In the last article of this series we discussed the harmonic series and musical tone. You learned that most instruments don't produce simple pure tones, instead they produce a complex tone made up of a fundamental tone and many overtones.
In this article we'll look more specifically at the frequency range of the bass and where it fits in among other popular instruments.
What is the Frequency Range of Bass?
So far, we've discussed how humans can hear from about 20Hz to 16kHz (20kHz at birth). As you would expect, the bass covers the low side of of this frequency spectrum.
The fundamental range refers to the pure note range—not the upper harmonics.
4-String Fundamental Range
The fundamental range of a 4-string bass goes from about 40Hz to 400Hz.
To be more specific: low open E = 41Hz. The common high D# (20th fret of the G-string) = 311Hz.
Many modern-design basses have 24 frets. The high G (24th fret of the G-string) = 392Hz.
5-String and 6-String Fundamental Range
Basses with more strings have a wider fundamental range. 5-string and 6-string basses, which commonly have low B-strings, go down to 31Hz.
Six-string basses, with an added high C-string, go up 5 more notes to a C on the 24th fret whose fundamental is 523Hz.
Bass Overtone Range
The overtones extend higher. Bass guitar overtones continue all the way up to around 4000Hz (4kHz) to 5000Hz (5kHz).
Table of Bass Frequencies
Here's an easy way you can remember the basic frequency range of the bass: 40Hz-400Hz-4000Hz.
The fundamentals range from about 40 to 400 Hertz; the harmonics go all the way to 4000Hz. Simple!
Why do you need to memorize that? Well, these numbers will come up in different places like on amps, effects pedals, recording equipment, and gear manuals. It's good to have a grasp of these numbers.
Bass Frequencies and Other Instruments
I made you a little graphic so you can see the frequency range of the bass and how it compares to some other popular instruments with which you'll play:
Bass Frequency Interlopers
Looking at the chart above, you'll notice a lot of overlap of fundamentals with drums, keyboards, guitar and male singers. This doesn't mean they all overlap all of the time—it just means they can potentially overlap.
While the fundamental range of the bass extends up to around 400Hz, most bass playing occurs with fundamentals below that between 40Hz and 200Hz.
Though many non-bass instruments can play in their lower range, they're not down there all of the time. However, it can really depend on the style of music or the particular player.
As a bassist, you need to be mindful of these other instruments. If you play high and they play low, you'll be crowding the same frequency range and the sound of the whole band will turn to mush. The more crowded a space gets, the more the instruments need to work together.
Since the harmonics of the bass extend into everyone else's sonic territory, you need to be careful not to select a bass tone which fights with the other instruments. We'll cover this more later in this series of articles.
Let's talk about a very important sonic relationship for bass players.
The Bass and the Kick Drum
When you play bass with a drummer, the kick drum is very important. The kick drum is the big drum on the floor played with a foot pedal. It's the one where bands often put their name/logo on the front. It's often called a bass drum.
The bass and kick drum tend to play during most of a song, and they share a lot of the same frequency range—especially between 50-100Hz. Look at the chart again. The kick drum is one of the few sounds which gets into our low range and stays there. The tone of the bass drum won't change much during a song or gig. Other instruments, like keyboards, can get down in our range, but it's rare for them to do it throughout an entire song.
This overlap is why the bass and kick drum are so highly linked. You will often hear bassists talk of connecting their bassline with the kick drum, or drummers connecting their kick with the bassline. If the bass and kick don't work together, things quickly become an undefined mess in the lower frequencies.
For an obvious example, listen to Jungle Man by The Meters. The legendary bassist George Porter, Jr. along with funk drumming legend Ziggy Modeliste sync up to great a big fat groove. You can hear the kick drum by itself at the beginning of the track with the bass joining in around 0:22.
Pay attention to everything you listen to and you'll hear this essential bass/kick relationship. It's in all styles of music.
You should have a good general idea of the frequency range of the bass. Remember: 40-400-4000Hz.
You also need to remember that the frequency ranges of other instruments overlap with the bass. You're at the bottom of the range, but your tone bubbles far up into the sonic spectrum. When you make decisions about your bass sound, you're making decisions for the whole band.
Remember that out of all of the instruments you commonly play with, the drummer's kick drum is your best friend. Stick together. Complement. Don't fight.
In the next article in this series we'll break down the sound of the bass examining the different parts of the bass frequency spectrum.