This in-depth guide will teach you how to make authentic Lofi hip-hop basslines from scratch using a multitude of instruments and music production techniques.
Lofi hip hop has exploded in popularity over the last few years. The chilled-out, retro sound is perfect for studying, relaxing, or just vibing out. A huge component of the aesthetic lies in the smooth, jazz-tinged bass.
This tutorial will cover the following topics;
|Get the Right Bass Sound|| - Upright bass samples |
- Sine and Triangle Waveforms
- Analog modeling synths
- FM synthesis
|Craft Simple Bassline Patterns|| - Arpeggios |
- Pedal tones
|Add Groove and Swing|| - Velocity variation |
- Ghost notes
- Shuffle triplets
|Get the Lofi Sound|| - Saturation/distortion |
- Vinyl effects
|Mixing Best Practices|| - Sidechain compression |
- Cutting lows non-bass elements
Select the Right Bass Sound
Lofi bass sound design is all about creating warm, organic, and slightly distorted bass sounds. These sounds are typically created using a combination of waveforms, filters, and effects.
The most common waveforms for lofi bass are sine and triangle waves. Sine waves produce the simplest and smoothest sound. Triangle waves have more harmonics for a slightly brighter tone, so both a good for a warm low bass. Other waveforms like sawtooth and square can also be used but need to be carefully filtered and processed to tame their harshness. Sawtooth waves produce a more complex sound with lots of harmonics. Square waves have a hollow, synth-like quality.
Once you have a base waveform, sculpt it further using low-pass and high-pass filters. Rolling off the highs softens the harshness and mimics vintage gear. Subtle distortion or bit-crushing adds grit and character.
When it comes to synths for lo-fi hip-hop bass, subtractive analog modeling and FM synths are go-to options. Subtractive synths like Arturia's Mini V allow you to shape sounds through oscillators, filters, and envelopes. This style of synthesis lends itself well to deep, smooth bass tones.
Virtual analog synths are another popular choice. Plugins, like U-He Diva or TAL-U-NO-LX emulate classic hardware synthesizers known for huge, rich bass, sounds with their virtual analog engines. FM synthesis is also utilized by many lo-fi producers. Synths like Native Instrument's FM8 provide endless sound design options by letting you manipulate carriers and modulators to design custom basses. The complex tones possible with FM make it very versatile.
Beyond synthesizers, many lo-fi musicians use bass sample libraries and Romplers for their convenience and realistic sounds. Libraries like Jazz & Soul Upright Bass provide a range of acoustic and electric bass samples to easily fit into a beat.
virtual analog, FM, and subtractive synths allow for deep sound design control over lo-fi bass tones. But Romplers and bass sample libraries offer faster plug-and-play options with authentic sounds. Using both synthesized tones and quality samples together can yield the best results.
Lastly, you can use samples and loops which is the quickest and easiest way to build high-quality tracks with the sounds designed and mixed for you. I would recommend Wes Yee's horn samples and Lofi loops for some high-quality bass performances on the Rickenbacker, or Chillme from Cloudy-Samples which offers a Lofi construction kit of samples and MIDI.
Outline the Chord Progression
Many lofi tracks use simple 2 to 4 chord progressions in jazz-inspired keys like minor pentatonic and blues scales. Here are some examples:
- I-IV-V: This classic blues progression forms the basis of countless lofi tracks. For example, “Home” by Lofi Fruits uses Fmin7-Bbmin7-Cmin7.
- I-III-V: A common variation is substituting the III for the IV chord. "Sunday Drive" by idealism uses this Am7-Cm7-Em7 progression.
- I-VI-VII-V: The vi and VII chords add new colors to the standard I-IV-V pattern. "Warm Coffee" by Gustavo Santolalla uses Em7-Cm7-Dm7-Bm7.
Once you've chosen a chord progression, map out your bassline by focusing on the root notes, and then adding extensions and embellishments.
Craft a Simple Bassline Pattern
Many vintage lofi tracks keep the bassline simple, often sticking to the root and fifth of each chord. Here are some ideas:
- Arpeggios: Play chord tones one by one in an ascending/descending arpeggio. For example, Cmin7 = C Eb G Bb.
- Pedal Tone: Hold one note like the root while changing chords above it.
- Syncopation: Emphasize off-beats with syncopated rhythms instead of straight 16th or 8th notes.
Keep these basslines repetitive and centered around the root of each chord. Simplicity and groove are key!
Make it Groove with Swing
Once you have your foundational bass pattern, inject some groove and humanity using these techniques:
- Vary velocity - Change velocities subtly to create dynamic accents, similar to how a real bassist digs in.
- Use ghost notes - Add soft ghost notes on off-beats for a rolling, swinging feel.
- Shuffle triplets - Turn straight 8th or 16th notes into swung triplets for instant groove.
Processing Lofi Bass
Now for the fun part - processing your bassline for that gritty lofi flavor:
- Saturation/Distortion - Emulators like iZotope Vinyl or Softube Saturation Knob are perfect for adding rich crunch.
- Bitcrusher - Lower the bit depth from 24 to 12-16 bit for a dirty digital distortion.
- Reamping - For maximum authenticity, record your real bass amp with different pedal FX.
- EQ Rolloff - Gently roll off below 60-80Hz to remove sub rumble and above 10-15kHz to simulate damaged vinyl.
Focus on the Mix
The right mixing moves let your lofi bass hit just right:
Sidechain compression - Use sidechain compression so the bass ducks under the kick hits. This creates a deep, pumping groove.
Cut lows on other elements - Cut everything below 100-200Hz on instruments like guitar, keys, etc to leave room for bass.
With all these techniques, you have an arsenal for crafting deep Lofi hip hop basslines. Remember to keep parts simple, find the pocket with the groove, and don't be afraid to introduce some grit and imperfection. The bass is the heartbeat of any Lofi track, so let it shine!
How to Make Lofi Bass?
Design sounds on synthesizers using Sine Waves, Triangles Waves, Sampling, and VSTs like U-He Diva, or TAL-U-NO-LX to emulate classic analogue hardware sounds, Vary velocity, swing, and use ghost notes.
Let me know if you have any other Lofi production questions. I'm always happy to help fellow music makers perfect their chill, boom-bap beats.