This can be quite annoying when you’re trying to lay-down a bass-line because the notes you think you’re playing aren’t actually the ones you want.
Remember, to use the Pitch Correction feature (my guide), find out the Key signature of the song, and then set it in the top-center console of your DAW. Then check the box, “Limit to Key,” in the Pitch Correction option down in the Smart Controls. Slide the bar all the way over to 100.
Once you’ve created the bass-line, you can move on to the mixing of it, which is equally as important as the actual notes.
With the use of a few plug-ins, notably, the compressor, distortion, and channel EQ, you can really improve how hard they hit and how good they sound.
3) Mixing the Boutique 808/Deep Sub Bass
As I just mentioned, the mixing process is just as important, and without a doubt, distortion is the most amazing plug-in for making the boutique 808 sound more intense, aggressive, bassy, and overall, just a hell of a lot better.
Be careful when you first turn on the distortion, however, because it’s going to increase the volume of it like crazy.
Go into the plug-ins in Garageband, find distortion, which typically falls under the ‘Distortion’ section, turn it on. +6dB is usually the default setting when you first open it up.
You’ll notice you get a significant push in volume, so you can equalize this by decreasing the total output level of the track.
It’s up to you precisely how much distortion you want to use.
I’ve noticed that some forms of hip-hop, especially the kind that’s mixed with the hardcore scene, like Ghostmane – these guys love to use a ton of distortion on the bass because it makes the song far more aggressive and “metal” or “hardcore” sounding.
4) Using the compressor (this is optional)
This is optional because this doesn’t always have the desired effect.
The issue with using compressors is that you don’t want too many compressors running on your music, because, the final mix will have this wobbly “hitting-the-ceiling” type sound to it, and you don’t want that.
A track with too much compression sounds straight up terrible, so this is to be avoided.
Just be careful with the compression function. Set the ratio quite low at first to figure out precisely how much you need. Remember, a low ratio is 2:1 or 5:1. Anything closer to 8:1 or 10:1 is a lot of compressions.
From what I understand, anything past 8:1 is considered as limiting.
Another added feature of using the compressor feature is that you can maximize the loud and quiet parts of the bass-sound, thus, ensuring that the note doesn’t simply fade out in an undesirable way.
This isn’t a problem when using the Deep Sub Bass synthesizer, however.
5) Using Channel EQ
When using the Channel EQ to get the perfect 808 sound, there is a number of different things one can do, however, I would take the time to actually understand what EQ does using my guide before you do anything.
Perhaps, the most common piece of advice you’ll hear is to decrease the frequency where the kick lies by about +2-3dB, and then you go into the Channel EQ of the boutique 808 and increase that very same EQ, rather than decrease it.
Or you can reverse it, and increase the kick and decrease the 808.
The idea behind this is to essentially carve out room for the two to co-exist and kind of feed into each other.
Truthfully, I don’t do this that often, but a lot of people recommend it. Results may vary.
What I will do, though, is I’ll increase the mids of the bass and the highs, simply because I like the way that it sounds.
Too much Sub frequencies in a bass-line don’t sound great to my ears. It just makes it sound weird in my opinion.
Music Theory To Help Your Boutique 808s
As I’ve pointed out in many of my other tutorials, a great way to understand how to build simple little harmonies is understanding basic triads, which is Latin for a group of three interconnected things, in this case, notes (by the way, Mark Sarnecki’s Complete Elementary Rudiments along with the Answer Book from Amazon are the greatest way to learn these concepts)
Every key signature has a corresponding scale related to it, for instance, the A Major Scale, which is made up of the notes A, B, C#, D, E, F#, and G#.
If we’ve created a song using the Key of A Major, then it’s more than likely that we have a melody that is using chords or single notes from the aforementioned scale.
The Major Scale, which is the scale on which the rest of Western Music Theory is based, is made up of 7 notes/chords.
In the case of A Major, it is the aforementioned notes:
A, B, C#, D, E, F#, and G#
The chords in the major scale are in the following order:
Major, Minor, Minor, Major, Major, Minor, Diminished.
These notes and chords are typically identified using Roman numerals, a capital roman numeral for Major and a lower-case numeral for the minor.
The little ‘º’ symbol signifies a diminished triad.
A ‘+’ means augmented.
I, ii, iii, IV, V, vi, viiº
A Major, B Minor, C# Minor, D Major, E Major, F# Minor, G# Diminished
Here are the notes of the chords above
A, C#, E = A Major
B, D, F# = B Minor
C#, E, G# = C Minor
D, F#, A = D Major
E, G#, A = E Major
F#, A, C# = F# Minor
G#, B, D = G# Diminished.
If you know what key signature your song is in, it’s easy to construct a melody, whether it’s a bass-line or a piano line, because you have 7 notes at your disposal and all of the octaves of the same note, as well as the chords.
In my song, “Airway,” I actually constructed a bass-line using the notes of a chord, but rather than following the melody, I just created an entirely different melody altogether.
The way I just constructed chords from the notes of the chord, can be applied to every other key signature, so now you have a tool-box for creating bass-lines and other melodies.
Once you have this figured out, you can create chords and melodies just by simply experimenting with whatever note sounds good underneath the rest of your song.
I hope this was helpful to you. Make sure to subscribe to my YouTube channel, Producer Society, and also share my content on social media.