Tips For Writing Melodic Bass Lines. Part 1: The Basics

This lessons covers and explains in detail the role of chord tones & diatonic passing tones in a bass line.

Ultimate Guitar
Ever been listening to a song and found yourself intrigued by what's going on down in the bass register? Maybe not all of you, but if you are interested in incorporating more than just root notes in your bass lines then this lesson is for you.

Chord Tones & Diatonic Passing Tones

The focal point of a good bass line should always be the chord tones of the given chord you are playing over. Chord tones are the individual notes that make up a chord. As an example, if you had a progression in C major that went C - Am - F - G, your basic chord tones would be C E G, A C E, F A C & G B D respectively. To add to this, diatonic passing tones from the key you are in can be used to add colour to your progression. Using the progression I gave you as an example, any of the notes in the C major scale may be used to construct melodies, though chord tones should ideally form the basis for your melodies. Now it's time for an example.
q  - Quaver
c. - Dotted Crotchet
 C                       F
 c.  q c. q  c. q c. q   c. q c. q c. q c. q
Lets start by taking a look at what's being played over the C chord in the first measure. For the first half of the measure we're simply arpeggiating the root, 3rd & 5th of the chord, C, E & G respectively, but in the second half we're using a diatonic note A as a means to pass nicely down to our chord tone G, and eventually through to F which is the root note of the next chord. Adding this passing note gives our melody fluidity, and leads nicely in to our next chord. For the F chord in the next measure, we are simply arpeggiating an F major chord, starting with the root then playing it again down the octave, later introducing C as the 5th of the chord, and finally A as the major 3rd. If our progression extended past F we could again throw in a passing note to make the change smoother going in to the next chord. In the next lesson, we'll take a look at chromatic passing tones and how to use inversions for smoother voice leading.

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    thats really useful, in my band i've only been using the chord notes and this will really help to spice up my bass lines