Whether you’re listening to a song to try and learn the bass line or you’re just looking for more low end in your ears, you might be wondering, “Why is bass guitar hard to hear?” There are plenty of reasons why you might have trouble hearing the lower frequencies in a certain song. We’ll talk about what those are, and what you can do to hear that bass better.
Bass guitar can be hard to hear in a mix simply because the lower frequencies aren’t as easy to pick up for some people as higher frequencies. It can also be due to the style of music and the way the song was mixed. And, if your ears are aging a bit, you could be losing low-end as a physical issue.
There are definitely ways to overcome all of these issues. Some are easier to deal with than others. But, let’s look a little deeper at the reasons and what we can do about them.
What humans can hear
We wrote a bit about the frequencies that humans can normally hear in our article about why basses have four strings. Check that out if you’re interested. But, basically, humans can hear somewhere between 20 and 20,000 Hz. There aren’t a ton of people that can hear accurately throughout that entire range of frequencies, but there you go.
Classic FM has a nice write-up about this, and they include a cool YouTube video that I’ll include here as well.
Your age may play a factor in hearing bass
So, as you can see, age is one big factor in what you’re able to hear. This may seem obvious, but it can also really sneak up on you. The reason it can creep up on you in such a sneaky way is that you may still be able to hear other frequencies perfectly well.
You may still be able to pick background songs out of the noise of a crowd at the local grocery store. You also might be able to hear ambient noises much better than those around you. But, those sounds probably live in a frequency range that’s much more in the middle ground.
The equipment you use
How you listen to music can play a significant role in what you hear in a song. When I started using in-ear monitors that had a very flat frequency response, I thought, there’s absolutely no bass here. I thought I wouldn’t be able to use them at all.
But, I had come from big, over-the-ear Sony cans that most definitely boosted the low end. After a very short time, I was able to get used to the flatter response and actually pick out much more of the mix in general, including the bass.
So, pay attention to the frequency response of the headphones and speakers that you use on a regular basis. It can make an incredible difference.
How the song was mixed and recorded
Each engineer has techniques and preferences that significantly impact the way a song sounds. Compression, EQing, etc, etc, all play a major role in what you hear and how it hits your ear. The engineer might actually want the bass to be somewhat hidden in the mix and just provide a basic foundation.
This is one of the reasons why it’s fun to listen to remixes. A good recording engineer is as much a musician as a member of the band. Sometimes, they have even more say over how much of the bass guitar you can hear in the final mix than the bassist does.
And, remember that if a song was recorded quickly on low-end equipment the engineer will have less to work with. Home recording studios have come a long way in terms of the quality that’s available on a lower budget.
However, professional recording equipment in a professionally treated studio setting will almost always provide much better results. When you have a really well-recorded song, it’s much easier to hear the separation between instruments.
The style of music
The style of music is very much related to how it will be mixed in the end. However, it is still a major point to discuss. And this one might be a bit more obvious.
Funk, reggae, some R&B, and genres similar to these feature bass in a way that mainstream pop and the like do not. It’s going to be easier to hear a Thundercat or Bootsy Collins bass line than it will be on a general top 40 song.
This is just to say that if you are trying to hear the bass in a mainstream pop song that’s been mixed to blend the instruments as much as possible, you’ll have more of a challenge isolating the bass line.
How to hear bass in a song
So, now that we have an idea of why bass guitar might be hard to hear, let’s talk about methods we can use to pick it out a bit more easily.
Get better listening equipment
Yep, this one’s pretty obvious. Get better headphones. Also, if you use monitors primarily, make sure that they work well at the entire frequency range you’re looking for. And, make sure they’re powered properly. You want to make sure that they’re set up properly in terms of distance from your ears and location in the room too.
If you’re primarily using headphones or earphones, it might be time to upgrade. I find that clarity, separation, and low-end response are the most important factors when it comes to good headphones and earphones.
In this category, you often really do get what you pay for. There are situations where you’ll end up paying more for a certain name or label. But, it’s easy to avoid those issues by doing research and reading real reviews.
Use your EQ to boost bass
This was always step number one when we got a new car stereo back in the day. Bass up, treble down. And, today, some headphones are made specifically to boost the low-end, no matter what.
For general listening, I’m suggesting a more delicate, almost surgical approach here. Depending on where you’re listening, you often have access to basic EQing tools.
For instance, Spotify has a great EQ feature that allows you to select presets or manually shape the sound you’re looking for. Your phone or laptop probably has similar features as well.
If you’re trying to hear a bass line in order to learn it, feel free to crank the bass way up and bring the treble way down for a couple of passes through the song. Just hearing the tune this way can help you pick out the bass when you bring the levels back to a more “normal” setting.
If this is something you’re interested in using regularly, put this in your list of must-haves when searching for new headphones or earphones. Many models feature apps that can manage the EQ levels of your headphones no matter where you’re listening.
Isolated bass tracks
Again, if you’re looking to learn some bass lines, finding songs with isolated bass tracks is a huge help. YouTube is full of these.
Find a few that you like, and learn them the best you can. Then, go back through the full mix of the song and play along with it. Having gone through the isolated bass track will make a ton of difference in how quickly you can learn it. It will also make hearing the bass line easier once you’re actually familiar with it on its own.
Use software to hear the bass
Software can do amazing things as we all know. Even your favorite DAW can help you isolate a bass track without too much trouble. Whether you use GarageBand, Ableton, or some other piece of recording software, there are plenty of ways to focus on the low end of a track.
Importing a song and simply EQing it in your software often is enough to hear the bass line so that you can learn it more easily.
But, be aware that there are other programs that are specifically designed to isolate different parts of a song. For instance, lots of bass players these days are liking Transcribe. I haven’t used it yet, so I can’t really recommend it or not. But, if you’re interested, look for it on YouTube to see what it can do.
Why is bass guitar hard to hear: Final thoughts
So, whether your ears are young and fresh or older and showing signs of “character,” there are plenty of ways to make it easier to hear music the way you want to.
Just remember that sometimes it’s simply because an engineer wanted you to have a harder time picking the bass out of a mix. And, that’s not always a bad thing. Find some songs where you can really focus on the bass, dig into it, and enjoy it for all it’s worth.
Let us know in the comments if you have a favorite method of picking out bass in songs. We’d love to hear from you.