My StudyBass

The Basic Elements of Music

The elements of music can be broken down into three general categories: rhythm, harmony, and melody. Each of these categories has a number of subcategories which I will define below. I have also added some recorded audio examples. Just click to load them as you go.


As a general category, rhythm refers to all the time-based aspects of music. Let’s examine the common elements of rhythm and how it relates to bass playing…


Beat refers to the underlying pulse of the music. Most music has a steady, recurring beat to it. When you listen to music, you might be inclined to tap your foot to the beat.

One of your biggest responsibilities as a bass player is to maintain the consistent pulse of the music, or help keep the beat.

Here's an example of the bass and drums creating a steady beat:



Meter refers to how the pulse, or beat, of the music is divided and counted. Commonly, music is divided into repeated groups of 4 beats counted 1,2,3,4,1,2,3,4…and so on. Many other meters are possible. It’s possible to count in 3, 5, 12, or any other number of beats. Some meters are more common than others.

As a bassist, your basslines will help define the meter of the music. Defining where beat 1 occurs helps people to feel the meter. Often several musicians as a group do this, but you should be able to define the meter all on your own.

Without a reference, you can't tell what the meter is:


By punctuating or defining beat 1 every 4 beats, you create a pulse in "4":


By punctuating or defining beat 1 every 3 beats, you create a pulse in "3":



Tempo refers to the pace of the music, or how fast or slow the beat of the music is.

Bass players, as well as all of the other musicians, maintain the tempo by not speeding up or slowing down the music as it is played.

A slow tempo:


A fast tempo:



Rhythm, in a specific sense, refers to when and for how long individual musical events occur. A musical event could be all sorts of things – a single note, a group of notes, a percussive sound like a drum, or even silence. Rhythm is about when to start and stop these musical events. The when of a musical event is called attack. The how long of a musical event is called duration.

There are many different rhythms and combinations of rhythms. Rhythms have different names, such as half note, quarter note, and eighth note, which indicate their duration. This will be explained in later lessons.

A large part of playing the bass revolves around rhythm, and will be a lot of what you study and practice.

A simple rhythm may sound like:


A more complex rhythm on a similar idea may sound like:


Now, on to harmony...