How To: Create Simple Simple Baselines

This is going to be a beginner tutorial for you to get a general overview of the art of writing a suitable baseline. This small lesson will encompass the basics of baseline-writing, which can be used in many styles, being jazz, gospel, blues, ragtime and many others.

In this lesson we will cover

  • Simple cord-tone baselines over a simple harmonic progression
  • Non chord tones
  • passing tones

So to get started we will first cover the 3 most basic rules of creating nice baselines.

The basic rules for a simple baseline are as follows: (for this we imagine a baseline in 4/4)

  1. The root of the chord should be on beat 1
  2. Chord tones on the strong beats.
  3. Passing tones and non-chord tones on the weak beats and off-beats.

I’m now going to demonstrate step-by-step how you can create a simple baseline.

First you follow rule 1 which says: “root on beat 1” so for a simple progression (I-vi-ii-V-I)

The baseline would look like this:



Sound example: Baselines1

Now we just add the cord tones to each beat:



Sound example: Baselines2

Now we can incorporate the baseline not only moving up but also down so it feels like one phrase and not like 5 separate measures:



Sound example: Baselines3

Now we will use the idea of non-chord and passing tones.

You might ask yourself what non-chord tones are, but the meaning can be easily derived from the name, and it’s actually easier than you might think. Non-chord tones simple are tone which are not in the chord, but are derived from the scale. For our first chord, Cmaj7, the normal chord tones are C, E, G and B. The non-chord tones are simple the other tones from the C major scale: D, F and A.

Passing tones are also chord tones, which aren’t in the chord, but are not part of the scale either, they are used in chromatic movements. Chromatic movements are basically movements in half steps, where every of the 12 tones can be used. For Cmaj7 this would be the non-chord tones,  D, F and A plus all other tones of the scale i.e. F#, Ab, Eb, Db etc.

These tones might be used to approach the root of the new chord on the first beat of the measure. For example:



Sound example: Baselines4

An example for a passing tone would be the following:



Sound example: Baselines5

The G is  passing tone because it doesn’t belong to the Dm7b5 (D, F,Ab,C) but belongs to the D minor scale.

The also is chromatic movement from the G to the Ab, because it move in half steps.

If we now use all these ideas for our baseline over the simple progression this could look like this:


Sound example: Baselines6

This is the PDF file of the sheet music examples provided in this lesson free to download:  Baselines

The Musescore version (.mscz) is also available, just hit me up via email at

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