Last issue we looked at filling out your bass lines with chords. Having anything from two notes plus we’re limited on the bass by the maximum amount of notes we can play at any one time. Typically the most important information in a chord is the root note and the 3rd however so even two note chords can be a great starting point.
Figure A shows this idea of chords using the root and 3rd, this example being in the key of F Major. If you know the order of diatonic chords in a Major key you’ll know these then create F, Gm, Am, Bb, C, Dm for the first six chords. The seventh chord is a little ambiguous as it’s actually diminished when played as a triad and then half diminished with the added seventh. Let’s just recognise that it’s E with a G (minor 3rd) on top, creating a minor interval for now. Further note - Technically these intervals may be referred to as 10ths (as in the 3rd after the octave) but let’s just stick with Major or minor 3rds for now.
Hopefully you can see how useful these shapes can instantly be. Figure B takes a common pop/rock chord progression and applies our two note chord voicings. Bars 1 – 4 are just the root notes as you typically might play a simple bass line and then bars 5 – 8 incorporate the chords. You can now hear the chord quality rather than just the root note!
If we want to expand on this and make it a bit more hip (rather than either literally just root notes or chords) let’s combine the two in a more musical way. Figure C expands on this chord progression. Let’s pretend it’s a mid tempo straight rock tune. Now we get some single root notes, some chords, syncopation and some extra implied harmony (the diatonic descending movement in the last bar). Now this may be overkill in a full band setting but perhaps it’s a break down section, or under a delicate solo or in a duet with another bass player. When used selectively and intelligently this idea of starting further harmony and using chords as a bass player can be a very effective tool.
Last example (Figure D) – let’s keep the same chord progression but make the bass line and chords a little more syncopated. The first bar pedals low F but adds in the 3rd (A) creating an F Major sound, bard two adds a syncopated rhythm to the C Major chord. Bar three plays crotchets on D minor whilst the final bar of Bb Major plays an alternating pattern between the root and the 3rd.
Hopefully you’ve now got some more ideas for creating Major and Minor chords. These are a great starting point – try opening a Real Book or look up some charts in different styles and try comping through them as opposed to just playing the bass line. Then we can get onto extending these voices with 7ths and 5ths etc next month!
Try out last month's lesson on comping for bass here.