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How to Determine The Root Notes in Bass Lines?

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by IAmNewToBass, Jan 9, 2017.

  1. IAmNewToBass


    Jan 9, 2017
    When listening to the bass line in songs how do I determine the root notes? I am new to dissecting bass lines so at this stage when I'm trying to play by ear I guess each note one after the other until I get it right. It is a very time consuming process. I will have to use this method until I am able to hear and guess the right intervals. Based on everything I have read and heard the interval quality is always determined by the root note. Also the chord name and quality is determined by the root note. Is there a specific method to determine which notes in a bass line are the root notes verses the notes that are connecting the root notes? I think once I am able to determine the root notes when listening to a bass line it will make playing it a lot easier instead of the way I am doing it now. I appreciate the feedback. Thank you!

  2. Listen to the components of the chords in the progression. Train your ear to hear the dominant note of each chord. The root is often doubled in the chord being played and tends to stand out.

    For example, let's take a guitarist playing a three-chord progression of G-C-D-G

    When he plays an open G chord in first position, the notes he plays are GBDGBG. That's three G notes. That should stand out to your ear. There are two C notes in his C chord, and two D notes in his D chord (first position).

    Of course, that is a simple example. Sometimes the triad only includes one root, and you just have to train your ear to it. And then will come progressions with chords that have alternate roots, like D/F#, which is a D triad played over an F# root. But the chordal instrument (guitar, piano, etc.) should be doing the same with the root. You'll have to get good at hearing the triad and its root (D) and also hearing and playing the alternate root (F#).

    Also, pianists are easier to follow the dominant root note because it appears in the triad (right hand, treble) and they hold it down with their left hand (bass) as well.

    If you're actually with the other musician, you can always ask for the chord progression or get a lead sheet with the chords written out.

    The more you do it, the easier it gets.
    Last edited: Jan 9, 2017
    joebar likes this.
  3. mambo4


    Jun 9, 2006
    Mushroo likes this.
  4. As a new bassist what you are doing now is almost impossible unless you have very good ears. I would suggest you start over and go down another road.

    Mambo mentioned recognizing the chord as a way to start this. If you can identify the chord by name, the name of the chord is the root note of that chord.

    Most songs follow specific chord progressions. Nine times out of ten when I'm faced with wanting to know the chord progression used in a song I'll ask Google for help. Ole Google normally comes to my rescue. Google these words; Chords, "name of the song".

    For example; chords, "somewhere over the rainbow" got me this: Somewhere Over The Rainbow

    OK the first verse starts with a G chord. OK we know that the notes of a G chord are G-B-D with G being the root. To make a chord we "stack 3rds" or use ever other note in G's scale and come up with the R-3-5 scale degrees of the G major scale. Problem here is we do not know if that was what the original bass line had in it. ---- Read that again.

    Also understand our bass line has harmonizing notes in it; not melody notes. Yes later, how much later, a long time later you can put melody notes into your bass line, but, for now stick with harmonizing notes. What are harmonizing notes? Notes of the active chord. If the bass clef and the treble clef (where the melody comes from) share like notes harmony happens. So it's the sharing of like notes that make all this happen. Read that again...

    The original bass line probably started with the G note or the R root but what other notes of the chord were included is up for grabs.

    If I was to wing a bass line for this song I could just pedaling G notes to the beat until another chord change comes up. Or I could use the root G with the 5th note (D), or I could use any combination of those three notes. This is why I'm saying you are starting your journey at the hard end of the stick.

    Let Google find you some chord charts and try pounding out root notes to the beat of the kick drum - for starters. When that comes easy then start using the R-5, and when that flows add an 8, which is the root in the next octave. I think you will find that a bass line (in 4/4 time) of R-5-8-5 will let you play a bunch of bass. It may not be note for note what the original bass line had in it, but, the rest of the band will be able to follow your groove of R-5-8-5. And if they can follow your groove they will ask you back.

    Post # 14 in this string will go into detail. How to get started?

    Good luck.
    Last edited: Jan 9, 2017
  5. mambo4


    Jun 9, 2006
    I did Not exactly mean recognizing the chord
    -as in "hey, that's and A flat seventh!"
    I'm far from being at that point.

    but recognizing the common relative chord motions
    -as in "hey, that's a I-iv-IV-V"
    That is what I am talking about.'
  6. hrodbert696

    hrodbert696 Moderator Staff Member Supporting Member

    Welcome to Talkbass!

    Sounds like you've bitten off a very big piece to chew on. Learning by ear is great, so well done, but don't bang your head against it so hard you get discouraged.

    You didn't mention what songs you're trying to learn by ear. I suggest you stay humble and start out with very simple songs. An example I always give is U2's With Or Without You. In a song like that, the bass just pumps root notes steadily and pretty much nothing else. DDDDDDDDAAAAAAAABBBBBBBBGGGGGGGGG. What are the chords? D - Am - Bm - G. The whole darn song. Starting out with those simple root-pumping songs will help you get used to hearing the chord progression. (Plus, it means you've learned a new song in all of thirty seconds!).

    Another thing to look for is the ONE. In the majority of popular music, even if you have a more fluid bass line than With Or Without You, the bass will hit the root note of the chord on the "one" of each measure (or every other measure, at least), before departing off through its riffs and fills. So count, each measure, 1-2-3-4, and 99% of the time whatever note you're playing on ONE is the root. For another popular favorite, for instance, take the Doobie Brothers' Long Train Runnin'. The bass does a whole lot of filling in that tune. But sure enough, every measure, on the ONE it hits the G, and that's your root note.

    To an extent, though, this is putting the cart before the horse. If you're learning a tune by ear, you don't need to worry too much about what the root note is, because you're already playing it. More often you would be thinking this because the guitarist says a tune is a I-IV-V in A, so you say to yourself your roots are A, D and E and you'll be building your lines off of those. In other words, normally you're told the chord and use that information to create a bass line, you don't often learn a bass line and then have to analyze what chords it's working through (unless you're trying to teach it to a guitarist, I guess).
    BoatyMcBoatface likes this.
  7. BassAndReeds

    BassAndReeds SUSPENDED

    Oct 7, 2016
    You should really get yourself a private instructor. It will save you a lot of headaches in the future.
  8. RustyAxe


    Jul 8, 2008
    Duplicate thread ...

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