When I first became a fan of music, I admittedly didn`t notice the bass at all. It was only when I joined my first band as a keyboardist I noticed how integral the bass guitar was for the sound of the band.
After that, I started to notice the bass in music more and more. I also fell in love with it, switched out my keyboard for a bass guitar, and have played it as my main instrument since.
Thus, I was not always able to intuitively and easily hear basslines. Rather, it was a skill that I had to learn.
Because of that, I decided to make this list of 9 simple ways to better notice the bass when listening to music.
From playing the bass guitar for 15 years now, I`ve come to learn that people notice the bass in vastly different ways. Thus, I`ve listed a range of ways to better hear the bass, so that you are guaranteed to find something that works for you.
This way, you won`t need to desperately listen for something that doesn`t even sound like it`s there. Instead, you can use these methods to train your ears to pick up basslines naturally.
1. Find the lowest note in chords
When taking my musicology degree, I was assigned listening exercises. These consisted of picking out the individual notes in chords progressions that were played on the piano.
These exercises were amazing for more clearly noticing the bass. The reason for this is that the bass provides the harmonic foundation of the chords. Thus, our ears try to contextualize the chord, based on what the deepest note is.
To get a better idea of how this works, I made you some similar listening exercises.
Start by listening to this sequence of piano chords and try to listen for the lowest note in each of them. Feel free to replay it as many times as you need.
If you are unsure of whether you were able to do it, here is the isolated bass from the progression above:
If you found this difficult, it can be helpful to try humming the bassline.
While this didn`t help me, personally this was of great help to some other students. This can work because even though we can`t clearly pick out the bassline, we are still feeling it.
Thus, humming it can be helpful for projecting this feeling, without thinking about the pitch of it. This is the same reason the bass is an important part of a band, even to people who can`t pick out the bassline.
Here are 2 more listening exercises to try:
If you struggle, it can be beneficial to relisten to the exercises after hearing the isolated bass. When I struggled with picking out individual voices in the chords, it helped me a lot to just relisten until I got it down.
Here are 2 more exercises. These are slightly more challenging.
2. Equalize the bass
Equalizing, or EQ means to increase or decrease specific frequencies. By increasing the volume of bass frequencies, you can also make the bass easier to hear.
This is great, as it also allows you to gradually increase the deep frequencies til you notice the bass clearly. Once you notice it, it is also easier to keep hearing it more clearly when you lower the bass frequencies back down.
If the bass is still hard to hear, you can make it even easier by decreasing high and mid-frequencies. If there is a bassline in the song, it should completely dominate the soundscape after doing this.
To get a better idea of how effective this is, let`s listen to a short piece of music, with and without EQ. Here it is first, without any EQ added to it:
And here it is again, this time with the low frequencies boosted, and the high frequencies lowered:
Some common music apps have a built-in equalizer. For those that do, here is how you can access them:
|How to find the equalizer:
|Spotify on iOS:
|Home -> Settings -> Playback ->Equalizer
|Spotify on Android:
|Home -> Settings -> Audio Quality -> Equalizer
|View -> Show Equalizer
|Settings -> Music -> EQ
|Windows Media Player 12
|Right click “Now Playing” -> Enhancements -> Graphic Equalizer
I`ve gone through every common music listening app to make this list. If a mainstream listening app doesn`t appear on the list, it does not have an equalizer as of writing.
If your app of choice doesn`t have an EQ option, you can solve this by using a third-party equalizer. I`ve tried and looked through some common options, and here are the best free apps I found for every operating system:
|Equalizer – Bass Booster & Volume
|Graphic Equalizer Studio
|Boom2:Volume Boost & Equalizer
Once you found an equalizer to use, simply increase the bass frequencies before or while listening to a song. This is generally done by dragging points on a line graph like in the picture above. Some also have sliders that adjust certain frequency ranges.
You generally want to boost frequencies in the 40-160Hz range to make the bass more noticeable. If the bassline mainly consists of deep notes, you might also elect to only boost frequencies in the 40-80Hz range or so.
Also. If the song is tuned down to D standard or below, it’s helpful to boost frequencies in the 20-40Hz range as well.
3. Listen to isolated basslines
Hearing the isolated bassline is particularly helpful for noticing the bass on individual songs. This is because once you have heard the bassline, it will be easier to recognize in a song.
Now, unless you own the studio stems for a song, there is no way to perfectly isolate a bass track. However, there are some resources that allow you to try out this method.
IsolatedTracks is the best free website for this purpose. The site has more than 4000 tracks across multiple genres of music and lets you download 30 tracks for free. You can adjust the volume of each instrument on these tracks, and thus also isolate the bassline.
You can also isolate the bass tracks yourself. This will result in subpar isolation where you can still hear the other instruments faintly. Also, it can be hard to cut out the bass drum as it works in the same frequency range as the bass.
However, it will help you clearly hear the bass, and it’s a free way to isolate the bassline of any song.
You can isolate a bass track with the help of EQ, as mentioned above. Instead of increasing the bass frequencies until you hear the bass, put them at max, and remove the mid and high frequencies entirely.
This will leave you with only the bass frequencies, which will generally consist of the deepest parts of the bass guitar and the bass drum, with some external noise from the other instruments.
4. Practice active listening
While most people listen to music regularly, it is most common to do so as a passive activity. This means that the music is something we put on in the background while focusing on doing something else.
The opposite of this is called active listening, where we listen to music for the sole purpose of listening to music.
What I have experienced through active listening is that I start picking up on elements of the song I didn`t even know were there. The interplay between various instruments also becomes clearer and easier to appreciate.
“You cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.”M. Scott Peck – The Road Less Traveled
For this reason, active listening is also a great way to notice the bassline.
This usually doesn`t mean the bass will suddenly pop out at you as soon as you start paying attention to the music. However, you will start to pick up on things you hadn`t previously noticed.
This, in turn, makes you more inclined to notice other new elements of the song. Not only will this eventually lead you towards picking up the bassline more clearly. Picking up the bassline will also be easier when you are more aware of the other elements of the song.
5. Listen to songs with pronounced basslines
While most songs have a bassline, not all basslines are equally discernable.
Thus, a good exercise for noticing the bass guitar in music is to listen to songs with pronounced basslines. With that, here is a list of some songs from a wide selection of genres where the bass is easy to hear:
|Song with discernible basslines:
|Another One Bites The Dust
|The Enemy Within
|A Tribe Called Quest
|Excursions (*Sampled of A Chant For Bu by Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers)
|Got The Life
|The Sugar Hill Gang
|Rapper’s Delight (*Sampled of Good Times by Chic)
|My Name Is Mud
The reason this works so well is that these basslines pull you towards them. This, in turn, will train your ears to understand what a bassine feels like, even on songs where it is less noticeable.
Listening to these songs will also give you a broad understanding of the various ways a bass guitar can sound. As a result, you will become better at recognizing the sound of the bass, whether you are listening to pop, metal, hip-hop, or fusion jazz.
For an immediate example of how this works, take a listen to “Enemy Within” by Rush:
6. Listen to music at home
To best hear the bass in music, avoid listening in noisy public places, in the car, on a train, or on the bus.
As we feel deep frequencies moreso than hear them, it is hard for us to separate basslines from external noise. Thus, when blended with external deep noises, the bass becomes harder to notice.
In crowded places, there will be a lot of ambient deep noises. Even with noise-canceling headphones, these noises will interfere with your ability to hear the bass while listening to music.
This makes car stereos unfit for noticing the bass well while driving, as a car in motion will produce constant deep sounds. The same goes for busses and trains, as both have the same problem, in addition to being crowded with other people.
Furthermore, ambient low-frequency noises can cause stress and annoyance. Thus, while they are impossible to avoid completely, it is preferable to avoid them when trying to enjoy music whenever possible.
7. Use the right audio equipment
There are several reasons why a poor speaker or set of headphones can prevent you from hearing basslines clearly.
A common issue among poor-quality headphones is that they don`t properly seal off the ear. As a result, low frequencies will travel away from the enclosure of the headphones, and thus away from your ear canal.
Another reason is that some listening devices are simply not built to handle low frequencies well. As deep frequencies are felt more than they are heard, speakers also need to be big enough to produce soundwaves that we can feel.
This requires a certain level of build quality and makes it harder for small speakers to produce a well-defined bass sound. For this reason, phone speakers are generally poor for listening to basslines.
Thus, to better hear the bass, avoid listening to music on these devices:
- Phone Speakers
- Car Stereos
- Low-Quality Headphones and earbuds
- Headphones and earbuds that don`t seal off your ears.
To Better hear the bass in music, listen to music on these devices:
- High-quality headphones
- High-quality earbuds
- Headphones and earbuds that seal your ears completely
- Stereo systems
- Speakers and subwoofers
8. Explore different genres of music
Listening to different genres of music is helpful for noticing the bass for multiple reasons.
First off, it`s easier to hear the bass more clearly in some genres. Funk, Hip-Hop, and Fusion Jazz in particular tend to have basslines that stand out and are mixed loud enough to be heard clearly.
On the other hand, the bass can be hard to hear in metal, as well as in some rock and punk bands. A major reason for this is that distortion is a commonly used effect in these genres.
As a result, the guitars and bass work together to create a wall of sound, which can make it difficult to distinguish the two instruments. This effect does not result in listeners not being able to hear the bass, but it can appear that way when they are not able to pick out the bassline.
Therefore, it can be helpful to listen to genres you are unfamiliar with. Whether you like jazz, rock, metal, or hip-hop, this can make you “reset” how you think about the bass.
Music is there for us to explore. To intentionally limit yourself to one, two, or three genres is limitation at its worst. Music is huge; it’s a gigantic history lesson, and if you are true music fan or a musician, you should explore it. It’s all right there in front of us.Phil Anselmo – Vocalist for Pantera
Thus, even listening to only a couple of songs you normally wouldn`t, can do wonders for how well you are able to hear the bass.
9. Listen to the drums
If you feel like you can`t hear the bass, it can be hard to know what to divert your attention towards. After all, if you don`t know what the bass sounds like, how can you tell what to listen for? A great solution to this problem is not to listen for the bass but for the drums.
The bass guitar and the drums work together to provide rhythm to songs. Thus, their parts are often intertwined. So much so that some like to think of them as a single instrument played by two people.
The bass player’s function, along with the drums, is to be the engine that drives the car… everything else is merely colours.Suzi Quatro – Michigan Rock and Roll Legends online Hall of Fame inductie
Drums are also usually more audible on songs than the bass is. Thus, picking out the drum part will generally be easier than picking out the bass line.
However, by focusing on the drums, it becomes much easier to notice the bass too. In particular, the bass drum is the single best sound to listen for to hear the bass well.
Oftentimes, the bass guitar and the bass drum are played at the same time. Even when they are not, there is a well-thought-out relationship between the two in any decent rhythm section.
When you listen to the drums and notice the bass drum. You might thus find that it packs a lot of power despite merely being a plain kick sound. When you actively listen to the song and try to find why it sounds so powerful, you might just find yourself discovering that this is due to the bass line.
Learning to hear the bass can seem impossible at first, as it is hard to know what to even listen for. However, most people who give it a genuine effort tend to have an “A-ha” moment where it suddenly becomes more noticeable sooner or later.
This is why trying different methods of hearing the bass in music is so effective. One approach may or may not work for you, depending on how you hear and think about music. Thus, finding the method that triggers your ears to listen for the bass, will also help you consistently hear it.
Poor audio equipment, EQ, or sound settings can make this very hard, so make sure you are giving yourself the best chance of hearing the bass. This way, you will make the most of the other tips on this list, and I recommend revisiting them if you find that you have listened to music in unfit settings or on poor equipment.
If you have tried every tip on the list and still are unable to hear bass whatsoever, the reason could be related to a hearing issue.
I am a bass player, not a doctor, this is not medical advice.
Among other reasons, hearing loss can be caused by Ménière disease or hereditary factors. In this case, you might also have noticed this negatively impacting other parts of your life, and not solely when listening to music.
There are several ways to treat low-frequency hearing loss. If you suspect that you are suffering from hearing loss at low frequencies, talk to a medical professional to discuss treatment options.