The role of bass is very multidimensional in music, as it takes on both harmonic (chord) and melodic roles at different times. Taking this into account, I think that it is very important to consider the role that bass will play in a track before developing a mindset for creating a melody with a higher pitched instrument. In many instances I have gotten into a track where I had a dynamic melody as well as a melodic bassline. At the time when I was putting it together, it seemed like a good idea as both fit with the drums and chord progression. After taking a step back and looking at the finished product however, it was quite evident that the end result was somewhat convoluted. That’s not to say that it is impossible to make a track with two strong melodic elements, but I do believe that it is a very hard thing to accomplish. Another point to make is that this type of track will often times go over more listeners heads, as they do not have the patience to really listen for the different melodic elements. With that being said, I would like to elaborate on four different techniques that can be very effective in forming a quality relationship between a bassline and a higher pitched melody.
In some instances the bass line will stick solely to the root note, or only leave the root note very briefly before returning back to it. When this is the case, you probably want to be more elaborate with the higher pitched melody that you are playing. You also might want to focus your melody away from the root tone, as the bass has that tone covered. When doing this, it might be a good idea to have your bass tones sustain longer and occur less frequently as the higher pitched melody should be creating the more dynamic movement.
In other instances, the bassline will take on a primary melodic element to a track. Although sticking to root tones can build a strong foundation to a song, there is something about a bassline with movement that really builds a dope groove. When you choose to go this route, it might be in your best interest to really ease up on a higher pitched melody. Longer sustained notes and simpler melodies with less movement will allow the bassline to really stand out. With the bassline moving away from the root tone frequently, you might also want to try emphasizing the root tone of the chord with the higher pitched melodic instrument. This can really help to reinforce the chord when the bassline is not. Another thing to keep in mind, is that you probably still want to emphasize the root tone of the bass melody on the strong beats of the drums. If you keep coming back to the root tone of the bass on the predominant kick drums, it will still provide harmonic reinforcement even though it is moving around.
Another technique that is worth utilizing is a back and forth technique between the bassline and a higher melodic component. You might want to have the beginning of a bar emphasize a higher pitched melodic phrase that ends with a longer sustained tone half way through the bar. You could then have a bassline that starts out with a long sustained note that then transitions to a more melodic phrase at the end of the bar. You could do this with either element starting or finishing. With the bassline, it’s probably in your best interest to stick with the root tone when it’s the higher pitched melodies time to shine. You might also want to have the higher pitched instrument stick with the root tone when it’s the bassline’s time to shine. Don’t feel restrained to one bar when doing this either. You could have one bar focus on the higher pitched melody with the next bar focusing on the bassline.
The last technique that I will cover is probably the simplest, which involves having both play the same melody in different octaves. When doing this, it is probably most functional to focus on the bassline. The role that the bassline plays in establishing the root tone on strong beats (primary kicks), is crucial to the harmonic foundation of a track. If you start with a higher pitched melody that doesn’t focus on the root tone, trying to insert a replica bassline in a different octave may not work out very well.
When using AutoTheory it is very easy to get carried away with what you are doing compositionally. The hard part is sometimes reigning yourself in and focusing on a structure that facilitates high quality simplicity. From my experience it is pretty easy to get chords and drums right, but trying to do too much with melodies is something that I always need to remind myself of. Understanding that the bassline and other melodic components of a song are there to PLAY A ROLE is crucial, especially when the potential for movement provided by melody is so tempting.