Okay to fret an entire chord?

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by Stephen_C, Nov 13, 2017.

  1. Stephen_C


    Nov 13, 2017
    My first post. This is a total newbie question, but is it okay to fret an entire chord at once, or should you only fret one string at a time? Thank-you!
  2. Gorn

    Gorn Supporting Member

    Dec 15, 2011
    Queens, NY
    Yes. It's okay.
    Ant Illington and HolmeBass like this.
  3. hrodbert696

    hrodbert696 Moderator Staff Member

    Welcome to bass! It depends entirely on the song. You CAN, but normally you don't. Most songs have a "bass line" that runs one note at a time. Bass notes are low-frequency sounds and a lot of them at once can sound "muddy" and not very musical. But there are some solo bassists who play chordally all the time (look up Michael Manring or Federico Malaman), and apart from that if you listen closely you'll hear songs where occasionally the bassist uses a double-stop or chord for particular effect. Generally, though, trace a bass line THROUGH the chord one note at a time and let the guitarist do the strumming.
  4. Stephen_C


    Nov 13, 2017
    Thanks for the quick replies! I was really thinking of playing only one string at a time, but fretting a couple of strings at once. For instance, fretting a G chord and leaving the two strings fretted if I'm going to be playing notes in the G chord (one at a time) for several bars. Just seems like it would reduce the amount of left hand finger motion.
    hrodbert696 likes this.
  5. charlie monroe

    charlie monroe Gold Supporting Member

    Feb 14, 2011
    Buffalo, NY
    Watch your muting.
  6. SteveCS


    Nov 19, 2014
    Hampshire, UK
    I suppose it depends to some extent on your reach amd touch - if you can reach compound 5ths (4 frets) or 6ths (+13, 6 frets) then mud can be avoided, but +9ths (or 'sus2'), +11ths (or 'sus4') and compound 3rds (10th) can sound very nice and they require little reach.
    I rarely play full 4-note chords (ie all 4 strings ringing), but an example I do play is the instrumental break in Cindi Lauper's time after time, which covers compound 5ths, 9ths and 10ths but requires a light touch.
    IME a better approach to chords is to use harmonics, but that's a different topic...
    HolmeBass likes this.
  7. Zooberwerx

    Zooberwerx Gold Supporting Member

    Dec 21, 2002
    Virginia Beach, VA
    Double-stops are an effective way to outline a chord...usually incorporates the root and 3rd or 10th.

    Goatrope and SteveCS like this.
  8. lz4005


    Oct 22, 2013
    Yes, people do that all the time.
  9. Chicory Blue

    Chicory Blue Secretly Queen of the Moon Supporting Member

    If you're playing one string at a time and don't plan on changing chords any time soon, you're not committing any serious crimes by fretting, say, a whole triad. It comes with its own risks and rewards, though.

    As @charlie monroe said, watch your muting. That's probably the biggest issue in play here. An advantage of only fretting one note at a time is that your left hand can take care of a lot of the muting, while fretting multiple notes at once does open up the risk of leaving a string ringing, which is much more noticeable and generally much less desirable on bass. If you're going to play it that way, you may find it helpful to just rest your fingers in the appropriate place rather than fully fretting the strings and only pressing down when playing the desired note, then releasing pressure to mute the note when you're finished.

    There's also the issue that chord shapes can be more complicated and exaggerated on bass due to the scale, and getting into the habit might decrease your overall agility when transitioning chords. At the very least, you'll want to get used to fretting one note at a time, as you'll often need to. Usually bassists in pursuit of economy of style master scale shapes to reduce hand shifting, not chord shapes to reduce finger movement entirely. While chord tones are your bread and butter, you'll find few songs live on bread alone, and you'll want those sedentary fingers to at least be emotionally prepared for the fact that they might have to get up and do stuff.

    That said, there are times when your method is more efficient- in a "just roots and fifths/octaves" kind of line, for example, there's no reason your fingers can't at least rest in the spots they're going to play. It saves some energy and trouble.

    I'd say if you're comfortable with it, then work it in when you can or when you need to, but be prepared for the fact that it's not always going to be your best option, and don't be afraid to use more mobile techniques to keep up with your responsibilities. Your method is but one of many tools in the box!

    Guitarrorist, Ewo, JACink and 3 others like this.
  10. Son of Wobble

    Son of Wobble

    Mar 8, 2010
    Nicely articulated. Your writing is especially sharp this time of day. You should definitely work on that novel early mornings.
    MYLOWFREQ and Chicory Blue like this.
  11. BassBrass


    Jul 6, 2009
    Boston MA
    2 note chords are clear in the middle to high register. More usually aren't. All you Need is two, the root and the interval be it fourth, fifth, 3rd, minor third, tri-tone. Double stops with a string in the middle are where the octave lives, chords that are next to the octave, and double stops from the E to G string are very effective because the tones are in different registers and both stand out. One of the coolest uses is a 3rd up from the octave, the 10th, using the E and G strings, but fingering, for instance, E and F# and it's movable! like in molto famoso but it's also done like this w
    hich I didn't know
    comatosedragon likes this.
  12. Ductapeman

    Ductapeman Ringmaster and Resident Geriatric Gold Supporting Member

    Feb 7, 2016
    The West Pole
    I started life as a drummer, but I got better
    There really isn't any "right" or "wrong," there's only what tickles your ear-- which also explains the answer to why there is room for the Mahavishnu Orchestra, the Berlin Philharmonic and the Who, all under the collective name of Music-- just figure out how to make it work, and you'll figure out the rest as you go. Like anything else you start bad, and get better the more you do it. The only way to get worse is to quit.
    jamro217, gebass6 and el_Bajo_Verde like this.
  13. Chicory Blue

    Chicory Blue Secretly Queen of the Moon Supporting Member

    Thank you! I do my best work at inappropriate hours.

  14. stringthrough

    stringthrough Supporting Member

    It can be done but you must have excellent touch and control as well as an accommodating tone dialed up.

  15. micguy


    May 17, 2011
    The lower you go in frequency, the further apart the chord notes have to be to avoid having mud from beat notes (the difference frequency between the two notes you're playing). In general, if I'm playing a root note on the e or a string, I can play an octave above, and it's cool. But a fifth above, it's dicey. The reason for this is that a fifth is 1.5 times the frequency of the lower note, so, if the open e string is 41 Hz, a fifth above it is 61.5, and the difference (where the beat note will be if you play both is...20.5Hz - one octave below the low E. Very few rigs will handle that well. Playing an octave, the upper note is twice the lower note, so the low e is 41 Hz, the ocatve up is 82 Hz, and the difference frequency is...41 Hz (same freq as the low e) - that's why octave alwas work OK.

    Once I get up to the D string, though, fifths are fine - you're up an octave or so, so the difference frequencies are high enough that your rig will handle them fine.

    If you go up the neck a ways, you can get away with fifths on the A string - it's the absolute frequencies that cause the issue, not the string per se.
    Grumpynuts likes this.
  16. Chicory Blue

    Chicory Blue Secretly Queen of the Moon Supporting Member

    OP is referring to fretting the chord and playing single notes, not sounding the actual chord, coolcats. :p

    Still, excellent info on chordal playing here.

    Whousedtoplay and Lobster11 like this.
  17. pcake

    pcake Supporting Member

    Sep 20, 2011
    Los Angeleez
    i play chords on the bass all the time. and sometimes i'll play one string at a time but hold the chord because it feels right.
    bobba66 and OOD like this.
  18. lz4005


    Oct 22, 2013
    OP is asking about arpeggiating a chord without moving your left hand, not playing all the notes at once.
  19. hrodbert696

    hrodbert696 Moderator Staff Member

    Ah, I see better what you're saying. The answer is...

    Efficiency of motion is worth cultivating, which seems like it's basically what you're talking about. It's good practice to keep your fretting-hand fingertips on or near the strings, and in the positions where you'll need them if it isn't too taxing. That both helps you get to notes efficiently (without flying fingers) and has your fingers in position to mute as you need them.

    You probably don't need to worry so much about the chord shape, though, as just hand position. For instance, if the chord is G and the guitarist is strumming a G chord, if you position your hand with the middle finger at the 3rd fret (G on your E string) and your other fingers appropriately place (one-finger-per-fret if you like, or I would prefer 1-2-4), you'll pretty much be in place to play any bass lines under that chord. You don't need to have your index finger preset at the B (2nd fret on the A string) specifically.
  20. EDIT -- Chicory Blue reminded us you were asking; "is it OK to form the chord and sound one note at a time". I missed that and the following deals with cordal bass where we do strum. Most of us do not do what you asked about in your OP. Moving on..... to what could be done.

    Yes it's OK to fret an entire chord all at once, you will have a problem with the 3 and 5 as they are on the same string and you will have to allow for this. Mud will also come into the picture when strumming the bass. Plus...........

    ..... Chordal bass is a whole World unto itself and normally comes after years of playing one note at a time bass lines, i.e. R-3-5-7 or the tried and true R-5 or R-5-8-5.

    As we do not normally play chordal bass we are not strumming several strings at one time -- so fretting the string with the tip of our finger, as the guitarists do is really not necessary. Using the pad of our finger accomplishes several things.

    Using the pad our wrists fall into a "normal position" and wrist pain is eliminated if done correctly.
    Using the pad ends up muting the strings below the note you are sounding, thus helping with string buzz and or rattle.

    As you said your question "is a total newbie question" I would suggest you spend some time with the one finger per fret method using the major scale box as a generic pattern that can be taken up and down your fretboard as needed. For example:

    Major scale box showing scale degree numbers
    and the root note on the 4th string.
    G~~|---2---|-------|---3---|---4---| 1st string
    E~~|-------|---R---|-------|---2---|4th string
    The Cmaj7 chord is coming up in the song. Find a C
    note on your fretboard. How about the one on the 4th
    string 8th fret. Then play the spelling for a maj7 chord,
    which is R-3-5-7. Right at first be happy with roots to
    the beat. When that flows add the 5. Roots and fives
    will keep you in the game for several years. I like the
    generic R-5-8-5 as a groove bass line, help yourself.

    My point; don't worry about chordal bass right now there is plenty to learn using just one note per beat bass lines. Here are some scale and chord spellings you will want to get into muscle memory:

    Major scale = R-2-3-4-5-6-7-8
    Natural minor scale = R-2-b3-4-5-b6-b7-8
    Major triad = R-3-5
    Minor triad = R-b3-5
    Diminished triad = R-b3-b5
    Major seven chord = R-3-5-7
    Minor seven chord = R-b3-5-b7
    Diminished seven chord = R-b3-b5-b7​

    Do scales first. Why? It'll get your fingers moving between strings and up an down your fretboard. Run your scales till you can do them in your sleep. Chord tones next. Why? Chord tones are what we play 95% of the time. Sure roots and fives, but, that still leaves the 3's and 7's should you want to fill out a chord. The 6 is nice, however you do not see that many chords using the 2 & 4 so let's leave them for later. The 2 & 4 as passing notes would be OK, just do not start or stop on them if doing chord tones.

    Good luck. Welcome to our World.

    Last edited: Nov 14, 2017
    Whousedtoplay likes this.

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