I'm actually learning piano, and in piano i can play the bass with my left hand and the melody with my right hand. But it doesn't seem to be the case with guitars and i assume that one guitar should play the treble clef and another should play the bass clef.

So is it true to say that anything the lead guitar plays is melody line (whether it be single notes or chords) and anything played by bass guitarist is bass line (whether it be single notes or chords)?

  • 1
    That's a pretty broad statement. It would generally be true, but not always. Pop formats would mostly adhere to this but bass parts are not always just playing root notes
    – scrowler
    Jul 28, 2014 at 0:36
  • The instrument that plays the lowest notes in any given song is usually the one playing the bass line.
    – user1044
    Jul 28, 2014 at 5:26

3 Answers 3


Whatever is played by the bassist is called as a bassline. But it is not necessary that what the lead guitar plays is lead. In some Rock bands there are 2 guitarists i.e. 1 that plays lead/solo and the other that plays the rhythm/riff.

The rhythm is usually one that involves chords or power chords but it may not necessarily be so i.e. the riff. The lead involves higher notes (usually single or a couple together) i.e. melody.

As @scrowler pointed out, the bassist may not always play the root note and may improvise in the scale. BUT whatever the bassist plays is ALWAYS known as the bassline.

Regards Jimmy


I'm not sure that it is possible to generalize that much...

First of all, in rock songs, you will find a lot of bands playing with 2 guitarists and 1 bassist. So as @Wheat Williams said, the bass line is often played by the bassist in rock songs. But then, there is usually one lead guitar, who will play a melody line and one rhythm guitar, who can be seen as the riff player. This is the most usual band organization.

But you can find A LOT of different organizations in rock songs! Sometimes the lead guitar can be replaced by a trumpet, a sax ... Or the rhythm guitar can be replaced by a keyboard.

Finally, even if bands have a lead guitar and a bassist, it's not mandatory for them to respect the theory above. For instance, it can happens for a lead guitarist to play the "rhythm line" while the bassist is doing the melody, as it can be happening while you are playing piano.

So I'll definitely say that it's a matter of context, that will depend on the aim of the band on doing something common or more creative.

  • 1
    Also, in rock (especially harder subgenres) you'll quite often find bass and guitars playing the same riff, uni sono. Jun 28, 2015 at 21:42

Is it true? No, it's not true because you used the word 'anything'. As said, it can be called a bass line in general if played by the bass even if this 'line' includes chords. It's referring to the instrument if used this way.

A melody on the other hand is a series of notes. Another concept of a bass line is a series of notes in the bass. There is a fine line between calling a series of notes a melody and a motif.

The guitar has six strings. It is common practice in solo classical compositions to have a distinct bass line being played with other notes. This can be done while playing chords or a melody line or mixing it up. In a way, each 'voice' can be a melody line including the bass notes. (Such voices are abstract and can cross over strings or even share notes.)

Put two guitarists and a bass player together and there is plenty of room for them all to play chords and melodies. But traditionally we think of the bass player as playing a bass line (which is often short and repeated) and one guitarist as playing 'rhythm', keeping the beat with strums of chords and the other guitarist playing 'lead' which is often an improvisational melody of single note. ---It works in putting a cover band together especially if the guitarists are talented enough to do both.

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