Not Playing the Root Note

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by PaulyJK, Nov 1, 2011.

  1. Hi, First Post Newbie!

    I've heard that when there are chord changes about 99% of the time the root is played. I think I remember learning that when chords are ascending or descending it's possible to play a note in between the two chords' roots. If I'm making sense can someone push me in the right direction. Thanks!
  2. Art Araya

    Art Araya

    May 29, 2006
    Palm Coast, FL
    General Guidelines

    - Root notes are your bread and butter.
    - You can add other chord tones now and then as well. The 5th and the 3rd are the most common. But on the first beat of the measure you normally want to stick with the root.
    - You can connect two chords by using approach tones or passing tones. These can be diatonic (scalar) or chromatic.

    If you're a total newbie then several points in here will require further explanation and exploration.
  3. Art Araya

    Art Araya

    May 29, 2006
    Palm Coast, FL
  4. DBCrocky


    Oct 18, 2011
    Cary, NC
    Playing the root note of the current chord is always safe. But you can play any note in the chord. The next most common is the fifth. Then either the maj 3rd or the min 3rd, depending on if the chord is major or minor.

    Usually, you want to play your chord tone on the one. (Meaning, if your counting 1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and...). Then in between ones, you can do more interesting things, working your way back to a chord tone for the next one.

    These are only rules of thumb, a starting point, but not absolute. For instance, a good trick for reggae is to be silent on the one.
  5. Thanks for replying. I've got a general understanding of music theory. (I've played guitar for a few years, then decided to switch to bass a few months ago) I'm just pretty sure I heard that on the first beat of a new chord it's possible to not play the root note and get it to sound good. Thanks for any future replies.
  6. Stick_Player

    Stick_Player Inactive

    Nov 13, 2009
    Somewhere on the Alaska Panhandle (Juneau)
    Endorser: Plants vs. Zombies Pea Shooters
    A chord has ONLY one root (let's not get into the silly discussion that full-diminished chords don't - more later if that needs to be explained).

    I am thinking that you are referring to Inversions. Example: C7 (C, E, G, Bb):

    Root position: C, E, G, Bb
    First inversion: E, G, Bb, C
    Second inversion: G, Bb, C, E
    Third inversion: Bb, C, E, G

    The notes you are probably asking about are the non-chord tones - D, F, A in this example, assuming the key of F. These can also be called Passing-Tones.

    One can also 'insert' chromatic passing-tones, that are also non-chord tones. C#, D#, F#, G# or the enharmonic flat label Db, Eb, Gb, Ab.

    Where and when to use these is beyond the scope of a quick reply. But usually chord tones are on the beat (or strongest beat - ex: 1 and 3 in 4/4) and the non-chord tones on the upbeat or weak beats (2 & 4).

    These are ONLY GENERAL guidelines, as there are plenty of exceptions.
  7. Art Araya

    Art Araya

    May 29, 2006
    Palm Coast, FL
    Certainly you can play a chord tone other than the root on the first beat of a measure. I gave you general guidelines guaranteed to work for a newbie.

    All the rules can go out the window if you know what you are doing, have good ears, and are musical. Too many new players that don't have these skills try to ignore the guidelines and their bass lines and the foundation of the song suffers. If you approach the bass like a guitar, the band will suffer.

  8. beggar98


    Jan 23, 2007
    Los Angeles, CA
    What kind of music are you playing?
  9. jmattbassplaya


    Jan 13, 2008
    I typically stick to the root note on the 1, but for measures where I'm doing a run I often like to start on another chord tone.
  10. DBCrocky


    Oct 18, 2011
    Cary, NC
    It really depends on the effect you want to create.

    Playing the root gives the more "right" sound.

    Playing the fifth still sounds harmonically right but different - it's a really good alternative.

    Other chord tones will still fit.

    If you want to be more advanced, you can add tones to expand the chord. For instance, if the guitar player playes a major C chord, and you play a Bb, you've created the effect of a dominant 7th chord.

    Or you can go even further away from the chord to create dissonance and tension.

    Don't forget the option of being silent!

    So the real answer is you can play anything. It all depends on what effect you are trying to create musically.
  11. IF it's OK to take a different approach.

    There are some Great vocal harmony CDs.. they commonly will have melodic counter melodies... Unfortunately many times this may be 3-R-R etc...

    The safe rule is to sing it out first... If the harmony is off... your bass line will be too.
  12. I agree.

    A really good place to hear what the bass should be doing to support the song is in the blues. Tommy Shannon is a master of note choices. Listen to him support Stevie Ray Vaughan in any live clip on youtube. He moves outside the the Root-3rd-5th when it makes sense to.

    They key to being a good bassist is to serve the song.
  13. That's what I was thinking of...just couldn't remember it!
    Thanks for all the help.

    Now, time to get funky!
  14. I think you missed the apostrophy. Chord's (apostrophy leading the S) means belonging to ONE chord. Chords' (apostrophy following the S) means belonging to more than one chord, i.e. two or more.

    He wasn't implying that a chord has more than one root. He was speaking of the root note in 2 different chords. :)
  15. fdeck

    fdeck Supporting Member Commercial User

    Mar 20, 2004
    Madison WI
    HPF Technology LLC
    I solemnly swear to play the root, the whole root, and nothing but the root, so help me Dusty Hill. :D
  16. Stick_Player

    Stick_Player Inactive

    Nov 13, 2009
    Somewhere on the Alaska Panhandle (Juneau)
    Endorser: Plants vs. Zombies Pea Shooters
    I believe he was satisfied with my music theory help. But thanks for addressing the grammar issue, I'll forward it over to :D
  17. conttador


    Jun 10, 2010
    San Antonio, TX
    I learned that for repeating chords, that is chords that repeat themselves over two or more bars; on the even bars you are encuraged to start on the 5th. I am a wannabe jazzer and for the longest time I would always start on the tonic, or root, of each chord repeating or not.

    What I found was that my walking bass lines just did not walk, if that makes any sense. In essence what I was taught was to think of those repeating chords as 8 note (or two bar) phrases as opposed to my initial approach which was 4 note (or one bar) phrases.

    If you practice this, listen to the "effect" starting on the 5th has on your lines. What you eventually want to be able to do is play a specific "effect" at will. This takes practice, lots of it. Great bassists are always bars or measures ahead in thinking, actually hearing, what they will play.

    If you are new, this should help you, specially if you are improvising your own lines, this will keep your playing from sounding repetitive, ie like a broken record. Once you learn this approach you can get into slightly more complicated substitutions and turnarounds.

    I know someone asked what style of music you are playing and my approach is quite common in jazz but I don't see why it would not work with other styles. Lastly, if you want to really get into this stuff I strongly recommend Jamey Aebersold methods, a good one to start with is Volume 2, Nuthin but Blues.
  18. Mesa


    Mar 20, 2008
    Holly Springs NC
    Umm, I love it when people feel compelled to correct grammar and have trouble spelling while they do it.

    It's spelled apostrophe.

    TB Spelling Dept
  19. 1958Bassman


    Oct 20, 2007
    Spelling is a lost art. For some, it's a catastrophey.:bag:
  20. 251


    Oct 6, 2006
    Metro Boston MA
    Part of your job as a bassist is to outline the music for the rest of the band, using reference tones. Root on the downbeat is a reference tone. If the chord doesn't change for 4 or 8 bars, perhaps you start with the root & play it again every other bar. Music is creative, so YRMV.

    The bass player has many roles in a band. Get to know them all, which your band mates need/want & which they find less important. FWIW, asking bandmates what they like is no substitute for listening to how they play in response to what you do. Bassists need big "ears".
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    Primary TB Assistant

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