Tips For Writing Melodic Bass Lines. Part 2: Inversions Chromatic Tones

This lesson goes in depth in explaining the role of chromatic passing tones in a bass line, as well as how one can utilise chord inversions in their writing.

Ultimate Guitar
In the first lesson we looked at how chord tones and diatonic tones can be used to add color to a bass line, but in that lesson we were only scraping the tip of the iceberg. In this lesson we'll take a look at chord inversions, slash chords and chromatic passing tones. Chord Inversions Sometimes when playing along with a song you'll notice that the bass isn't playing the root of the chord the guitarist is playing, and this leads us to inversions (also called slash chords). Inversions involve taking a chord tone other than the root and making it the lowest pitch. Usually this involves the 3rd or 5th of the chord, although less commonly the 7th or other extended tones may be used for a unique sound. For example, try playing an E major triad - consisting of the notes E G# & B respectively - starting from the 3rd of the triad, or G#. You would now be playing an E major triad in 1st inversion. Similarly, playing an E major triad starting from the 5th (B) would be called 2nd inversion. When playing a seventh chord with the seventh note in the bass, this is known as third inversion. Inversions are often notated as a slash chord, where the bass note is notated to the right of the chord it was taken from, divided by a slash in between. So for example, Eb major in 1st inversion would be notated as Eb/G. A well known example of a song using chord inversions is "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" by The Beatles, written by guitarist George Harrison. The harmony for the verse is based around the A minor scale with as we are in the key of A minor, and this famous progression is one of the more well known songs to use inversions Let take a look at the first 4-bars of the verse: Am - Am/G - Am6/F# - Fmaj7 While the guitar or piano handling the songs harmony may choice to play through these chords with the notated bass line, it is not essential, as more often than not the bass handles them. Notice that if you remove the inversions the first three bars are all Am, making for a fairly stagnant and repetitive harmony without the use of inversions. Only in bar 3 do we add the major 6th (F#) to the overall tonality of the chord. Also, take note of the descending quality of the bass line, a feature used in many songs by The Beatles & many others. Good songs to listen to that use this technique: The Beatles - "While My Guitar Gently Weeps", "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds". Chromatic Passing Tones In the first lesson we looked at diatonic passing tones and how they can be used in conjunction with chord tones to color your bass lines. This time we are going to be taking a look at chromatic passing tones (notes not in the parent scale of the key you are playing in), often used in (but not limited to) jazz, blues & country. As an example, I'll use a fairly familiar two-chord rockabilly flavored chord progression as a basis for elaboration. 2/4 (Half-time) D7 - D7/A (x4) Notice the use of D7 in second inversion. Our bass line will be as follows. Key: h - half-note (minim) q - quarter note (crotchet)
h   h           q q   q q  
|---|---| (x3)  |-----|-----|
|---|---|       |-----|-----|
|-5-|---|       |-5---|-3-4-|
|---|-5-|       |---5-|-----|
Notice while for the first 3 repetitions we're following the chords directly with the root, for the last repetition we throw in an ascending chromatic run from C up to where the next repetition would start on a D. Good songs to listen to that use this technique: The Doors - "L.A. Woman" Marvin Gaye - "Ain't No Mountain Higher" Deep Purple - "Smoke on the Water" (Intro)

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