The bass guitar is tuned the same as the lowest four strings on a guitar. We play mostly single notes at a time. The bass parts are called a bass line.
In lessons these are the types of lines you will learn to play bass. You hear them in several different styles of music.
Root Note LinesThe root note is the note the chord is named after. Chords like G major and G minor have the same root note. A bass player strikes the G note regardless of it being major or minor. The note the chord is based off in both instances is a G. The bass player playing root note bass lines would ONLY hit the note labeled in the chord title.
This type of bass line is commonly heard in AC/DC songs or '80s based hard rock.
Root – Octave LinesThis will have you playing the same note name but different pitch. For example playing a G note and then playing the next highest G note. This kind of bass line was commonly played in the disco era of the 1970s.
Disco era classics like "Born to Be Alive" by Patrick Hernandez uses this style of bass playing.
Root – Fifth LinesThis adds the option of another note. The fifth refers to adding the 5th note of the major or minor scale after the root note. It just so happens that the 5th note of major and minor scales are identical.
G Major – G A B C D E F# GIn both scales the root note is G and the 5th note is D. This bass line is therefore quite simple to apply. You can confidently play this over major and minor chords.
G minor – G A Bb C D Eb F G
This sound is commonly heard in classic country and western songs. Listen to Johnny Cash. You will hear this bass line used throughout.
Root – Fifth – Octave LinesThis adds a note that is the next highest root note. It gives us a variation with a high and low pitch of the same note. Playing a root-fifth-octave in G major or minor would have you playing the notes G – D then the next highest G.
An example of a song that uses this type of bass line is "Hotel California" by the Eagles.
Passing NotesWe now will be adding notes from the scale to move between one chord to another. The notes we add come the scale the song is written in. A song that is written in G major can use all the notes mentioned earlier as appropriate passing notes. We most commonly chose the neighboring notes in the scale and play them on the last beat of the bar. This creates tension that is resolved by landing on the root note of the next chord. It is played late in the bar to avoid creating an emphasis on the passing note.
This type of playing is heard in the Supremes song "Baby Love."
Walking Bass – Play BassTo create further melody in your bass lines we include more notes from the scale. It is now we need to be aware of what type of chord we are creating a bass line for. We concentrate on using the notes that are within the chord being played at the time as well as passing notes from the scale. Players can be very creative when playing walking bass.
This type of bass lines are prominently heard in blues and jazz. Listen to this Van Morrison song "Moondance" to gain an understanding of the sound of a walking bass line.
About the Author:
Rhys Lett runs a music school in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne, Australia. We have more of these practical insights to music available to you on my website blog. We would be happy to help you further.