In my music theory class I have created a 16-measure melody, and have now been instructed by my teacher to create a corresponding bass-line for that melody. (I scored an 88% on my melody, so I assume it is relatively fine.) However, I am left very confused on how to do this. How do I determine which chords to use for the bass-line? How do I know if the newly created bass-line complements the melody properly?

I've searched online and have found nothing but extremely off-topic posts or YouTube videos. I'm not asking someone to do my homework for me, rather I'm asking how one makes a bass-line that complements a melody whilst following rules. My melody is pictured below:

Melody given

  • This is obviously a question about theory, this is why I'm posting this as a comment rather than an answer: simply imagine a bass line and try to figure it out note by note. This is obviously hard for beginners, but you can use an instrument to check the notes before writing them down. If you have memorized the melody, chances are the bass line you'll improvise will almost perfectly fit the melody, and only minor corrections may be required.
    – Anthony
    Jun 9, 2015 at 20:15

5 Answers 5


First, you need to identify one or two candidate chords -- in a situation like this, you'll probably want to do this for each measure. Try them out on the piano to help you choose between them. For example, when there is a C in the melody, your candidate chords would be C major (I) and A minor (vi). Mostly likely you'll choose C major.

Once you've written down the chord symbols below each measure, then you'll want to pick out one of the notes in the chord to assign to the bass line. If you can make a nice scale-like movement in the bass line, that will sound nice!

Usually the teacher shows the students some examples of doing this. I'm rather surprised this teacher hasn't done this. Perhaps you could go to office hours.

There's one tiny thing about your otherwise very nice melody that I don't understand, and that is the last measure. When I tried singing your tune, I felt better when I left out that last D.

  • 2
    Don't leave out the F chord,(IV) which can fit to a C note as well. The D at the end works if it's a 1st time bar with a repeat, then a C for the 2nd time at the very end.
    – Tim
    May 7, 2015 at 7:22

The steps would include.

  1. Determining the Key
  2. Providing points for Cadences
  3. Determining the chords and then there inversions

And then finally you write a melody in response to the given notes.

Things to note.

  • The proper rules for good melody writing still apply to the bass line you are writing.
  • Try and get the width of the melody an octave.
  • Try to avoid jumping big intervals.
  • No consecutive octaves or fifths
  • It would be good if you can show that you are comfortable with using the Super Tonic and Dominant chord with its seventh (Remember proper resolution.)
  • Your melody still needs a proper line

Simple answer:

1) Find your places of cadence (a "resting point" within the piece). It looks like bar 8 beat 3 is a good candidate for a cadence. Since your melody falls on E, and since (aside from the unorthodox ending on D at the end) your key is in C major, and since you seem relatively new to harmony, this should be a C major chord or A minor chord; write this down for later. For simplicity sake, your next cadence will be at bar 16, which would require you to not finish on D if you want a perfect authentic (a.k.a "final sounding") finish.

2) Find your rhythm. Your strong beats are 1 and 3, since throughout the piece you put emphasis on the 3 by using half notes on beat 3. Without worrying about notes, clap or tap a rhythm that you think sounds like it fits your melody while remembering that you keep emphasizing that third beat. Since the melody at those times has a half note on the third beat, this is an opportunity for your bassline to "take stage" and become pronounced.

3) Fill in your notes. Write down the notes at your cadences first (you will revise this later), then start writing down your notes with the ultimate goal of "resting" at the cadences; ensure that rhythmic bassline melody fits the same standards that you have been taught that makes a "good" melody.

4) Go back and revise what you wrote, since now that you have a complete or almost complete bassline to accompany your melody, you can now go in and make small adjustments here and there with the bigger picture in mind (...really in front of you....)

Complicated answer:

Learn harmony; learn harmonic progression. Then learn counterpoint and do a bunch of exercises.


As I see 16 measures here, my eyes went on eighth measure fastly. I was looking for cadance half-the-way.

You start with Do "C" and the last note is Re "D". This is something you don't want to do as you start writing melodies first. Because it makes a complicated harmonic structure in a hard way for you to have your way out of it through first and sixteenth.

Try dividing your measures to half, it will become easier to see your works as all. Like this = you have 16, so eighth measure is a buff zone for sixteen. fourth measure is a buff zone for eighth (first piece of it) and your twelve measure for the second piece.

What you did was questionbly open for some counterpoint writing. But remember, counterpoint writing is the most difficult to accomplish. If someone "recalling" counterpoint rules it means they don't know anything about it, believe me... What to do to these buffer zones ? Try using your two beat notes at those points with your tones voice. As in Do Mi Sol "C E G" gives you the Do Major tone voice. (since you started with Do and no sharps or flats i assume its C Major) Use Sol "G" in eighth measures end because it is your Dominant note.( fifth note is always Dominant in a tone right?)

Oh and when you are studying if you write the melody first it will be hard to put a bassline under it. Try writing the bass first, make sure you end and -preferably- start with Tonic ( tone voice -First note- ) and put a dominant around eighth, good luck and have fun !


I believe what the assignment calls for is an excerise in counterpoint, I think 1st species, as I recall. A good textbook re these 'rules'would be a good resource. The previous answers are examples of these.

As I recall, in my studies, we followed certain counterpoint rules as stated by Fuchs or Fuchs.what I meant by species, is at first one writes one line against another, then, progressing to one line against two lines, speaking verttically, as in the Bach Chorales. The species is then, I believe, a bass line, with more than just quarter notes against it, ie 2 notes against one, and so on. Please correct me if I am mistaken.

  • 1st species? Could you elaborate on that? Also, what does "re" in your second sentence mean? Which "rules" are you referring to? How does this answer the question?
    – 11684
    May 7, 2015 at 11:53
  • "re" means regarding. I think UriahB is a newcomer to SE and is finding his voice. Let's give him a little time. For now, for this particular question, judging from the amount of instructions the OP was given by his/her instructor, I think it's safe to say we don't need to ask the OP to understand counterpoint, 1st species, or rules. May 7, 2015 at 23:35

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