How much a good Bassist does need to know about harmony? ("Learning a genre" subject)

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by Mili, May 15, 2020.

  1. Mili


    Nov 14, 2015
    Hello my friends,
    I'm trying to learn a genre by transcribing and chart writing and then analyzing songs harmonically, rhythmically and etc.
    Also I'm immersing myself into Motown and R&B and listening as much as possible everyday.
    I transcribed some songs before but i never wrote a real chart and actually trying to find what (am I) I'm doing musically so I found myself learning almost nothing.
    I have two major problems. First, I'm not able to write a precise chart. I tested myself by writing a chart for a famous Motown song "Bernadette" and then comparing it to a reliable chart. This is the result. ( I didn't transcribe this song. At first I found the root of chords and then I played different chord qualities over them with a keyboard) (My mistakes are in red.)
    Chorus 1 : |Eb |Db add9 (Db)|Cb |Bb Db|
    Eb |Db add9 (Db) |Cb Abm (Ab)|Bb |

    Verse 1 : |Gb/Db (Db) Ebm (Eb)|Abm (Ab) Db7sus (Db)|
    Gb/Db (Db) Ebm (Eb)|Abm (Ab) Db7sus (Db)|Abm (Ab) Gb/Bb (Bb)|Db | |Abm (Ab) Gb/Bb (Bb)|Db |Abm (Ab) Bbm (Bb)|Dbsus (Db) Db|

    Bridge? : |Gb |Cb |Ebm (Eb)|Bb Cb○7 (Cb)|Gb |Cb |Ebm (Eb)|Bb |
    My second problem is, I'm not able to find a clear and meaningful chord progression. Obviously, "Eb" is the key but there are many non-diatonic chords. How can I find what's going on and use these informations?
    Do I need to know precisely what's going on harmonically to learn a genre as a Bassist?
    I'm confused....
    Btw I love to know about your experience or 100% working method to learning a genre.
    I'm looking forward to hearing from you.
  2. TomB

    TomB Supporting Member

    Aug 24, 2007
    Is your goal learning to play the bass parts or just to understand them? If the former, do you ever just play along and memorize the parts on your bass?
    BTW, I would consider Bernadette to be jumping into the deep end of Motown, from both a technical and theoretical perspective.
    Try “My Girl” for instance and just dig the evolution of a perfectly written and played bass line, IMO. It’s a “feel” thing. Enjoy! ...and transcribe if it helps :).
    If you have an intuitive feel for harmony and add to that a grasp of chord structure on a keyboard, it will improve your bass composition skills, in my experience.
    As for me, since you asked, I just like to play along, then analyze once I’ve learned what’s written, and then make changes if I prefer them ...but that’s just me.
    Last edited: May 15, 2020
    IamGroot and Mili like this.
  3. Look at the positive. That chart is a really good start. You obviously have no issues nailing the root of the chord, and hey that’s like 80% of the job for us!

    I think at this point it’s not that important how right or wrong your answers are. You’re doing it, which is great, and the more you do it the better you will get.

    In an ideal world? Yes. But realistically? Knowledge is a spectrum, spanning from newborn baby to master of the art. We are all somewhere in between.

    Be kind to yourself. If you can listen to a song and first time hear exactly which chords are being played, then great! But most people probably won’t get there. Just keep trying to get better, and try not to get fixated on the idea of a mythical end point, where you can “do it”. Even the pros are still learning.
  4. Mili


    Nov 14, 2015
    I did it on a simple song " I second that Emotion" and that was easy IV V I. My goal is finding and understanding common chord progressions and generally repetitive rhythmic patterns. (Vibe,Riffs,fills. Understanding the elements of a genre.)
    nbsipics likes this.
  5. TomB

    TomB Supporting Member

    Aug 24, 2007
    That sounds like fun!
    Mili likes this.
  6. Mili


    Nov 14, 2015
    The weird thing is my mistakes on quality of the chords. Actually I tried major and minor on minor chords but major sounded more correct!!!!!
    Another thing is slash chords. Always wrong....
  7. Malcolm35

    Malcolm35 Supporting Member

    Dirt simple chord progressions:
    The I-IV-V-I progression have been used in thousands of songs. Why? The I, IV and V will have every note in the key. Harmony happens when the melody notes (that thing the electric guitars and the vocalist are doing) and the bass line you are playing contain some of the same notes. So the song writer can start with the melody or the chord progression and then fit chords where they are needed - for harmony. Main point here is harmony happens when the treble clef and the bass clef contain some of the same notes.

    The I chord will be used the most as it produces the tonal center of what is being played. Think of it this way; if you get lost you can pound the I's root until you find your place. It'll fit in. Why? It is the tonal center of the song.

    The IV chord will be next in line. Why? It's a stable chord, fits into the harmony well, and can move back to the I or go forward to the V.

    The V chord is the "climax" chord - my name for it - as in most cases anything after the V will be anti-climatic as the V being the dominant chord wants to move to the I chord and resolve the progression so another verse can tell the rest of the story. If it is a V7 it wants to move right now as the b7 builds tension and it begs to resolve by going to the I chord.

    That takes care of the major chords in the key, now let's look at the minor chords found in that same key.

    As a good ole boy Country rhythm guitar guy we only had one song with a minor chord in it. OK back to the minor chords in the key?
    • The ii can sub for the IV. As in ii-V7-I.
    • The iii as the middle chord likes to lead somewhere. It normally drags the vi along with it. You will find iii and vi's moving together in most progressions.
    • The vi - likes to move to a sub-dominant chord, i.e. the ii or IV.
    • The vii - is also a dominant chord like the V, however, is in no hurry to resolve, as such we use it in turn-a-rounds vii-iii-vi-ii-V7-I and as a move somewhere chord. Want to resolve quickly use the V7, want to move somewhere let the vii take you.

    Now go find some of your chord progressions and see if this holds true, or has the song writer found something else.... and if so ask yourself why.

    I think this should help you understand why chords (harmony) moves as it does.

    You asked about fills, runs, etc. IMO this applies to the melody more than the basic chord harmony. Yes you can have a chromatic or diatonic walk to the next chord, but this is best taken up in another post.

    You asked about slash chords, the bass plays the slash note and the other guys play the front part of a chord, before the slash. Has something to do with inversions and again best left for another post.

    Have fun.
    Last edited: May 15, 2020
    Mike NCal, IamGroot and Ggaa like this.
  8. Malcolm35

    Malcolm35 Supporting Member

    Little more"

    The I chord can go anywhere it wants to. However, if you go to the I chord in the middle of a progression, you have resolved the progression and lost any tension you have built up. Tension is a good thing.

    The ii is a sub-dominant chord. Sub-dominant chords like to move to a dominant chord.

    The iii is a move somewhere chord and likes to drag the vi with it.

    The IV is a sub dominant chord like the ii and they can sub for each other.

    The V is the dominant chord and it's task is to move to the I chord.

    The vi chord likes to move to a sub-dominant chord.

    The vii chord is a dominant chord that likes to move somewhere, perhaps not to the I chord.

    Same as my post above, but, in less words.
  9. I think you're on the right track. Listening really carefully might be the most important part of playing bass, and identifying chords is an important part of that process. I agree that Bernadette might be an ambitious way to start. Easier songs will give you confidence and encourage you to keep at it. In my experience, labeling chords is somewhat subjective. Sometimes the first four notes of the chord (e.g., C7) are all that the bass player really needs. Checking your work against a reliable source gives you important feedback. We're all on the same journey.
    Mili likes this.
  10. Mili


    Nov 14, 2015
    Thanks for your input, The thing is I know about Functional harmony and slash chords. As I said my problems are writing a reliable and correct chart and then analyzing the harmony. Non-Diatonic chords are all over the place. Maybe I should study chord substitutions!
  11. Mili


    Nov 14, 2015
    I did it on purpose. Soon or late I'll reach there (I hope), so i picked "Bernadette" to see how much my knowledge about Functional harmony would help me. As I said, I wrote a chart for a simple song "I second that Emotion" successfully. (That's a IV V I)
  12. bherman

    bherman Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 30, 2009
    Grand Junction, CO
    Just thinking out loud here - wonder if it would be more direct to use good quality existing charts (such as those from the "Standing in the Shadows of Motown" book and studying those to analyze what is going on with the song/progressions, rather than figure out how to construct the whole chart yourself? Seems like you're taking on double-duty. You'd probably learn more, more quickly that way and it would certainly be less frustrating. Having to write out your own charts seems like a skill set that would only be helpful if you're composing, vs getting good quality charts of tunes that you want to learn.
    Malcolm35 likes this.
  13. TrevorR


    Oct 3, 2015
    Near London, UK
    Well that statement kinda answers your question as to whether you need to know harmony... the key doesn’t look like it’s Eb at all - from those chords it looks much more like Eb minor (or if you like the relative major key of Gb).

    The notes of the Eb minor natural scale are: Eb F Gb Ab Bb Cb Db
    • Chords in natural minor keys follow the pattern, minor diminished major minor minor major major.
    • Chords in major keys follow the pattern, major minor minor major major minor diminished .
    Eb minor...
    • i – Eb minor, Eb minor seventh (Ebmin, Ebmin7)
    • iidim – F diminished, F minor seventh flat five (Fdim, Fm7b5)
    • III – Gb major, Gb major seventh (Gbmaj, Gbmaj7)
    • iv – Ab minor, Ab minor seventh (Abmin, Abmin7)
    • v – Bb minor, Bb minor seventh (Bbmin, Bbmin7)
    • VI – Cb major, Cb major seventh (Cbmaj, Cbmaj7)
    • VII – Db major, Db dominant seventh (Dbmaj, Db7)
    Hope that helps point in the right direction.
  14. MDBass

    MDBass Supporting Member

    Nov 7, 2012
    Los Angeles, CA
    Endorsing Artist: Dingwall-Fender-Bergantino-Dunlop-Tech 21-Darkglass-Nordstrand
    It doesn’t appear that you made any mistakes: you identified all of the root notes correctly, and weren’t attempting to notate the extensions.

    I’d some time working on 7th arpeggios to help your ears start to better understand the upper structures of the chords you’re playing beneath.
    CalBuzz51 and Mili like this.
  15. IamGroot

    IamGroot Inactive

    Jan 18, 2018
    The Jazz Standards are a really good place to start if you want to learn functional harmony. Suggesting the Real Book.
    Mili likes this.
  16. micguy


    May 17, 2011
    You can be a functional simple bassist without too much knowledge of harmony. But good ones have a command of it - it's nice to know the theory, but the practice (having worked with it enough that your fingers "know" where to go) is what really counts.
    Mili likes this.
  17. Malcolm35

    Malcolm35 Supporting Member

    I kept going back to what is this key. With so many chords "out of key". Is Eb the right key?

    As I don't get into flat keys all that much I just wondered and did not take the time to check out which key myself.

    Point I wanted to make - if we have a lot of chords that do not fit, perhaps our key choice is suspect.

    Thanks Trever for getting us on track.
  18. mambo4


    Jun 9, 2006
    That was my thought. in Eb minor or Gb major, the harmony makes perfect sense.
  19. JW56789

    JW56789 Guest

    Feb 18, 2017
    Not easy to just pick up another instrument, but trying to learn chords, harmonies, etc., from what for most is a one-note-at-a-time instrument is a hill to climb; I've always been thankful for my keyboard training in that you can play chords, transpositions, all of it at once to hear what this or that sounds like and how it affect things.
    TomB and nbsipics like this.
  20. The skill you are learning in creating a chart by ear is one that takes most people a long, long time.
    Years, maybe decades.
    Cthulhu knows it has taken me that long, and I'm still developing it, until I die or become deaf, probably.
    As a bass player, you don't need a lot of harmony knowledge, but as a musician, it is supremely important to command harmony just as much as rhythm and melody.
    The more you familiarize with different progressions and how they move, the more you will start recognizing the chords by their sound or 'feeling'.
    If you can't figure it out, try your best effort and then check an existing chart.
    It is not cheating if you stop to study the chords that stumped you, their function and their particular sound.
    Just keep at it, andhave fun!
    TomB and Mili like this.