bass notes in guitar chords

Discussion in 'Ask Mike Watt [Archived]' started by Mamakin34, Mar 22, 2004.

  1. Mamakin34


    Mar 22, 2004
    Hey mike,
    Just one quick question. How do u know which bass notes (Other then the obvious root notes) can be played with what guitar chords. Is there an easy way to figure this out, or maybe a website that tells you. Thanks
  2. Rush1988

    Rush1988 Guest

    May 12, 2002
    USA, GA, Atlanta

    I am not Mike Watt by any means, but i would reccomend that you learn your chords, go to and figure out most of the common chords, then what notes are in them, and just get a guitarist to tell you what chords he is playing and you should be able to remember the notes. That, or you could just use your ear.

  3. permagrin


    May 1, 2003
    San Pedro, CA
    I'd recommend an introductory musicianship book. In a nutshell, once you know what notes are being voiced in a chord you can choose to play any of those notes under the chord - or something else. What you choose will change the feel/tenor of the chord (in a good or bad way); e.g., playing an A under a D (second inversion) will make the chord sound different than, say, an F# (first inversion), or the root. Have your guitar player let a chord ring out, play different bass notes underneath them and see what you like, what you feel works best for the song. Playing notes that are not in the chord can sound nice, but more often will sound dissonant - not necessarily a bad thing, it can add tension to a passage. Mapping out the chord progression, you can construct a harmonic bass line that flows in its own right using the notes available to you. Add notes that lead into other notes (passing tones) where appropriate. Do it all within the constuct of the rhythm (or the bass can define the rhythm).

    Thus are the possibilities endless, and you can see how things can get complicated; it's often wise to keep things simple. The ultimate goal is music that is, well, musical....
  4. Emilio319


    Apr 1, 2004
    Permagrin explained it very well but I strongly recommend that you buy an introductory musician book for bass in order to get a really good understanding. One website you can check out is or . Getting a book that explains music theory well really help you learn quickly and correctly regarding which notes will sound best under which chords. Hope this helps.
  5. watt

    watt TalkBass Pro Supporting Member


    there's lots of good instructional links here:

    let's pick an easy chord, like c major. if the guitarist is playing in that key, then you can play c, d, e, f, g, a and b but like permagrin said, sometimes other notes will sound ok too. the key is to use the ear. sometimes you want a certain tension caused by a dissonant note - it's all up to you (the bass line composer) and what the other cats in the band can tolerate! no, what I'm trying to say is to experiment and not get locked into thinking there's only "one" way to play under a chord. a fast way to get started is to find the finger positions of the common scales (major, minor, seventh, blues, pentatonic) and then start that position on the root note so it's more like patterns on the bass neck rather than knowing all the names of the notes in the chord.

    hope this helps some.

    on bass, watt