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Falling Bass

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An element present in some classical and popular music pieces is wherein the bass line (the lowest line of notes, usually played by the bass guitar, the string basses, or the left hand of a keyboardist) slowly descends.

Often used as a type of ostinatoi.e., as a repeated figure against which other music is set, such as a varying melody line.

There are two versions:

  • Diatonic: along the scale in the key of the music. Usually, this starts on "do", so we're talking "do, ti, la, so, etc." in the bass line.
  • Chromatic: along the chromatic scale (i.e., including the notes between ti and la, la and so, etc.) from the home note of the key to some other note. Usually, it goes down to the fifth scale degree (i.e. "so").

In both cases, there are usually a standard Chord Progressions that go along with such sequences.

  • For diatonic sequences: I, V6, vi, V or iii6, IV, I6, ii, V in a major key, and i, VII or v6, VI, v or III6, iv, I6, ii° or ii or II, V, possibly with sevenths on the chords. Note that this is actually very close to the "Pachelbel's Canon" Progression, which may have evolved from it. The bass line goes "do, ti, la, so, fa, mi, re, so"; yes, the last note isn't quite "falling", but that's how it usually works.
    • The so-called "Andalusian cadence" goes i-VII-VI-V.
  • For chromatic sequences: I, V6, Ib7 or bVII, IV6, iv6, and I64 or V in major keys, substitute i for I and the last chord could also be III6 in minor keys (where the iv6 may also be replaced with an augmented sixth chord). In pop chord notation, in the key of C major, that would be C, G/B, C7/Bb; or Bb, F/A, Fm/Ab, C/G or G. You can see the bottom note going C-B-Bb-A-Ab-G; that's the essence of this trope. After hitting the fifth scale degree ("so"), other bass motion usually happens, but it's usually chromatic down to the "so". Back in the Baroque era, the chromatic Falling Bass was often used to depict (and interpreted as depicting) suffering. But back then, and during the Classical Era and Romantic Era, another progression for this same bass line was popular, which involved a lot of diminished seventh chords.
    • The chromatic version of Andalusian cadence goes i-VII-VI-V

No, it's not an instrument dropped out a 10-story window. That would just be "crashing bass".

This also has nothing to do with "dropping the bass".

It is requested that you add examples in chronological order.

Diatonic examples:

  • The second movement of Johann Sebastian Bach's "Suite No. 3 in D major" (better known as "Air on the G String") begins with one.
  • The Ventures's Walk Don't Run follows the Andalusian cadence i-VII-VI-V
  • Procol Harum's "A Whiter Shade of Pale"
  • The Zombies' "Care of Cell 44": The verses alternate between the standard progression (I, V6, vi, V, IV, I6, ii, V) and a subversion (I, V6, ♭III4, ii7, V, V7). The chorus also uses a descending pattern played under the vi and V chords.
  • John Lennon, "Mind Games"
  • Jim Croce's "Time in a Bottle" features three different variations of the Falling Bass. The first line of the verse is chromatic: D-C#-C-B-Bb-A. The second line switches to a minor diatonic scale: D-C-Bb-A-G-F. The chorus then runs the complete major diatonic scale: D-C#-B-A-G-F#-E
  • Queen: a lot of their songs feature bass going progressively downward from root to seventh to sixth in an I-V-vi progression. See Bohemian Rhapsody, the ballad section, for an example of this.
  • Billy Joel, "Piano Man". I, V6, IV6, I64, IV, I6, II7, V in C major.
  • Mega Man:
    • The first Wily Fortress theme in Mega Man uses the Andalusian cadence in F♯ minor.
    • The B-section of "Wily Fortress 2" from Mega Man 3: Bm, D/A, Em/G, Bm/F♯, F♯.
    • The intro to Mega Man 4 has basically this sequence, except that the sixth note is not scale degree 3 but scale degree 1.
    • The main melody of Cloud Man's theme in Mega Man 7 uses A♭, G♭9, F♭, E♭.
    • In Mega Man ZX, "En-trance Code", the music in trans server rooms, starts with this sequence, in C minor.
  • "The Man I Love" by George and Ira Gershwin begins with a variation: I, i, v6, VI7.
  • The Legend of Zelda:
    • The main theme (B♭, A♭add6, G♭, D♭, C♭, B♭m, C, F7) of the series
    • The Fairy Fountain theme (B♭maj7, Fmaj9/A, Gm7, Dm9/F, then B♭maj7, A°9, Gm11, Fmaj7) in The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past and subsequent games.
    • Also in ALTTP, the first (Cm/G, F, A♭maj7/E♭, B♭/D, Cm) and second (E♭/B♭, F/A, A♭maj7/G, B♭/F, followed by E♭/B♭, F/A, G°7, D/F♯) sections of the Dark World theme.
    • The Final Hours theme from The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask uses Gm, F, E♭6, D7 and Gm, F, E♭maj7, D7sus4, D.
  • Jean-Michel Jarre's Oxygne Part 1 starts with a variation of the Andalusian cadence (i, vii, iv, V), then switches to a full diatonic minor scale. "Oxygène 8" uses i, VII, iv6, i4, along with the traditional Andalusian variant i, VII, VI, V.
  • The first half of Marian's Theme (second is a "Pachelbel's Canon" Progression variant) from Double Dragon Neon: I-V-IV-III7-vi7-IVmaj7-ii7-Imaj11.
  • Ikaruga uses this in its main theme, "Ideal", whose intro is similar to the aforementioned The Legend of Zelda theme.
  • The Little Mermaid (1989):
    • The chorus of "Part of Your World" uses a diatonic progression in F major, albeit starting on the third scale degree (I6, V4, IV4sus2, V6, vi, iii6, ii6, V), followed by a partially chromatic variant(I, I7/4/2, vi7, iv, I4, V7/4/2, I).
    • "Tour of the Kingdom" features a repeating four-note cadence.
    • The chorus of "Her Voice" from the Screen-to-Stage Adaptation follows the D major scale for its first phrase, then deviates a bit for its second and third phrases.
  • In Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon, "Death of a Cyborg" and its reprise "Resurrection" use a relatively uncommon variation on the A Dorian scale: Am, Em/G, F♯7, Bm/D, Am/C, Em/B, F♯sus4/B, F♯/A♯.
  • Victoria Celestine uses C, Em/B, Am, G in the chorus of "Can You Hear The Echo?"; and G, D/F♯, Em, D, C, D in the verses of "Here I Am".
  • The Moon theme in DuckTales has two variations: The intro and second phrase of the A-section start with a G Mixolydian scale but switch to chromatic on the fourth note, while the first half of the A-section uses a G major scale down to C with a turnaround via C♯°.
  • Bionic Commando Rearmed features the Andalusian cadence in it's arrangement of the series theme, and it also appears in the Neutral Zone theme of both this version and the NES original.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog series:
    • In Sonic the Hedgehog, Green Hill Zone has F, Em, Dm, C (F Lydian scale) in its A-section.
    • The A-section of the Bridge Zone theme from Sonic the Hedgehog (8-bit) uses the full diatonic scale progression in F major.
    • Star Light Zone runs down the C Mixolydian scale with the chords C, Gm6/B♭, A, Dm, Dm6/A, G7, Fm, C/E, G/D.
    • Scrap Brain Zone has the Andalusian cadence for its A-section and C, G♭/B♭, Fmaj7/A, G for its B-section.
    • Sky Sanctuary Zone from Sonic 3 & Knuckles has a variant similar to the beginning of the DuckTales Moon theme: I, ♭VII, IV, ♭VI.
  • In Celeste, the first half of "Resurrections" uses a modified Andalusian cadence: Am♯7, C/G, Fmaj 7, E. The ending theme, "Exhale", has a partially chromatic variation in the form of C, B♭, Am, A♭, G.
  • Aurora's "It Happened Quiet" uses Em-D-C6-Bm in the first half of the chorus, while the second half subverts this trope with G-Bm/F♯-Em-Am6/C-D7.
  • "When I Grow Up" from Matilda has a few variations on this: F/C, C, B♭, B♭m, F/A, C/G, B♭/F in the A-section, and B♭sus2, F/A, Gm, F followed by B♭sus2, Am, Gm, C7/E, A7♭9/E, Dm11, B♭maj7/D in the B-section.
  • In the Silent Hill series, the Tear Jerker pieces "Not Tomorrow" from the first game and "Theme of Laura Reprise" from the second both use variations of the Andalusian cadence: Gm, B♭/F, E♭maj7, D in the former, and Dm, C6, B♭, A7 in the latter.
  • The main theme of The Adventures of Rad Gravity has F, Em, Dm, C, B°, Am, G during the B-section, and a C minor Andalusian cadence during the C-section.
  • Trance duo Rank 1 use i, v6, VI, v, iv, i6, VI4, VII4 in "Such is Life", and iv, i6, ♭II, i, VImaj7, v7, IVsus2, I6 in the third and fourth phrases of "Symsonic".
  • Regard's version of "Ride It" uses a quasi-Andalusian cadence in the form of Gm, F6, E♭maj7, Dm. The original song by Jay Sean, however, did not use this progression.
  • See You Again from Ys I and II uses C, Em/B, Am, C/G, F, Em, Dm, G, followed by C, Em/B, Am, C/G, F, Fm, Am/E, G/D.
  • M83's "Lune de fiel" has a home key of G minor but the bass line follows the A♭ scale with a F♯ note added: Gm, D/F♯, Fm, E♭, D♭, A♭/C, D7/C.
  • The verses of The Cure's "Lovesong" use Am, G, Fmaj 7, Em 7.
  • The tag (post-chorus) of Dead or Alive's "You Spin Me Round" uses the Andalusian cadence plus a iv chord.
  • The chorus section of "Vanishing Dream~Lost Dream" from Touhou Yumejikuu ~ Phantasmagoria of Dim. Dream starts with the Andalusian cadence in C minor, then continues descending in F minor for the next four chords.
  • Jigsaw's "Sky High" has I, V6, IV6, iv6, I4, V, IV, iv, ♭VI4, during the chorus.
  • The original mix of Ayla's self-titled single uses the Andalusian cadence, while the DJ Taucher mix and subsequent remixes use vi, Vadd6, IVmaj7, V9(or in the Veracocha mix, ii). "Into the Light" also uses an Andalusian variant: vi, IV6add9, V, iii6, IV, ii6, III7,III.
  • Brainchild's "Symmetry (P Mix), and by extension DJ Tandu/Ayla's cover version "Singularity (Brainchild II)", initially follows the Andalusian cadence, then climbs back up to the home note: Em, D, C, B, C, D, Esus 4.
  • "Hit The Road, Jack" by Ray Charles & The Raelettes is perhaps the best known usage of the Andalusian cadence in popular music.
  • The B-section of Janis Ian's "At Seventeen": E♭, G7/4/3, Cm, A♭6/3(B♭ is skipped), A♭maj7, G7, Cm 6/4, F, G.
  • The A-section of "Dubious Castle Safety Gigue" from Mystik Belle has a cadence similar to the Andalusian, but in Dorian mode: Cm, E♭6/4, F6/3, Gm.
  • The Eurodance song "Amore" by Uniq follows the Andalusian cadence in C♯ minor.
  • The finale of Jessica Simpson's "Where You Are" uses a harmonic minor variant of the Andalusian cadence: i, V6/5, VI, V.
  • The chorus of Sally Shapiro's "Christmas Escape" has a relatively uncommon variation in D Mixolydian: I, v6, IV6, ♭III6.
  • The first bridge section of Deborah Cox's "I Never Knew" descends the A♭ major scale to C, with all of the chords in root position.
  • In Ori and the Blind Forest, the main melody of the Sunken Glades/Hollow Grove theme incorporates the Andalusian cadence, but the piece's home mode is Phrygian rather than Aeolian.
  • The intro of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata has i, v6, VI, ♭II6, V7, i4, Vsus4, ♯vii°4.
  • The A-section of "Sacrifices" from ActRaiser has a falling bass line on the D minor diatonic scale.

Chromatic examples:

  • The example in every music theory student's textbook: the aria "Dido's Lament" from Henry Purcell's opera Dido And Aeneas. In G minor.
  • The "Crucifixus" from the "Mass in B minor" by Johann Sebastian Bach uses this as a four-bar ostinato bass-line pattern, in E minor. This was lifted from the cantata "Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen," which had it in F minor (as do Liszt's variations for piano and organ based on it).
  • Ludwig van Beethoven's "Waldstein Sonata", at the very beginning of the first movement. In C major.
    • Beethoven's Variations on an Original Theme in C minor (WoO 80) makes even more obvious use of this. The theme breaks rhythm dramatically in the sixth bar (of eight) after the chromatically descending progression reaches G.
  • Fryderyk Chopin's Prelude in E minor from his set of 24 preludes in each key uses this, though it starts on the third scale degree and has a bunch of unusual chords.
  • "These Boots Are Made for Walkin'", written by Lee Hazlewood and performed by Nancy Sinatra.
    • Technically speaking, "These Boots" is a subversion of the chromatic scale because if you listen carefully, upright bass player Chuck Berghofer is playing in microtonal increments that are smaller than semitones; according to the Other Wiki, Lee Hazlewood specifically asked him to do this.
  • The verse of The Beatles' "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds" has a version that skips from the first to the third note in the usual sequence.
  • The Eagles' famous song "Hotel California" has an interesting subversion of this: The verse's chord progression is typical of the Falling Bass, but it keeps all the chords in root position. The result is this: Bm, F♯, A, E7, G, D, Em, F♯.
    • Same with Wings's "Mamunia."
  • Schoolhouse Rock!: "Figure Eight", the middle major-key section. (Also an example of an A-B-A form song.) This goes down to scale degree two ("re"), giving us C, G/B, C7/B♭, F/A, Fm/Ab, C/G, F♯hdim7 (F♯m7♭5), Bdim7/F, C/E, D♯dim7 Dmin7 G7 C.
  • The opening theme of EarthBound Beginnings, "Mother Earth", only uses four steps of the chromatic sequence faithfully, but it's still using the technique for its poignance.
  • The third opening theme of Magic Knight Rayearth is similar to Hotel California in that it features a chord progression typical of the Falling Bass but has the chords in root position.
  • Ritsuko Okazaki's song "fay", in the verse. This song is in G major, and the progression is G, D/F♯, G7/F, C/E, Cm/E♭, G/D, D.
  • The bassline of the "Alternia" theme (see Homestuck) takes the five incremental half-steps down to so before taking a half-step up and a whole step up. The composer fully admits to the influence of EarthBound Beginnings and EarthBound (1994), and this song is likely inspired by the "Mother Earth" theme (search above).
  • "I Think I Love You" by David Cassidy.
  • In Antonio Vivaldi's violin concerto "Il piacere" (Op. 8 No. 6), the unison ritornello of the slow movement is a chromatic descent from the tonic to the fifth.
  • Edvard Grieg's Ballade for piano (Op. 24) doesn't use the standard chord progression, but the bass line of its theme begins by monotonically descending, for eight bars minus an upbeat, from the E-flat above the bass clef to the G below it. The first variation begins similarly.
  • The in-game theme of Transformers: Convoy no Nazo features a bass line descending from the tonic of C to B to B-flat to A to A♭, but then going back up to C by way of B♭.
  • Chromatic variant in "Mr. Businessman" by Ray Stevens: E-EMaj7/D♯-E7/D-A/C♯-Am/C-E/B-B-B♭dim7-B/A.
  • "Can't Take My Eyes Off Of You" by Frankie Valli carries the chromatic progression beyond its usual endpoint for the first strain, but holds the actual bassline on a pedal point.
  • "Junk" from Paul McCartney's first album McCartney.
  • Celeste uses this for Badeline's theme, notably the second half of "Resurrections"(the first half uses a diatonic variant, as mentioned above) "Quiet and Falling", and "Reflection". Inverted in the second part of "In the Mirror", which is "Quiet and Falling" in reverse.
  • "Bills, Bills, Bills" by Destiny's Child.
  • "I Learned From The Best" by Whitney Houston.
  • The Legend of Zelda uses a chromatic descending bassline in its dungeon theme, while The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past has this in the main phrase of the Light World dungeon theme and the last part of the Dark World overworld theme.
  • The chorus of M83's "Oh Yes You're There, Everyday", which was likely inspired by the aforementioned Zelda dungeon theme, descends the chromatic scale from G to C, with each subsequent repetition modulating down a whole tone.
  • The chorus of Army of Lovers' "Crucified".
  • The NES version of Bionic Commando and its remake have this at the beginning of "Rise of the Albatross", the Final Dungeon theme.
  • The bridge of the Green Hill Zone theme from Sonic the Hedgehog: B♭, Am, A♭, G.
  • In Future Crew's Second Reality demo, the music during the 3D cityscape sequence, composed by Skaven, has a falling chromatic bass line; but skips a semitone on the fourth chord: B♭m, A°♯3, A♭6, E♭m/G♭. The last cadence at the end of the section switches to a harmonic minor scale: B♭m, A+, F♯°7, F7.
  • Another Skaven song, "War in the Middle Earth", uses the chromatic cadence Gm, F♯+, B♭/F, C/E during the interlude section.
  • In Gekirindan, the A-section of the Stage 1 theme follows a full chromatic sequence: Gm, F♯+,B♭/F, C9/E, Cm/E♭, D7.
  • The main melody of Proto Man's theme from Mega Man 3.
  • Over Drive from Ys II Eternal/Chronicles has a bridge section with this progression. Ditto The Five Disciples (intro), "Beyond Reminiscence" (coda) and Battle 58 (B-section) from Mask of the Sun, The Dawn of Ys, and Memories of Celceta; and Armored Bane from Ys VI: The Ark of Napishtim.
  • In Ori and the Will of the Wisps, the main melody of Shadows of Mouldwood follows a chromatic scale with the chords Cm/G, D/F♯, B♭m/F, C/E, Cm/E♭, G/D, then a C minor diatonic scale with Fm/A♭, G, Cm/G, F°, A♭/E♭, D, G/D.
  • "If My People Will Pray" by Jimmy Owens
  • The chorus of "Revolting Children" from Matilda: The Musical.
  • "Slowmotion IV" by Solarstone & Orkidea.
  • The verses and part of the chorus of Jeffrey Osborne's "On the Wings of Love".
  • Vanities: The Musical:
    • "I Can't Imagine" has four variants of this: I4, II6, iv, I6 during the verses and bridge; I, ♭VII, vi°, ♭VI for the first two phrases of the chorus; vi, I4, II6, IV for the third phrase; and ♭VII, vi, ♭VI, V7 for the last.
    • The verse section of "Friendship Isn't What It Used to Be" descends chromatically for the first five chords, then climbs back to B♭ via F before following the E♭ diatonic scale down to D. The bridge likewise has vi6, V6, I7/4/2, IV6, iv6, i4, II6, IVsus2.
  • Mega Man 9's title theme.
  • The beginning of "What A Horrible Night to Be a Witch" from Mystik Belle.
  • In Action 52, the middle 8 section of the Cheetahmen theme chromatically descends via Fm->E+->A♭4->Dø7->D♭maj7->Fm4, then re-ascends via D♭maj7->E♭->C6.
  • The B-section of "Sidecrawler's Dance" from Wonder Boy III: The Dragon's Trap.
  • Mtley Cre's "Home Sweet Home" uses a repeating cadence of I->iii4->I4/2->IV6, while the refrain complimentarily has the ascending progression ♭VI->♭VII->I.
  • The intro of Elton John's "Song For Guy", and by extension the main riff of Hurley & Todd's "Sunstorm".
  • The Bee Gees' "How Deep Is Your Love", during the chorus: I, iii6/4, iii°6/4, VI7♭9, VI, ii6/4, v6/3, I6/4.
  • The chorus of "Graduation" from DanceDanceRevolution Extreme uses the chromatic scale in G major for its first four chords, G->D6->Dm6->E, then switches to the diatonic scale for C6->G4->E7/4/2->Cmaj7 before resolving to D as usual.
  • "Chim Chim Cher-ee" from Mary Poppins.