Help! - Constructing Melodic Basslines

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by str8_bourbon, Apr 6, 2005.

  1. Hello! I'm new on this site, I'm not quite sure that this post belongs on this forum, but I'll give it a shot.

    I was given a bass around a year ago, I started practicing by readings tabs on the net and playing with songs. It was not until recently that I took bass playing seriously, I tried learning a little theory through web sites and books. I haven't taken lessons yet, so I really don't know much.

    I have a couple of friends who play guitar, and we've recently tried writing our own stuff. I was wondering if anyone could give me a few pointers regarding bassline construction? I've read the article on that subject on this site, but I still have a few questions.

    So far I know that when you write a bassline, you can use the root notes of the given chord, and throw in some leading tones, in order to make the bassline sound more melodic, interesting. My question is, do these leading tones have to be chord tones(of the given chord) or scale tones(of the given key)? Can notes out of the given chord and scale be used? If so, in what circumstances?

    Another problem that I've run into is, the guitar players I play with have little or no knowledge of theory(they know less than I do, which is next to nothing), so the way we attempt to write songs is by laying out a chord progession. But to my understanding, the correct way to write a song, would be to choose a certain key, and then determine which chords are to be used. So my problem is, the guitar player gives me a chord progession, then I try the target and approach method to come up with a bassline, I know I'm going to be safe using chord tones and scale tones for the leading tones, but because I don't know what key the song is in, I don't know what the scale tones are! And that's frustrating, because I know it's going to limit my choice of notes for the bassline! Here's my next question, how do I figure out the key of the song with a set of chords? Lets say the chord progression is E-G-A-D, what's the key of this tune?

    I was also wondering what other ways can you write a bassline besides using root notes and leading tones?

    I would really appreciate it if someone can help me out! Thanks for reading!
  2. pklima


    May 2, 2003
    Kraków, Polska
    Since you haven't gotten any replies yet, let me give it a crack. I'm currently trying to explain stuff like this to a beginning bassist who's supposed to take over my church choir gig when I leave.

    In rock music, you can generally get away with playing chord tones, passing tones (say, throw in a B between A and C) and neighbor tones (for example, instead of playing A for three beats, go A-G-A). Generally scale tones are safe to use, but if you're brave you can try non-scale tones.

    Other ways are to try to play a counter-melody to go with the vocals, but that's probably beyond you at this point. But you can try playing descending lines when the chord progression ascends - for example, when the guitarists are going from E to G then A, play E, D and C# (all chord tones in this case).

    As to the question of what key a song is in, the best way to tell when dealing with people who write songs and don't know what keys they're in is by the very last chord of the entire song. In the case of your example, that would be D. There shouldn't be any E major chords in the key of D major, but you can either suggest changing it to an E minor or assume it's an artistic choice and is supposed to be that way.

    By the way, try playing the notes A, G and C# underneath the last A chord - throwing the G in there will effectively make it an A7 and create more tension (the interval between G and C# is a tritone). This might make the resolution to D stronger and more satisfying.
  3. Tash


    Feb 13, 2005
    Bel Air Maryland
    Try to find a V to I relationship within the chords (by V-I I'm talking about the chord built of the 5th note of a scale moving to the chord build off the first note). Even in peices with extensive use of modal borrowing (taking chords from other keys) most tonal music still returns to the V-I type ending because it is so stable.

    So lets use your example of E-G-A-D (I'll have to make some assumptions since you didn't say if the chords were major/minor etc). There are actually a couple V-I relationships here: E is the V of A, D the V of G, and A the V of D. However only one of these occurs at a cadence (a cadence is the ending of a musical phrase). That's the A-D relationship. So D major might be a good guess as to the key. Also in tonal harmony certain chords have a tendency to go to certain other chords. For example Vs are often proceeded by iis, IVs, and sometimes viis. If you write out a D major scale you will see that E is the ii and A G is the IV. So if we ignore the "correct" major/minor relationships your example is II-IV-V-I in the key of D major, which is actually a quite common rock and blues progression.
  4. thanks for the help guys, that was very useful! :hyper:
  5. Groove_Master

    Groove_Master Guest

    Feb 29, 2004
    i didnt read the answers but while playing a melodic bass line you can use chord notes freely.. for ex our key is C7. so chord notes are C E G bB.. we can use these freely no matter what.. also you can use chromatic notes. they must go to a chord note.. like B C.. B is non chord C is a chord note.. you can use double chromatics too.. you can also use scale notes too.. but the must go to a chord note too like chromatics.. and you can do thingsd like D F E.. E is a chord note and d is coming from lower and F is coming from higher.. you can do things like this.. you can also use tansions.. for C7 tansions are D,F,F#,A.. if they go to a chor note it'd be better.. D should go to C, F,F# to E,A to G..

    about the progression thing.. i think you should memorise cadances.. like dominant cadance(v7-I also bII7-I) sub dominant(IV-I,IIm7-I) and sub dominant minor(IVm-I,bVII7-I,IIm7(b5)).. you can see things like that in every song..also you can use dimnished between two diatonic chords. also these are most known progressions : I-VIm7-IIm7-V7-I,I-#Idim-IIm7-V7-I,I-bIIIdim-IIm7-V7-I,V7 of V-IIm7-V7-I,V7(b9)of II-IIm7-V7-I,I-V7 of IV-IV-IVm-I.. you can use substitute chords.. IIIm7 for I,bVII7 for IVm,bII7 for V7... but dont use these at the end of the song.. and dont use a cadance after the dominant cadance. and dont use sub dominant cadance after sub dominant minor cadance.if you memorize these you can find out most of popular progressions
  6. Richard Lindsey

    Richard Lindsey

    Mar 25, 2000
    Metro NYC
    Of course, it could just as easily be I-bIII-IV-bVII in E, with the bVII acting as a sub for V, as GrooveMaster suggested. We don't really know where the progression would tend to settle--whether the writer would hear it as ending on D or E or something else. We don't actually know that A-D is the cadence--it could just as easily be D going to the first chord of the sequence, E (D-E, bVII-I). Just as if you had the sequence C-A-D-G; the cadence isn't D-G, it's G-C (I, V of V of V, V of V, V).

    Looking for a V-I often helps, as you say, but a lot of popular music doesn't rely on it quite as much as "legit" theory would suggest. Think, for example, of about a million rock songs that go I-bVII-IV.