1. Please take 30 seconds to register your free account to remove most ads, post topics, make friends, earn reward points at our store, and more!  
    TalkBass.com has been uniting the low end since 1998.  Join us! :)

chord tones vs. scales/modes

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by emor, Apr 16, 2009.

  1. emor


    May 16, 2004
    As I'm sure this has already been discussed ad nauseam, can anyone provide a link to past threads. (Chord tones, scales, and Carol Kaye are too broad of search terms).
  2. Asher S

    Asher S

    Jan 31, 2008
    Here's a very recent discussion, although I'm not sure if this will provide you with the specific information you're looking for.


    If you're interested in learning the theory, there is a plethora of instructional books out there that are likely better than unedited, unchecked TB threads. One such book that I think is one of the better ones is The Total Jazz Bassist by David Overthrow.
  3. emor


    May 16, 2004
    Thanks, I'll look through that.

    More specifically, I'm interested in reading opinions about using one or the other when improvising. I've heard (or read) C.K. promote the use of chord tones rather than thinking in terms of scales. Just wondering what others think. I know I've seen threads on this before.
  4. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    In the end they are the same thing - put enough extensions on a chord and it is indistinguishable from a scale! :eyebrow:

    As bass players though - our job it to outline chord movement!
  5. derekd


    Feb 16, 2009
    As Bruce says above, it is the bassist's job to outline the chords. I think the easist way to do this is with chord tones or arpeggios. Scales are fine, and chord tones are found within the scales, but so are a bunch of other notes that are less important when outlining the chord.

    Imo, scales are WAY overrated for playing just about any instrument. Particularly starting out. I think you get more mileage out of simple triads and arpeggios. Good luck
  6. Depending on context both are good. If you're playing a bass line the chord tones are best, when you do step out though, you should know what notes are leading where and be sure you'll get the next chord change.

    If you're soloing, use some mixture of chord and scale tones.
  7. bluesbass99


    Jun 14, 2006
    Atlanta, GA
    +1. Learn chord tones for the various chords (minor, major, dominant, etc.) first.
  8. JimmyM


    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    I think Carol is 100% right about using chord tones and I'll tell you why...

    Scales and modes are great to know and you should know them and how to apply them to playing. But when it comes time to play a chart that you may have never seen before, to me it adds an extra layer of translation that you have to deal with. It's like if I was to learn Spanish and had to translate every Spanish word spoken to me back to English before I could understand it. If I could understand Spanish as it is without translating back to English, I can have a much better and freer conversation. If you can figure out what notes to play just from the chords without having to think about what mode(s) go best with them, that's one less process between you and the music.

    Also, a lot of players who use modes and scales sound like they're running modes and scales, and that is death to music as far as I'm concerned. 80% of kicking ass musically is emotional content. But it's hard to keep that emotional level up when you're running scales. Whereas when you just use the chords, you don't tie yourself to any one scale. Scales and modes are a great learning process that teaches you a lot about using non-chord tones effectively against certain chords, but once you learn what you can do with them, I think you're better turning off your mind and just let fly with something that you think sounds good rather than something that fits the "rules." And I think the chordal approach allows for that a lot easier than the modal approach.
    DEMS854 likes this.
  9. emor


    May 16, 2004
    Thanks for the responses.

    I found the video of Carol Kaye in which she talks about it.

    I'm in no way trying to diminish the importance of learning scales, but I'm interested in what she has to say in this clip:


    Artist Features > Carol Kaye > Part III (6:17)

    "...note scales don't get it because they will ruin your ear and your fingers get used to playing scales and you can't find those (chord) notes....You need to hear the intervals of the chordal notes...mostly in jazz you're going to use chromatics...."
  10. mambo4


    Jun 9, 2006
    +1 to chord tones

    Scales are more important to know and understand than they are to use in actual playing. 90% of what I play is roots and chord tones, with the 'in between' notes improvised using my ear, muscle habits, and stylistic knowledge. I only conciously draw on scales and modes when something sounds off and I want to find a better option.
  11. JimmyM


    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    Yeah, that sounds about right. On the not-so-often times I play jazz, I mostly use chromatics, even on a relatively simple walking line, and even if they have zero relation to the chord I'm playing. If you go strictly by modes, you'll tend not to use chromatics and your parts will be safely in the zone but they'll be boring. That's what's meant by "running scales."

    BTW, glad to see a whole lot more support for this idea. A year or two ago, it seemed people on here were aghast at the idea of using chords and not scales. Got into a couple good threads about it that got closed ;)
  12. emor


    May 16, 2004
    A year or two ago, it seemed people on here were aghast at the idea of using chords and not scales. Got into a couple good threads about it that got closed

    I would like to read those.
    If anyone can provide a link...?
  13. fearceol


    Nov 14, 2006
    I'm interested in this also, as my teacher has me working on this at present. He also introduced me to non chord tones. Is it just a matter of listening and trying out different NCT's to see what suits a given chord, or is there a general rule ?

    OP : Dont mean to hijack your thread, but I'm sure you are interested in this too. :)
  14. +1. To an extent, it's really a false opposition IMO. I don't think you can play bass effectively without knowing your chord tones (even if you don't know you know them!), but in every form of Western music with which i have any acquaintance, you don't just play chord tones--you stitch the notes together somehow with nonchordal tones, even if it's little more than a 5 4 3 2 1 run from the V7 chord to the I. So you also need to be aware of the nonchordal tones. Awareness of one doesn't rule out awareness of the other--they complement each other.
  15. dvh

    dvh Supporting Member

    Sep 1, 2006
    Halifax, Nova Scotia
    I'll +1 that
  16. I'd say, yes and no. How's that for certitude?:D

    In a fundamental sense, the ear is the final arbiter. If it sounds good, it is good. So in that sense there is no rule. If at a given time in a given piece, a bunch of funky chromatics that aren't in the key are what work, then that's what you do.

    But since many of us like clearly tonal music, and often fairly diatonic music at that, there are a lot of times where what ends up sounding good to us is something that stays to a significant degree (not necessarily entirely) within a key/tonality/modality. So if you're interested in playing something that is in C major, for example, and that sounds firmly diatonic in that key, there will be "rules" of a sort, and your choice of nonchordal tones won't be made on the basis of guesswork or trial-and-error. In that kind of situation, you will likely tend to draw the nonchordal tones you use primarily from the key that's happening at the moment. If you know your keys and so forth, you won't be guessing. Thus, when you're playing in C, if you want to play a stepwise motion in your bass line from the V7 chord (G7, here) to your I chord (C), you might be be more likely to play G A B C (going up) than G Ab Bb C, or G F E D C (going down) than G F# Eb Db C. The reason is that D E F A B occur naturally in C major, whereas Db Eb F# Ab Bb are outside that key.

    Note that this is a very simplistic explanation; there are exceptions and modifications and complications, and all sorts of reasons why you might step outside the key that you think the piece is written in. (For one thing, some tunes make use of more than one key center or modality.) I don't want to give you too rigid an idea of "right" and "wrong." The takeaway is NOT that you can never use any chromatic, nondiatonic notes in a particular key. Again, what works, works. But maybe this will give you some starting points.
  17. Doesn't anybody believe that BOTH are valuable in creating bass lines? I've never heard a walking bass line that didn't include SOME degree of scale motion. If you're playing over a C major chord and walk up C, D, Eb, E you've just combined scale and chromatic movement.
  18. Absolutely! Isn't that what I just said about three posts up?;)
  19. barrybass33

    barrybass33 Supporting Member

    Jan 7, 2008
    westchester new york.
    In real world bass playing scales are great for soloing.....
    And chord tones are for support bass playing...
  20. fearceol


    Nov 14, 2006
    Thanks for that Richard. That's a big help. :)

Share This Page