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Best Way To Play Chords?

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by KingDavid, Jan 7, 2014.

  1. KingDavid


    Dec 29, 2013
    I was just thinking about this, as I play some chords in a few songs, and was wondering if there are any different ways, or rights and wrongs to playing chords on a bass. Every time I seem to play chords I play in a weird, tensed up way (left hand is tense, right hand is a bit awkward). Single notes I play fine, only chords. Any way to play chords the most efficiently?
  2. Are you playing 3 note chords or two? I used to try playing 3 note power chords, but realized that the octave didn't really add much and wasn't worth it basically. So i've started just doing 2 note chords. Also, IMO chords are easier on the higher strings, but you obviously lose a little oomph. Dunno if this helps any.
  3. Also, pick or fingers? I find it easier with a pick. Also, the sweet spot for me is between the 7th and 12th frets when playing chords. Anywhere else is a little uncomfortable, but sometimes I still do it.
  4. KingDavid


    Dec 29, 2013
    I finger, I don't even know how to pick (fairly new bassist). I do 2 note chords, I find 3 muddy. The chords I play are in the D and G strings, between 0-7 fret (4 string bass) and I just find it awkward. I don't really feel a correct way to play the chords.
  5. marmadaddy


    Oct 17, 2005
    Rochester, NY
    I'm not aware of an incorrect way to play a double stop ( correct term for two notes fretted at the same time). If you're new to the bass, it's probably just a matter of building up hand strength and getting comfortable with them.
  6. jefkritz


    Oct 20, 2007
    iowa city, IA
    yep. if you're new to bass, chords are going to be tough. try to learn proper technique in general - the same principles that tell you how to fret single notes apply to fretting chords for the most part.

    a few tips that aren't covered by that true generalism:
    *if you have a chord with a note on different frets, use lower fingers for lower notes (ie index finger on fret 5, middle finger on fret 6, regardless of the order of the strings).
    *if there are notes on the same fret, you can either use multiple fingers or one finger.
    **if you use multiple fingers, use lower fingers for lower (pitched) strings (ie index finger on A, middle finger on G).
    **If you use one finger, lay it across the strings. This skill will be very useful if you plan on doing chords. You can support yourself by using multiple fingers to 'barre' the chord (ie stack your index and middle finger on the fret).

    as for voicings, they're tricky to do tastefully on bass. i like to play a high double-stop over a low open string, for instance:
    G: 13
    D: 12
    A: X
    E: 0

    But this is up to you to experiment with.
  7. MonetBass

    MonetBass ♪ Just listen ♫ Supporting Member

    Sep 15, 2006
    Tulsa, OK
    I use my thumb or the nail of my index finger to strum the chords, depending on the sound I'm looking for.
  8. bludog

    bludog Supporting Member

    Apr 3, 2012
    Brooklyn 11217
    Another great tip I got directly from Steve Bailey (plays a lot of chords) is to almost always use your middle finger for the root note. You can easily play 7th chords this way by omitting the 5th. Unless you're going for a root/5th thing, you can pretty much always omit the 5th because it's not really adding to the tonality (major, minor, dominant) of the chord unless it's a flat 5th.

    For 2 note chords (double stops):

    I use this technique for root/5th, root/3rd or any other combo you may like (root/octave, root/6th, root/9th, etc). Technique wise, I just go with what's comfortable but always bear in mind where I'm headed next. I will use my index finger or middle finger for the root depending on where I need to go afterward. The goal being to have a very smooth transition from the chord to the next note (or chord).

    I happen to play a lot of 3 note chords, and this is how I do it:

    Again, use your middle finger for the root. It puts your hand in a much better position for the chord and also gives you the option of moving up or down the neck easily because your index finger is ready to go down and your ring and pinky fingers can move up with ease.

    With the root on the E string, you play your 7th on the D string and your 3rd on the G string. This creates a very nice voicing that makes the 3rd really sing because it's on top (the highest pitch). Yes, it's an inversion, but to my ears inversions often sound better on bass. Plus, they let you imply a melody at times which can be very interesting.

    With the root on the A string, you play the 3rd on the D string and the 7th on the G string. This is more standard (not an inversion), but you're limited so you kind of have to do it this way. It's very easy to go from a root on the E string chord to a root on the A string chord so moving harmonically in 4th's and 5th's is really simple, which often happens in western music.

    Here is a quick example in case this^ was too difficult to follow:

    Playing an A minor 7th chord with the root on the E string, you'd use your middle finger for the root (A), your ring finger on the minor 7th (G on D string) and your pinky on the minor 3rd (C on G string). Yes these are all on the same fret (5th fret), but do not bar them because it locks you up for passing notes.

    Now for the A string chords, I'm going to use a E7 (dominant) because this creates a II-V progression which is very popular, so it will sound common to your ear. Use your middle finger for the root (E), your index finger for the major 3rd (G# on the D string) and your pinky on the minor 3rd (C on the G string).

    In the above example you do not use your index finger at all, this is a good thing because it leaves your index finger free for quick jumps to your next note. Will make your transitions much smoother at higher tempos. Keep in mind, chords sound better the higher up the neck you go as they are less muddy. As for hand strength, that will develop as you work on this more. Also, you eventually realize that these are just hand shapes, not unlike guitar chords, and once you learn them you can use it as needed anywhere on the neck.

    You can always apply these principles to any Major 7th, Minor 7th and Dominant 7th chords on either the E or A strings. As you get better at this and enhance your harmonic know-how, you'll eventually learn to apply this to other odd chords, although they may involve your index finger. For triads, you can simplify drastically and just use the Root/3rd. Or feel free to try to do a root/5th/3rd for a true triad, but it's not pretty and doesn't add much. For true triads, you may have to abandon the middle finger approach, just FYI.

    Good luck! Chords can be very musical, especially in a small combo. I know it changed my playing and even helped my song writing. Also very useful for my walking basslines because I began to hear the harmony more clearly and could easily identify the important notes of a given chord.
  9. Lobster11

    Lobster11 Supporting Member Supporting Member

    Apr 22, 2006
    Williamsburg, VA
    As long as you're playing fingerstyle, a cool kind of two-note chord ("double-stop") you can play is one with the root and the third -- either major or minor -- with the 3rd played an octave higher (to avoid mudiness). To do this, play the root on the E string with your index finger, and the 3rd on the G string with one of your other fingers. (The minor third is at the same fret as the root; the major third a fret up from there.) With your right hand, use a kind of pinching motion to simultaneously pluck the E with your thumb and the G with your index or middle finger.
  10. jamminology101


    Aug 22, 2012
    Indianapolis In
    Endorsing Artist: Glockenklang
    Some great advice...especially the 7ths talk...thats where its at. Just remember(purely for lingo sake) a chord is 3 or more diatonic notes played simultaneously. Dia means 2 so you play the tonic(root) then skip the next note in the scale(the second),play the 3rd,(skip the 4th)play the 5th...etc. alot of jazz guys will stack 5 or 6 notes together to make some huge sounding chords which is why you see voicings getting into the 11th, 13th, etc. A double stop is classically referred to as a diad(here again meaning 2). So when people talk about playing 1V power chords is technically is a power diad...even with the octave thrown in because it is the same note as the tonic. A diad that I think sounds really cool,,especially in funk is the 1bV diad or doublestop. Its the root and flat fifth which is half way up the scale to octave and creates a "tension" so to speak before being resolved with a note in the scale. They sound really cool in the upper register as well. Another popular diad played is the power diad 1-5 where the 5th is inverted to the lower octave which leaves it placed on the same fret as tonic...just one string thicker over when tuned in 4ths. You can simply bar the 2 notes with one finger which makes them easy to play in quick succession in time. Keep in mind you can stack natural harmonic notes played together jacoesqu style to create some beautiful sounding diads and chords...good stuff.
  11. Mark Nye

    Mark Nye

    Sep 18, 2012
    Columbus, OH

    Don't bother trying to apply guitar voicings. They generally sound like mud. Example: If I'm in a key that calls for Dmaj, Gmaj, and A7, I typically use X-12-0-11, X-10-9-0 (or 12), and X-0-11-12. Rarely, if ever, do I use the E and A strings at the same time, especially for 3rds.
  12. I generally play root 5th oct chords, as anything else is like an earthquake in a mudslide. I play them going straigt at the notes, but not for long as I cramp up. Now, when I'm alone and bored, I'll do barre chords, but even though I can hold them all day without cramping, they are very sour on a four string. Mostly, though, if I need to do a complex chord, I just arpaggiate (spelling?) it. With the frequencies being so low, chords really don't do any good.
  13. jamminology101


    Aug 22, 2012
    Indianapolis In
    Endorsing Artist: Glockenklang
    I know...."the devils chord" or tritone as its called sounds better played in the upper register than a happy major bar chord played down in the first position...
  14. Very true. Very true, sadly enough. Curse physics for not allowing all frequencies to sound the same.
  15. bludog

    bludog Supporting Member

    Apr 3, 2012
    Brooklyn 11217
    ^Agreed... my example was perhaps a poor choice as it's near the bottom of the register. I actually play most of my chords near the 12 fret and up. The lower you go the more important is to reduce the amount of notes in the "chord" for clarity. I call them pseudo-chords, not sure if that's a popular term or not. Anyway, same fingering technique applies, just move up the neck.
  16. MrYellow


    Dec 30, 2013
    You will usually have to stretch if you include all the notes in a chord, I usually omit the 5th when playing just major and minors with or without an added 7th. I use 9ths a fair bit, and it that case I ignore the 3rd (some people will against this, I know), unless I barre it in the form or a suspended 2nd. bludog has a good point, raising your chord an octave will give it definition and clarity, along with ease of access.

    Hopefully that sorts out your left hand, as for your right hand the technique determines your tone, scraping across the strings with your nails in a 'strumming' will give a brighter tone, but this technique give of a lot of scraping noise, but some people can manage this or really, don't mind it at all. The other method is simply using your thumb and fingers, but the location of each finger makes a big difference, you will usually see jazz player such as Steve Bailey and Lee Sklar (I don't know is Lee plays jazz a lot) having their thumb closer to the neck and their fingers fairly close to the bridge, it kind of forms a 'thumbs up' shape, I feel this just gives a more pleasing tone, as there isn't too much bass or treble, I suggest you try it out.
    Hopefully that answers your question.
  17. KingDavid


    Dec 29, 2013
    The alternate fingering was very helpful in playing chords. I recently found out that using a 4 string is not the best for chords, as others said. I'll be sure to learn chords, as it'll help improve my harmonic skills on the bass, and easily come up with some nice basslines. Thanks for the tips.
  18. bludog

    bludog Supporting Member

    Apr 3, 2012
    Brooklyn 11217
    I say "almost always" because there are many exceptions. There's really no right or wrong way to do it I suppose, just a matter of comfort. After all these years I have become so comfortable with it that it seems totally natural now. As long as using the index finger does not impede your transition to the next note you absolutely can't go wrong. The only thing I personally wouldn't like about the fingering in the attachment is that you're leaving what is typically the weakest finger (4 - the pinky) available for your next note and it's in a bad position to get there unless you're going slide way up the neck. Because I'll typically play chords up the neck and then jump to a bassline on the bottom end, it's easier to use an open index finger to make that leap down. Again, just my personal approach. Offering the rationale behind it in case it's helpful for others.

    OP, try what works best for you. If anything it's good to have both techniques in your arsenal and then you'll inevitably gravitate to one or the other based on what you're playing.
  19. Don't get stuck on always having the root lowest, also. As an example. you can play a C/E chord with ring finger on E string at 12th fret (3rd of C chord), index on D string at 10th fret (octave of C chord) and pinky on G string at the 12th fret (5th of C chord). Shift the E string down to 11th fret (middle finger instead of ring) and you have C minor/Eb.
  20. bludog

    bludog Supporting Member

    Apr 3, 2012
    Brooklyn 11217
    You're method makes very good sense, especially if you use your 4th finger for alterations or hammer-ons or other note additions.

    I should be clear, I'm not dogmatic with my approach just for the sake of it. When I need to free up the 4th finger for similar needs, I will. I was just saying that my first instinct is to go 2nd finger for the root, with a few exceptions. That works for me but, you're right that if you don't have something unusual after, it's not really necessary. One such unusual instance would be playing something like a C-7 into a BbMaj6 (root/6th/3rd), resolving on an A-7. In that example (which admittedly is not very common) I need my index finger to be free so that I can play the 6 (G) on the D String. By using my middle finger for the root on all 3 chords I can transition through them much cleaner and do so at higher tempos.

    Whousedtoplay, I am absolutely not trying to debate the merits of one technique versus the other. One can be successful with either, especially depending on the complexity of the chords being played. I'm just showing how I came to settle on my approach. When taking lessons with Steve he had me start this way so that I was not limited in playing that kind of progression. He plays a 6 string which may have something to do with why he uses that technique but it applied very nicely to 4 string for me. I just had to get used to the hand positions, which require some slight wrist adjustments. I acknowledge that my technique is a bit esoteric and probably only necessary for a handful of styles of music - you don't see many 6 chords in popular music- but, for some of the stuff I play it requires it so I've "baked" it into my playing for when I need it.

    PS- sorry to be so verbose in all of these post. This is MUCH easier to show than to explain.