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Help with Chords

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by Low_Ryder, Mar 30, 2014.

  1. Low_Ryder


    Feb 13, 2012
    I was just checking out some online bass lessons, and I realized that I don't fully understand the difference between some types of chords.

    The chords in question are: Dm7 G7 Cmaj7 A7 and sometimes it's written as A7(b9).

    My question is, what is the difference between a major, a 7, and a maj7 chord especially in relation to the chord tones (or arpeggios?) that are played? And what is the b9 about? How does that change a 7 chord?

    I already have some ideas about this stuff but there are some gaps in there too. Feel free to go into as much detail as you think is useful.;)

    Thanks for the help!
  2. Mushroo

    Mushroo Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2007
    Massachusetts, USA
    Dm7=D F A C
    G7=G B D F
    Cmaj7=C E G B
    A7=A C# E G
    A7b9=A C# E G Bb

    The progression A7-Dm9-G7-Cmaj7 is an example of a "six two five one" progression which is (by far) the most common type of progression in jazz music. The significance of this progression is that it resolves in a pleasing-to-the-ear cycle of 4ths back to the "one" chord (C in this case).

    Altering the A7 to A7b9 is called a "tension" and is used in certain situations such as when the next chord is a minor chord, and/or to avoid clashing with a note in the melody. It would be uncommon in this style for the bass player to emphasize the b9 on strong beats.

    Any music theory textbook or qualified teacher can explain this in more detail. I am curious what your teacher says about this? If your bass teacher doesn't have jazz experience then I recommend studying with someone who does know jazz harmony, it could be a pianist, guitarist, etc. :)
  3. skwee


    Apr 2, 2010
    Get yourself to a keyboard and play through these chords so you get a sense of how one flows and resolves into the next.
  4. Low_Ryder


    Feb 13, 2012
    Thanks for the information! But skwee, only one instrument at a time! I'm still trying to learn bass:D

    Just to clarify, I'm not with a flesh and blood teacher. The lesson in question is from Scotts Bass Lessons. I think it's pretty awesome for something free that I can do in my own home whenever I get a chance. But it's not like having a teacher right in front of me who I can ask questions.

    I am still wondering about how I would play a major chord. For example with Cmaj7 there is a B, with C7 there is a Bb, but with Cmaj there is... what? Nothing?

    I suppose what I'm really wondering is this: If I'm playing chord tones over a chord, and the chord is Cmaj7, I need to hit that note that makes it a maj7, the B? But if it was a Cmaj, I would make sure not to play the B?
  5. Mushroo

    Mushroo Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2007
    Massachusetts, USA
    You might not like this answer, but: What are your favorite jazz albums? Which jazz songs are you currently transcribing and analyzing? How many songs (jazz or any other style) can you name that use I-vi-ii-V progressions? (For extra credit: do you know any songs using the closely-related I-vi-IV-V progression?) Are there certain patterns or cliches that your favorite jazz players use again and again over I-vi-ii-V? When you are jamming jazz songs with a group, what note selection makes the tune sound good and give the other musicians a strong harmonic foundation over which to improvize?

    I can't tell you "here is how to play jazz" in one or two paragraphs, but the above questions are what you should be asking yourself as you begin your lifelong jazz journey.

    A very short/simplistic answer to your questions might be: The safest note for a bassist to play under a chord is the root. The root of Cmaj7 (for example) is C. If you play too much B, it will probably sound strange. At a beginner/intermediate level, usually it is the guitar or piano's responsibility to play the upper extensions of the chord while the bass takes a more foundational approach.

    It is also important to know that jazz musicians do not use chord symbols in a strict/prescriptive fashion. For example to an experienced jazz player the symbol Cmaj also implies Cmaj7, C6, Cadd9, Cmaj9, Cmaj7#11, Cmaj13, and a hundred other chords. This is a hard concept to explain, and comes with experience in the style. A simple way to explain it is that the chord symbols do not tell you what to play; they give you information to help you decide what to play.
  6. ArtechnikA

    ArtechnikA I endorsed a check once... Gold Supporting Member

    Feb 24, 2013
    There's a bunch of good and not expensive books on chords and arpeggios, which is just the notes of the chords played one at a time. These will tell you the notes in the chords.

    Mushroo's last post was excellent.

    On bass, you almost certainly won't actually be playing all the notes of a chord like a guitar or keyboard would, all at once - so you are playing them one or possibly two at a time at most. In a song with a lot of changes, you probably won't even play all 3 (or 4, or 5, or more) notes in the chord - you'll have to select one or two.

    It's pretty easy just to hit the root on the 1 with conviction. What else you play - or possibly picking some other chord tone on the 1 - is where you start to make the transition from playing notes to playing music.
  7. fu22ba55

    fu22ba55 Supporting Member

    Apr 16, 2009
    Low Ryder, what is your goal?

    a) Write basslines for rock/pop/metal tunes
    b) Play walking basslines over jazz changes
    c) Improvise solos in a rock/blues/metal context
    d) Improvise solos in a jazz context
    e) Play chordal stuff on an 11 string bass

    There are different approaches to each of these goals.

    skwee's comment is a good first step:

    In order to really understand the "why" (not the "how") of all these different chords, is to hear them in context.

    Learning some simple Beatles tunes on guitar or piano is a great way to quickly HEAR why to use a dominant chord (V7) rather than just a plain old major chord.

    The end game here is HEARING what sound you want next (Maj, Min, Dom, Half-Dim, Dim), and playing over that SOUND.
  8. Bassist4Eris

    Bassist4Eris Frat-Pack Sympathizer

    Aug 11, 2012
    Upstate NY, USA
    In order to understand chord nomenclature, we first have to understand the major scale. Each note in the major scale can be referred to in terms of intervals. So you have the C major scale.

    C=root note
    D=major second
    E=major third
    F=perfect fourth
    G=perfect fifth
    A=major sixth
    B=major seventh

    Now, if we flatten (go down one half-step, or one fret) any major interval, we get the corresponding minor interval. We now have an interval name for every possible note except one: that one in between the perfect fourth and perfect fifth. This is often called the tritone, but for reasons I don't want to confuse you with now, in terms of chords it is usually referred to as either the augmented eleventh (#11) or diminished fifth (b5), depending on context. (Eleventh? What the heck is that? It's not the fourth? Just stay with me for a minute, I'm getting there. ;))

    OK, so here are your formulas. Any number by itself should be taken as "major" or "perfect". I will use a lower case "b" for a flat sign, and that means the interval is either "minor" or "diminished".

    If the chord has no "last name" (it's just a letter), it is taken to be major. Major chords = 1, 3, 5

    Minor chords = 1, b3, 5

    Major seventh chords = 1, 3, 5, 7

    Minor seventh chords = 1, b3, 5, b7

    Dominant seventh chords (usually just called seventh chords, such as C7) = 1, 3, 5, b7

    As for the 9, 11, and 13, these are just the same as the 2, 4, and 6 (yes, I know this is a bit oversimplified, but let's not overwhelm the OP, OK?). You may have noticed that all of these chords are formed by skipping notes going up the scale. In C, if you keep on skipping notes up to the ninth, you get C, E, G, B, D. Now, you'll notice that the ninth is the same pitch as the second. There are reasons why it's called the ninth, but don't confuse yourself with that yet. Just understand that the 9, 11, and 13 correspond to the 2, 4, and 6 of your major scale, and that you do NOT need to voice them in the upper octave. They're still ninths, even if they reside right between the root and third.

    So, armed with that knowledge, we know that a seventh flat nine chord = 1, 3, 5, b7, b9. So a C7(b9) would be C, E, G, Bb, Db.

    Hope this helps.
  9. Bassist4Eris

    Bassist4Eris Frat-Pack Sympathizer

    Aug 11, 2012
    Upstate NY, USA
    You don't need to play all the notes in the chord. If the chord is Cmaj7, you don't need to hit a B, but you almost certainly don't want to put a Bb in there. If the chord is Cmaj, you could play the B, but it would usually be an approach note to the C. If it isn't used as an approach note, but is thrown in there in some other fashion, you would be said to be "implying" a Cmaj7 chord. The rightness or wrongness of this stuff is dependent on context, genre, and most importantly, your ears.
  10. MalcolmAmos

    MalcolmAmos Supporting Member

    This should help with what notes are in a chord.

    You have already been give enough, but, I do not think anyone gave you this.

    Question you now have to work out is how many of those notes need to be in your bass line. Long story, that revolves around harmonizing the melody line with the notes of the chord placed under those melody notes. One like note, per measure, gets harmonization. Do you need two, or three, or four? It depends.

    Go back over what you have been given. I think you will find the answer there.
  11. Low_Ryder


    Feb 13, 2012
    Thanks everyone for the information! A lot of good stuff.
    I feel like I want to let you know a little about where I'm at. I played for about 8 years, not really studying anything at all but just playing with other people, most of whom were pretty inexperienced themselves. I learned a little mostly about technique, and I'm not so bad I suppose. I was a total recreational player but I was in a band for about the last 3 of those years, and we played a few gigs here and there, including a pig roast party.:bassist:
    Then I stopped playing for about 9 years... who knows why. I don't. Anyway about 2 1/2 years ago I started again and have been slowly getting the rust out, and trying to learn lots of stuff about how music works.


    Mushroo, I don't know much about jazz, but I love Headhunters. That old band I was in did a Chameleon cover, and it wasn't too bad although any jazz cats in the audience might not have agreed:smug:D Same thing for our Take Five cover. The jazzy chord progression I began with is simply what was in the lesson from the website I like to use (ScottsBassLessons.com). Scott Devine seems (to me anyway) to be an excellent player with a strong jazz influence but he has vidoes about a wide range of bass instruction.

    fu22ba55, my goals are varied, but essentially I want to be able to write groovy basslines in a folk-blues-rock with a touch of funky alternative thrown in. And I want to learn everything. I just picked up Ed Friedland's Blues Bass to understand the fundamentals of what makes blues blues.

    And to everyone who mentioned using my ears, I totally agree. I just feel like I need to understand what it is I'm supposed to be hearing before I can actually pick up on those things just by listening to it. I wish I could practice 2 hours a night but I'm more like 1 hour 4-5 times a week.

    Sorry about the novel, but thanks to all who responded to my questions.;)