How To Write Chordal Basslines. Part 1 - Fifths

author: corrda00 date: 03/18/2011 category: music theory
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So I'm sure you all hear guitarists talking bout chords all the time and you're probably thinking Man I wish I could play chords. Well the simple answer is you can. And you should. Knowledge of chords is what separates a lot of amateur bassists from pros. So how do you play chords on bass you may ask? How can you play chords on only 4 Strings? Isn't the bass to low to play chords? Well guitar we play a lot of block chords. This means playing all the notes at the same time. On bass however we play broken chords. These can also be referred to as Arpeggios. So essentially most walking basslines are in fact arrpegiated chords. Where to start? So the first part of learning how to play chords is to learn about chord tones. Most chords will have a Root, Third and Fifth. More advanced chords, in Jazz for example will include Sevenths, Nines, Elevenths and Thirteen (a thirteen chord is every note in the scale). However on bass Root, Third and Fifth are the most common. The Fifth Any metal players out they're probably know the 5th inside and out. Yes my good friends it is the power chord. So you probably all know the shape. Here is a D power chord.
G-----|
D-7---|
A-5---|
E-----|
You could also invert the fifth. So to do this you take the 5th (A) and move it to the bottom.
G-----|
D-----|
A-5---|
E-5---|
So now lets see how 5ths are used in a common chord progression. Basslines in fifths are very common in Latin Jazz and Country music. Here are a few examples. I Walk The Line Johnny Cash
  E E E   Q  Q  E E E E   Q  Q  E E E E   Q  Q  E E E E
|-------|---------------|---------------|----------------|
|-------|---------------|-0-----0-0-----|----------------|
|-------|-0-----0-0-2-4-|----0------4-2-|-0-----0-0------|
|-0-2-4-|----0----------|---------------|----0------4-2--|
          Amaj            Dmaj            Amaj
As you can see the bassline is just fifth's (inverted) of the chords below. The other notes are what are called passing tones, which I will get to later. For those of you who do not particularly enjoy country music I have another example: Song for My Father Horace Silver
|--------5-5----|--------5-5----|--------3-3----|--------3-3----|
|-3-3-----------|-3-3-----------|-1-1-----------|-1-1-----------|
|---------------|---------------|---------------|---------------|
|---------------|---------------|---------------|---------------|
  F-7                             Eb7
This is a standard Latin Jazz basslines. Unlike the country example, these fifths are not inverted. A very important thing to remember about fifths is that they aren't always going to be in power-chord shape. In diminished chords (also known as b5) the fifth will be lowered like such:
G-----|
D-6---|
A-5---|
E-----|
So in a diminished fifth you just lower the 5th a semitone Also the inversion is still the same shape:
G-----|
D-----|
A-5---|
E-4---|
Diminished chords are commonly found on the 7th step of the scale. So if we were to play power-chords for every step of the C major scale(no sharps or flats) the seventh step would be diminished.
G|----------5--7--9--10--12-|
D|-5--7--9--3--5--7--9---10-|
A|-3--5--7------------------|
E|--------------------------|
   C  D- E- F  G A- Bo C
Though it is rare some chords will specify a sharp 5. This just means you raise the 5th a semitone like such.
G-----|
D-8---|
A-5---|
E-----|
So thats it for this week. So the fifth is the most basic part of a chord and it is one of the most important notes for a bass player other than the root. So be ready for my next entry I shall introduce you to how to use 3rds in basslines. Until then, have fun playin. ~Dan
More corrda00 columns:
+ Bass Sweeping The Guide To 09/18/2008
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