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Need a little help with bass scales over chords

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by DumbChild, Apr 13, 2009.

  1. When i first was taught to play i learned and practiced all my scales and studied my theory like there was no tomorrow.
    Soon after i got more into singing and piano and bass was just something i played in bands.
    I never really wrote music at the time and I forgot the majority of what i knew.
    I do recall the majority of my scale shapes. Normally when i "jam" with the band i normally play until i get something that sounds decent.
    But i'd prefer to have a better idea of what i'm doing or at least a guideline.

    I figure this is the point of knowing the scales anyway.

    So we'll say the guys are playing a dead simple progression..

    Lets say in the key of Gmajor

    So i know my G major scale shape as well as the pentatonic major scale and i can manage that chord fine.
    But when it comes to C, if i played the C major scale.. i'd end up with a natural F.. which would sound wrong in the key of G major. As with D, which i'd have an sharp C..

    So what scale would i play over the top of that?
    I thought maybe every time you play a "4th chord" you might use the lydian scale shape?

    Perhaps the pentatonic C major?

    This is where my theory fails me.. i'm really trying to understand but failing pretty hard lol.

    If anyone made any sense of that could they give me a hand, i haven't had much luck finding answers anywhere else..

    Sure there are sites which mention bassline construction but all deal with a single chord and you're in that key.. what i dont understand is what scale you use in chords not formed from the tonic of the key.

    Anyway, thanks in advance for any help. I know it's probably simple, but i have been trying to understand for hours and it's stressing me out to the max xD

  2. Splad


    May 8, 2008
    Sounds like a job for modes. So in your example, you would use the myxolydian C scale for that 4th chord (which is the fourth mode if I'm not mistaken), that is, as you already hinted at, you would need to use an F# instead of the natural F. The major pentatonic would work fine also.
  3. Ah i thank you.
    So the pentatonic scales works over most chords and that is why everyone talks about them as being the "must know" for improvising?

    So, which scale shapes are the most important to practice and memorize?

    (I always thoughy Lydian was the fourth, but my theory knowledge lets me down frequently so that's probably nothing to go by =P)

    Thanks again
  4. The Major scale (Ionian, 1st mode or root) and the Minor scale (Aeolian or the 6th mode) are probably the most popular from a "mode" perspective. You should know all 7 modes though.

    The Maj/Min Pentatonic and Arpeggio's are more patterns/scales that you will want to memorize as well.

    If you are in the key of G, you can only play the major scale on the root or the G and the minor scale on the 6th or the Em. You can play the maj/min pentatonic on any maj/min chord throughout the song.

    Hope this helps, but know the modes.

  5. Asher S

    Asher S

    Jan 31, 2008
    The Mixolydian mode is the V mode, not IV... Lydian is IV.

    Below is an older post of mine you might find of interest. To answer one of your questions, you can go a long way knowing just the I, II, and V modes, as well as the blues scale (minor pentatonic with a flat 5 added in). I also like to mesh the blues scale over the Dorian & Mixolydian for some added textures when improvising. Note that the Dorian and Mixolydian differ only by the 3rd (minor in Dorian, major in Mixolydian). It can be interesting shifting back and forth between major and minor 3rds.

    Start of older post:

    Learn about "chord-scale compatibility", i.e., the C major scale is the Ionian scale (I) C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C, ... the II scale in C major is the D Dorian scale (D-E-F-G-A-B-C-D), and so on with III (Phrygian), IV (Lydian), V (Mixolydian), VI (Aeolian), and VII (Locrian)

    Memorize all these scale patterns and practice shifting between them keeping in mind where you are relative to your root key (i.e. I, II, V, etc). Practice intervals, arpeggios etc across these scales, ascending, descending, also ascending on only 2 strings up 2 octaves, then descending down a different area of the fretboard. Hours of fun. PLUS, you'll see interval, harmony and chord patterns and relationships you may not have previously noticed.

    This is most easily seen in the chart below. I'm not a professional musician, so anyone more knowledgeable out there: please correct me if there's something wrong here.

    The Dorian pattern is offset to the left on purpose, because I want to remind myself to start with my second (index) finger for the Dorian scale. For all other patterns, if the first dot is in the bottom left position, start with the second (index) finger. If there's an open fret space left of the first dot, start with the 3rd (middle) finger. The reason for this is that if you follow this convention, then moving up or down a single string (rather than using the next string up or down) will always have the pattern continue 1 whole tone up from the last note in the 2 or 3-note section of the pattern... This makes it much easier to move around the fretboard with accuracy.


    End of older post.

    If you like that, then you can download these mp3's that I made last week, and practice improvising to a 12-bar blues progression in any key:
  6. Splad


    May 8, 2008
    Yeah you were right about lydian, I don't think I'll ever remember all the names of the modes in the right order. :smug: Sorry about that.
    I meant the one with the augmented fourth.
    Pentatonics always work because they leave out those notes that differ between the three major/minor modes, at least that's how I understand.
  7. chicagodoubler

    chicagodoubler Supporting Member

    Aug 7, 2007
    Chicago, that toddling town
    Endorsing Artist: Lakland, Genz Benz
    The progression you describe doesn't need 3 scales- all three fit within the home key. Many common progressions stick entirely within one key, or do with slight variation. In this case you can outline the individual chords, but everything lies easily in G major.

    Try alternating between G M pent, G major scale, and an occasional lick from the blues scale. Advanced improvisers are not hindered by scale limitations- jazz cats will even intentionally play something "wrong" for hipness'' sake.

    Perspective #2:

    Instead of worrying about scales, spend some time outlining the arpeggios of tunes you're working on, with inversions, rhythmic variations etc... this allows you to sound like you know what you're doing much quicker, because you're always hitting the "changes!" Add some notes in the middles and you're already playing the right scale all the time anyway.

    90% of improvisation errors happen from unintentionally playing non- chord tones on strong beats. 2cents.
  8. JTE

    JTE Supporting Member

    Mar 12, 2008
    Central Illinois, USA
    Your progression is clearly in the key of G so the G major scale works as the framework without having to learn any other scales at all. Why?

    A. Figure out what notes are in those three chords. I could tell you it's GBD, CEG, and DF#A, but if you don't know WHY, then you need to get back to the basics.

    B. Then you write out those notes in alphabetical order and you get A B C D E F# G. Shuffle 'em around to see what key it is, and you see the half step from F# to G, and a half step from B to C. Put those pairs of notes with in the W W H W W W H formula and you get the key of G.

    C. Now that you know the chord tones and the scale, you don't need to shift gears and change scales (i.e. modes) at all. The G major scale is the framework, and the chord tones are your targets for building the song. Yeah, you get to the same notes if you learn that it's G Ionian, C Lydian, and D Myxolydian. BUT, that really obscures the concept of those three chords not only being in, but defining a specific key. So I find for tonal music it's a lot better (i.e. easier, faster, less confusing, and way less cumbersome) to thnk in key centers.

  9. Thanks very much guys, that answered everything i was a tad confused about. I appreciate your input
  10. PaulNYC


    Apr 2, 2009
    New York, NY
    i got paid for a gig once.
    Try looking at this scale sheet for chords and scales together.

  11. onlyclave


    Oct 28, 2005
    Can someone write those out in TAB too?

  12. JTE

    JTE Supporting Member

    Mar 12, 2008
    Central Illinois, USA

    What "those"?

    If you mean the chord/scale charts linked in post #10, I can't imagne why TAB would do anything for you. If you can't find G A B C D E F G on the neck, then you gotta do some more background stuff before you start teaching your fingers to wiggle through a G mixolydian...

  13. I'm going to go way out on a limb here and guess that onlyclave was kidding....;)
  14. +1
  15. Asher S

    Asher S

    Jan 31, 2008

    Everyone learns in his/her own way... but if I may be so bold to suggest that at the most basic level, JTE, whether you realize or not, you are still thinking in patterns that are very similar, if not identical to a modal approach. It's still the same notes, same chord structures, same intervals, same W / H sequences etc.

    The truth is, some people (like me) can "see" better via modal pattern recognition (NOT obscured!), and some people (like you) via key centers. But I wouldn't be so bold to assume that one way is "easier, faster, less confusing, and way less cumbersome" for everyone... Vive la difference!
  16. It's true that results are what matter most. Still, I think it's possible to say that some teaching approaches may be generally more functional and effective than others. By analogy with technique, if we hear someone who plays great with "bad" technique, we acknowledge that they play great, but most of us, when teaching students, would still try to instill "better" technique.

    For the kind of harmony JTE was talking about, you can understand and apply theory at a deep and effective level without ever going near modes at all. You can talk Bach all day without ever mentioning the word mode. But I don't think you can really understand tonal harmony, or let's say functional harmony, with a modal approach alone, without understanding key center. You can do without modes, but not without key. This is why I would agree with JTE that focusing on key center is generally a preferable way of addressing this stuff. For nonfunctional harmony or modal stuff, the situation is different.

    JTE is eminently capable of speaking for himself, but I don't think the modal approach is identical with the key center approach. Terms like IV, V, and vi have no meaning unless you reference them to some tonal center. I mean, they literally have no meaning. My feeling is that focusing on modes in this way does obscure those relations.

    EDIT: something occurs to me. Wikipedia, of all things, makes what might be a useful distinction between "mode"--meaning a complete harmonic space defined in modal terms, as key is defined in major/minor terms--and "chord scale"--meaning the scale built on the root of whatever chord you happen to be playing. By this view, the two are NOT the same thing. For example, when you play the OP's progression, you would be in G major all the way. You would NOT be playing in the C lydian and D mixolydian modes, because you would not be truly functioning in any mode/key other than G major. However, you could be said to be playing C lydian and D mixolydian chord scales within the key of G major. By contrast, in the first 16 bars of "So What," you would be both playing in the mode of D dorian AND using a D dorian chord scale over the Dm7 chord. Mode and chord scale coincide here, but they're still not the same thing. I'm not fully convinced this distinction helps, but there it is anyway.
  17. Asher S

    Asher S

    Jan 31, 2008
    I disagree: it all depends on how one thinks about the modes and the intervals within each mode, that determines whether modes are illuminating or "obscuring", as JTE wrote. They're not just disjointed patterns to be memorized blindly. There are patterns within the patterns, somewhat like fractals. You can spot a minor 3rd or diminished 5th, or dominant 7 again and again, and seeing where all that happens relative to the key center in the context of the modes is a thing of beauty.

    It's similar to the periodic table of elements. You can memorize the whole thing and understand it at a very detailed level, but still miss out on the beauty of patterns in nature.

    RE: your edit... That only reinforces what I've been writing: We're just talking about different approaches toward the same set of notes/scales/intervals/chords etc... A rose by any other name...

    Also - in my first post of this thread, I described "chord-scale compatibility", so even more evidence that we're talking about the same concept...
  18. I'm sure we are talking about many of the same things, but I would still tend to apply Occam's razor here. As I said, in understanding functional harmony, you can in fact do without modes entirely, but you can't do without key. An approach that requires only one basic concept for a full explanation, for me, is generally preferable to one that requires two.

    My reservation about doing the whole G ionian, C lydian, D mixolydian thing for music that is readily explainable in functional harmonic terms without reference to modes at all is that I don't feel it adds anything in terms of explanatory power. You don't bring in any notes you didn't already have, and you don't need modes to explain what's going on if you know what harmonic movement within a key is about. It just seems to make things a tad more complicated than they need to be, almost like the old joke in which the "shortcut" to determining the number of cattle in a herd is to count the legs and divide by 4.
  19. Asher S

    Asher S

    Jan 31, 2008
    True... if the OP was asking about "functional harmony". But the OP was asking "So what scale would i play over the top of that?". In actually playing music, it is sometimes, for some people, easier to see & hear in patterns, i.e. chord scale compatibility.
  20. Fair enough, but even if the OP didn't ask in so many words, I do think it's helpful to point out that functional harmony, by whatever name, is what's happening here, and that the whole thing can be understood in terms of movement within a single key. As far as patterns go, the major scale that embodies the key is also a pattern, every bit as much as a chord scale. I doubt whether, as a general rule, thinking in terms of four chord scales is necessarily easier, more direct, or more accurate than thinking in terms of movement within one key.

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