#1
I'm kind of confused when to use inverted chords, walking bass lines, etc.

I have written 50+ songs, but after I write a song, or during the process, I always look at my chord progression and play just the root note to "test" the bass line groove that is naturally created by the progression, and if I don't like it, I find a different progression. So I always wind up with a chord progression, with no inversions, that implies a bass line that I really like.

So, if I replace any of my chords with inverted chords, it seems that I'll be chucking that bass line out the window. I almost think it would make more sense, rather than changing, say, a C chord to an inverted C chord, to experiment with replacing the C chord with, say, an F chord in second inversion so the C bass note will stay put the way I like it. In this manner, I would not use inversions to change my bass line, but would use it to change the chords themselves while retaining the bass line I've come up with based on my initial progression.

For example, I have a progression in 4/4:

Am - - - | Am - - - | C - - - | C - - - | D - - - | C - Am - | G - - - | Em - - -

I really like the groove those root notes create, and so I would not think I'd want to try any inversions of the chords, but rather if anything would consider alternative, inverted chords that have the same root notes.

I'm wondering if this is a common way people use inversions, or not? Am I being overly wed to simplistic bass lines, and perhaps it would be better to spice up the implied bass line with some inversions of these chords? I have not tried it, just my first impression was to think, "Why would I want to mess with my bass line when I made sure it worked in the first place?"

Also, are walking bass lines and inverted chords generally something that you use if you do NOT have a bass guitar? I read something that seemed to suggest you use these techniques if the guitar itself is supposed to carry the bass line. But when I write a song, I generally play a bass line on a separate bass guitar or program it in with a separate bass VSTi (at which point I usually do "spice up" the progression a bit compared to just playing the root notes the whole way). This made me think that trying to generate a more complex bass line on the guitar using inverted chords would be overkill, redundant or simply clash with the bass guitar. Or can you use inverted chords to create a complex, walking bass line on guitar while simultaneously having a bass guitar or bass synth generating a separate bass line? If you do this, do you generally try to have the guitar bass line match the bass guitar bass line?

Ken
Bernie Sanders for President!
#2
I'm not sure if there's a point to making sure the bassline alone feels like you want it to with the harmony thrown out. The harmony changes how the bassline works so I'd say you're taking the wrong approach. By checking the bassline alone, you'll often be imagining chords that aren't the ones that are actually there and/or making these chords feel weaker or pointless because you don't have the full thing.

To address your other point, inversions are a general music theory concept and have nothing to do with the actual instrument you're playing them in. It doesn't matter whether you have an actual bass or not. As long as you have a discernible harmony and a part that provides the bass function, you'll be able to use inversions.

You can also use inversions to spice up your "simple" basslines and their implied progressions. For example, in that progression you posted, you could start with
Am - - - | Am - G/B - | C - - ...
#3
This is a bit self-promoting, but I just submitted a lesson on chord inversions here: http://www.ultimate-guitar.com/lessons/chords/inversions_for_rock_guitar.html

I suggested there that you might do both - organize a bass line from notes in the chord sequence, or use the bass line movements to suggest more interesting chords. I think either is OK from a composition standpoint.

If I'm adding a bass guitar, then I might not think in terms of chord inversions as much. Personally, when I have the two instruments at my disposal and the opportunity to easily change up the bass notes (vs. walking the bass on a single guitar), then I just switch roles. I just try to organize a bass line that compliments the guitar and let the rhythm guitar define just the chords. To me, the rules are different in bass playing, especially when trying to make a "walking" bass pattern over the chords. I'm not sure if that's what you're asking about...
#4
Quote by krm27
I'm kind of confused when to use inverted chords, walking bass lines, etc.

I have written 50+ songs, but after I write a song, or during the process, I always look at my chord progression and play just the root note to "test" the bass line groove that is naturally created by the progression, and if I don't like it, I find a different progression. So I always wind up with a chord progression, with no inversions, that implies a bass line that I really like.

So, if I replace any of my chords with inverted chords, it seems that I'll be chucking that bass line out the window. I almost think it would make more sense, rather than changing, say, a C chord to an inverted C chord, to experiment with replacing the C chord with, say, an F chord in second inversion so the C bass note will stay put the way I like it. In this manner, I would not use inversions to change my bass line, but would use it to change the chords themselves while retaining the bass line I've come up with based on my initial progression.

For example, I have a progression in 4/4:

Am - - - | Am - - - | C - - - | C - - - | D - - - | C - Am - | G - - - | Em - - -

I really like the groove those root notes create, and so I would not think I'd want to try any inversions of the chords, but rather if anything would consider alternative, inverted chords that have the same root notes.

I'm wondering if this is a common way people use inversions, or not? Am I being overly wed to simplistic bass lines, and perhaps it would be better to spice up the implied bass line with some inversions of these chords? I have not tried it, just my first impression was to think, "Why would I want to mess with my bass line when I made sure it worked in the first place?"

Also, are walking bass lines and inverted chords generally something that you use if you do NOT have a bass guitar? I read something that seemed to suggest you use these techniques if the guitar itself is supposed to carry the bass line. But when I write a song, I generally play a bass line on a separate bass guitar or program it in with a separate bass VSTi (at which point I usually do "spice up" the progression a bit compared to just playing the root notes the whole way). This made me think that trying to generate a more complex bass line on the guitar using inverted chords would be overkill, redundant or simply clash with the bass guitar. Or can you use inverted chords to create a complex, walking bass line on guitar while simultaneously having a bass guitar or bass synth generating a separate bass line? If you do this, do you generally try to have the guitar bass line match the bass guitar bass line?

Ken



The first thing I notice is that your example has a pretty lienear stepwise bass line. In most instances when I see inversions used, they are employing a linear stepwise bassline.

Your progression:

Am to C has a bit of a leap, but it's ascending. Then you have C to D to C to A. It moves up and then down, but in a straight line.

But take this one.

G D Em

That isn't linear, and it isn't as smooth, than say if I look at D and use a 1st inversion, then I get a linear stepwise bass superimposed:

G D/F# Em - Bass G F# E


Or C G Am F G. That could be made into

C G/B Am F/G G

In this last instance, I used a slash chord as well to Illustrate a Bass C B A G G over the chords.

This is how I see most instances of Inversions used.

Now if I were to replace those with inversions of different chords, its an intriguing idea. Take your example:

Am - - - | Am - - - | C - - - | C - - - | D - - - | C - Am - | G - - - | Em - - -


Am - - - | F/A - - - | F/C- - - | Am/C- - - | G/D- - - | C - F/A - | Em/G - - - | Am/E


These are different inversions using the same Bass Line. What matters, is if you like the results.

Best,

Sean
Last edited by Sean0913 at Feb 14, 2014,
#5
Sean as usual gave great and solid advice. I'll just add on something: the easiest way to understand this is not to think of the chords and the bass lines as blocks, but as voices with their own melody. Inversions are used mainly to create interesting movement and voicings, and the bass line is nothing more than a melody in the low register. So there are no strict rules, use your ear, figure out what you like, what you wanna hear!
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#6
Don't write inversions if you don't like the sound of them. As said, they are usually used to make your line sound smoother. I don't see a point in over using them. Many times just playing the root notes sounds great. Remember that bass isn't all about notes, it's also about rhythm. You can play simple note choices but a cool groove. So listen to the rhythm of the song and write a bassline that supports the rhythm and makes it groove. You can also add some kind of "fills" in between the chords. You don't need to think about inversions. Just first play the root note, then play a more melodic "fill" that moves smoothly to the next chord. It could be walking the scale up or playing something chromatic or something else. Whatever sounds good. A good way to learn to write bass parts is to learn to play the bass. Maybe think the bass part as a separate melody. Or then just focus on the rhythm and add some "fill" notes. Do whatever sounds good. But overusing inversions may sound pretty bad. Root note always sounds the most stable.
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#7
Inversions of the harmony are used to get from one harmonic place to another. You can think of it two ways:

First, is harmonic and functional, used to make a chord resolution stronger (tonicization). You have a progression like |C F| G C| F E7/G#| Am - |. Everything in root position except the E7, and it's clear that the G# resolves to the A. The point of the inversion is to approach the next chord very strongly. Play that and you'll hear great resolution in the bass line.

Second is melodic, for smooth chord movement. That's where you'd play a chord initially in root position, and then moves the bass up/down. NOT "walking bass" line. |C F| G G/B| C |

The walking bass line is distinct, and it means that the bass acts melodically to outline a harmony. That is, the bass melody is not strictly functional to the harmony, it just participates in it. The bass basically plays an arpeggio, and it may or may not start on the root of the chord. In walking bass contexts, you wouldn't analyze for inversion per se, just voice leading. If an inversion were specified on a chart, the bassist would probably lay on that note and then resume walking the next chord.

--------------

You can also look at inversions on the guitar only, which is just a different approach to accompaniment from "cowboy chords". Playing inverted chords on the guitar doesn't change the inversion of the overall harmony when you have a bass, but it can make the guitar lines smoother.

Generally speaking, the bass doesn't clash with anything more than an octave above it. You can have a basic bass line and voice lead the guitar chords however you like.
Last edited by cdgraves at Feb 14, 2014,
#8
Thanks for the responses. I guess I need to actually try using inverted chords to create some walking bass lines to fully appreciate the concept. I was hoping to understand the "context" for when a guitarist would reach into his/her bag for this technique as a starting point before diving into trying to apply / learn the technique. Not so much learning how to use the technique as far as when to use the technique, since most of the resources I find discuss the how but not the when/why. Or they talk of chord progressions that have rough bass lines progressions that need to be smoothed out or improved, but when I write my original stuff I guess I automatically gravitate to chord progressions that have melodic bass lines so this does not really come up, but maybe if I had the technique in my bag, I'd start picking some more creative chord progressions.

Is there much difference between walking bass lines versus high (treble?) lines? I sometimes do progressions that have this stepwise movement in the highest voice, like:

C (x32013), B7 (x21202), G7 (320001), Am (x02210)

I feel like the descending notes on the high e create a feeling of going somewhere, and it draws in my focus/attention so I really do not hear much else except the rest of the notes are a not-unpleasant backdrop for this descending steps, and I later build back up with another progression ending on G. Maybe in terms of context, I can view using inverted chords to create a similar feel in the lowest voice. I'm guessing having these sorts of "steps" in a middle voice would not stand out so much, as it is easier to call the ear's attention to the lowest or highest voice, but I could be wrong.

Ken
Bernie Sanders for President!
#9
Ken,

I think moving the note in the low (bass) or high or even middle notes draws attention like you're saying. In some cases, it's just moving a note from root, maj7, b7, 6th where the other notes are the same, or actually having different chords that move around that movement. It always seemed to me that since there are no keys that have 4 notes in a row, a half step apart, that you feel the tension as the notes move. That is, it's an easy and obvious way to create interest. But I don't know if other people place that movement in a particular range of the notes within the chord.

If I'm playing lead while we play Stone Temple Pilots Plush, I like to play the single notes that draw attention to the moving middle notes while the other guitarist plays the normal chords.

I have noticed that some people transcribing songs on UG will capture the fact that a note has moved like you say, but the original had the movement in the bass line and the transcriber writes the movement with chord names without showing inversions. I'm not sure why.

But back to your original point - I think you can create movement in either register and create interest in your composition. (keep bringing these things up - I think about these things a lot but don't see the points written down and discussed that much).
#10
You could easily use inversions here, to create an interesting motion between the bass and soprano voices. You could go:

C (x32013), B7 (x21202), G7/B (X20001), Am (x02210)

or

C/E (032013), B7/F# (221202), G7 (320001), Am (x02210)
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#11
Thanks, now I feel like I'm getting a handle on context for this sort of thing.

I'll try playing mrkeka's variation when I get home.

Ken
Bernie Sanders for President!