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Musical Space: The Bass Drop


Traditional songs with lyrics tend to be divided into verses and choruses, with a bridge sometimes thrown in; modern electronic dance music, though, doesn’t rely on words for its structure, so EDM has something simpler instead, called the Bass Drop. This is the climax of the song, the place following a “build” where there is a sudden addition of bass. It is self-evident, at least to me, that bass notes make music sound good; so it makes sense that a place that features the bass should be the most important part of the piece.

So here’s how the structure of a typical electronic dance song works: a groove is established, along with a good hook, with the aim of getting as many people on the dance floor as possible. Then there is a “breakdown,” where most of the instrumental parts are stripped away, leaving a minimal skeleton of music to which the “build” section gradually begins adding parts again. The breakdown and build lack bass, so they sound incomplete, and this creates a long-term tension. What happens next is the bass drop, where the low notes come back in. This is when the tension is released, the culmination, the reason the song exists.

Sure, the bass drop is simplistic; primitive, even, but dance music should be primitive, shouldn’t it?

Mark Foley is principal double bass of the Wichita Symphony Orchestra and professor of double bass and head of Jazz Studies at Wichita State University.