Key Center and scales for chord progressions?

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by mebusdriver, Jul 16, 2008.

  1. A friend of mine has started writing a lot of songs and has asked me to play bass on them. His songs are very indie-poppish and have mainly chords with no melody (no singer yet) so the space is very open for bass playing. My problem is that I'm having trouble determining the key center when he sends me the chord charts (he doesn't include the key) and I'm having even more trouble determining the tones to use behind the chord progressions.

    Where I'm confused is whether or not I just use the tones of the chord (i.e. the triads) or is the scale pre-determined by the progression? For instance one of the progressions is:

    Gtr run Fmaj7 Cmaj7 gtr run Fmaj7 Cmaj7 Dmin7 Cmaj7 Emin7 Dmin7

    the guitar run is A,D,E,G

    I know, a lot of 7's but it sounds better than it looks, but my question is whether or not I have to play the tones only within each chord? Or is there an extended scale to which I could play underneath this entire progression? I can't even tell what key this progression is in.

    My knowledge of theory is very limited. I've studied modes in the past but I didn't get past learning them individually. I guess this would probably be the lesson where you put them together to play over a progression..... hahaha.... well any help is welcomed. Books, vids, practice recommendations, anything, I've been struggling with this for a while and i'm ready to get over it. Thanks in advance.
  2. onlyclave


    Oct 28, 2005

    The music is indie-pop music, the music is more about the song as a whole and it doesn't need to be a bass feature.

    But to answer your question, your chord progression with all of the 7ths looks like good old C major tonal center, the chords don't function like it though.
  3. JTE

    JTE Gold Supporting Member

    Mar 12, 2008
    Central Illinois, USA
    Well, comparet the chord tones to the scales. See what fits.

    FMaj7 is F A C E
    CMaj7 is C E G B
    Dmin7 is D F A C
    Emin7 is E G B D

    So, you've got F instead of F#, so it's not any of the sharp keys. And you've got B instead of Bb, so it's not any of the flat keys. That leaves C.

    Or, if you recognize the harmonized scale then you can do this..

    Maj7 is the I or the IV. You've got an FMaj7 and CMaj7. In F, those chords would be FMaj7 and C7 so it's not F. But in C, they're both major 7th, so that part fits C. That's because FMaj7 is the I of F, and the IV of C. But CMaj7 is the I of C, and the IV of G.

    The Dmin is the ii of C, the iii of Bb, or the vi of Eb.
    The Emin is ii of D, the iii of C, and the vi of G.

    The only key that's common to all those chords is C.

    But, I'd start with the roots, then the fifths, then the other chord tones, and use the key of C major for connecting tones. Start there and then let your ear and your taste tell you where to go.

  4. mutedeity


    Aug 27, 2007
    Remember, no-one ever got fired for playing the roots. Especially no-one in Nirvana.
  5. Dogbertday

    Dogbertday Commercial User

    Jul 10, 2007
    SE Wisconsin
    Blaine Music LLC
    Yeah but if by indie pop he means something like vampire weekend then the bass is actually doing a lot and it still serves the song...

    I say either try and play something that goes right with exactly what the drums do or stick to roots for now then revamp when there's a melody and do a sort of counter melody thing... when doing this I make sure to hear it in my head before I play it... either way make sure you can sing your part... or at least have it make sense if it was sung
  6. mutedeity


    Aug 27, 2007
    You know, the problem with questions like these is that to really answer them properly you have to almost give a course on theory. Learning modes alone isn't really the answer. What you need to learn about is how chords, scales, modes and so on relate to each other in context. You can "add" the chords together and come up with a relative scale to work with, or you can follow the chord tones, but there is really a bigger picture involved.

    Without going into a big lesson on theory I would tell you that maybe the best thing to do is to try humming the bass line and then try to apply it to what you play. Think about the tones of the relative chords as you go and think about the bigger harmonic and melodic context of all the notes you are playing.
  7. That's all awesome. Thanks a ton, I have a direction to go now. It's definately not just root fifth style music or I wouldn't have asked. It's very sparse and it's been requested that I fill it up a bit. So thanks a ton.
  8. DocBop


    Feb 22, 2007
    Los Angeles, CA
    You don't have a song if you don't have a melody. So you have to play the chords or if you have a recording listen and try to hear the possible melodies. You have the opportunity to create/shape the melody with your bass line.

    The chords are all from the key of C. The guitar riff notes don't mean a thing without the rhythm or chord(s) behind it.

    So at this point theory isn't going to do a lot for you, listen or play what you have and use your ear and voice to drive your decision making. Listen and sing ideas till you got something you like then pickup your bass and play what you sang.
  9. onlyclave


    Oct 28, 2005
    And by playing roots in Nirvana, that guy helped create a LANDMARK record and DEFINE an entire genre of music.

    Tell me, what has AC/DC, Olivia Newton John, Midnight Oil, INXS, and the BeeGees done besides maybe introduce people to asphyxiation?

    I rest my case.

    As a point of trivia since you brought up Nirvana, I saw them play as a four piece band in a little tiny place called Icky's Tea House in Eugene OR. They were supporting "Bleach".
  10. onlyclave


    Oct 28, 2005
    Sometimes it's what you don't play that has the most impact. The bass is conspicuous in it's absence.
  11. mutedeity


    Aug 27, 2007
  12. mutedeity


    Aug 27, 2007
    Sure, they could play the bass line to 4'33". But just the root notes. Less is more, just make sure you wear a neat Andy Warhol T-shirt.
  13. mutedeity


    Aug 27, 2007
    You know, in all seriousness, it's all well and good to say things like "forget modes and just play the root notes". On the other hand giving effective advice to me isn't really about supplying people with answers. Music is a subjective thing and each musician has their own take on things. Playing the root notes might be appropriate in some instances, in other instances it might be just uninteresting.

    Ironically, onlyclave has brought up AC/DC as an example of how Australian music is uninteresting. On the other hand those guys are doing exactly what he is advising, playing the root notes. In the context I would argue that it works, it's all a matter of opinion though.

    Giving people advice, as far as I am concerned is about telling people what the options are and letting them decide for themselves. If the advice given on this or any other forum is inadequate, then I would suggest that the onus is on the person seeking advice to find professional tuition or to do their own research in order to gain a more informed opinion on the subject.

    It's really not a matter of the right or wrong thing to do. It's a matter of finding out what can or has been done, the context of your options and then applying that information to your music making process.
  14. onlyclave


    Oct 28, 2005
    Hey Mute, are we friends now?

    Take a listen to AC/DC "You Shook Me All Night Long" and I think the bass player lays out for pretty much half the song. When he does come in on the chorus it has a lot more impact.
  15. Johnny StingRay

    Johnny StingRay

    Nov 24, 2006
    Just play around in the key of F major for the Fmaj7. Play in the key of C major for all the others, just play through the C major scale but start on D for Dmin7, E for Emin7. Don't worry about the mode names, just play through it. Oh, when you switch back to the Fmaj7, you may want to use a C7 to smooth the transition back to the key of F major. Well, whatever sounds cool.
    Most of the time I'm playing around with the chords using arpeggios, lead-in notes, modes, substitutions, etc. and really don't care what the key is. I figure the chord progression will lead me back to the key the writer wants to end the song on anyway.

  16. Martin Bormann

    Martin Bormann

    Sep 20, 2007
    The bassline to Zappa's version was better.
  17. mambo4


    Jun 9, 2006
    This was my initial response to the OP. I play "indie pop"(I guess) and what I'm doing with the bass is dictated largely by the vocals.
    More specifically, the busy-ness or intricacy of the bass line is generally confined to spaces between the vocal phrases and lead ins to verse/chorus/bridge changes.

    when the vocals are going, it's usually straight eights or quarters on the root, with rhythmically appropriate syncopation depending on the song.

    Sorry, I guess its not really useful advice w/out a melody...
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