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Questions about Chords

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by Solid-Body, Nov 20, 2002.


  1. Solid-Body

    Solid-Body Guest

    Nov 10, 2002
    Exiled to Australia
    Okay. I've searched for it but can't find any definite information.
    I'm really confused about the concept of chords.
    I know that, by rough definition, chords are three or more notes played simultaniously (sp). Pianos and guitars use them all the time. I get that part. I also understand generally they are made from notes in the same key, as in I-IV-7 intervals, for example. What I don't get is how they are applied to the bass guitar.
    Generally speaking, bassists don't usually play more than a single note (string) at a time. But I always hear about playing chord progressions and how important the difference between major and minor chords are and so forth. As far as I can tell, the bass player plays the root note of the chord, only. Maybe I'm mistaken, but I thought that was the purpose of the bass. What am I not understanding? (Obviously, I've mostly studied rock music, though I've had some training in jazz.)
    For example, if a guitarist plays all major chords: E, D, E, C; wouldn't the bassist play E, D, E, C notes? (I'm not sure I'm saying what I mean, as I'm not that versed in music theory.) Simply put, how do bassists use the concept of chord progression?
     
  2. moley

    moley

    Sep 5, 2002
    Hampshire, UK
    No, the bassist wouldn't necessarily just play the root of the chord. It depends on the style. In rock music, generally the bass player would play the root note when the chord changes, but would often play other notes in between, to link them together and form a proper line, that goes somewhere, instead of just a string of root notes. In Jazz, however, the bass player usually plays a walking line. Now, he'll probably play the root of the chord on the chord change - but where he goes in between, and how he gets to the next chord is up to him. So you see, the bass player needs to know the chords so that he can create a bass line that fits with the harmony.
     
  3. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    Moley has explained it, but this struck me as why people don't appreciate the innovations of players like Jaco Pastorius - he often played lines with no roots at all, but still outlining the chord changes.

    He says in his video how his "sound" was primarily about his note choices and I think that if you do know a lot about chords, as a bassist, you can change the overall "sound" considerably - in terms of not just playing roots and adding tonal "colours".

    For example, in the progression described in the opening post :

    EDEC

    As the bass player you could just play an E all the way through and it would give the progression a different "sound" - it sounds alright - just different - the chords moving over a static "pedal" is quite a nice "effect".

    Of course,when the chord is not E, then your E is not the root - so for the C chord it is the 3rd.
     
  4. moley

    moley

    Sep 5, 2002
    Hampshire, UK
    Indeed, very good point. When you know what you're doing you can think more about how your part fits into the whole arrangement harmonically, and with knowledge of chords and harmony you can know what bass notes you can put with chords to create certain effects - and with those chords you mentioned, using an E pedal is one such effect, as Bruce suggested.

    Bass players really do need to know about harmony, even if you're only playing one note at a time.
     
  5. Solid-Body

    Solid-Body Guest

    Nov 10, 2002
    Exiled to Australia
    Thanks for the info. That clarifies it much more. I didn't really mean that the bass only plays root notes, but now I have a better understanding of how chords apply to the bassist. I always figured chords don't apply to bass since they play single tones and the root of a major or minor is the same, so it did not matter. Guess I have some major studying to do. :)
     
  6. wulf

    wulf

    Apr 11, 2002
    Oxford, UK
    Not only that, but there's nothing in the rule book that says playing bass is only about playing one note at a time. If you play two low notes next to each other they will tend to sound off-puttingly muddy but throwing a bit more space between the notes can create some sweet sounds.

    For example, try A on the E string (5th fret) and C# on the A string (4th fret). That's root and third and should be a strong way of indicating a major chord... but it's a pretty thick sound. Now move the C# up an octave (G string, 6th fret) and you've got a root and tenth chord that is equally strong but a lot clearer sounding.

    Even when you're playing a monophonic bass riff, understanding chords can help you to see how it works. For example, one song I'm doing with Lovesjones has a bass line that goes (descending) A G F E D C (back up) D F. That fits against a Dm7 chord.

    If I highlight the key notes, that gives A G F E D C D F - Dm7 is 'spelt' D F A C and (repeating the same riff several hundred times ;) ) I'm effectively outlining the harmonic foundation that the rest of the band builds on.

    Wulf
     
  7. moley

    moley

    Sep 5, 2002
    Hampshire, UK
    An easy mistake to make! But, look at the bigger picture. The combination of the notes played by the whole band forms the harmony of the song. This includes the bass line, the chord voicings being played by the piano/keyboard and/or guitar, the notes/chords the singer(s) are singing, and anything else, like horn parts. What you are playing on bass forms part of the harmony of the piece. Think of a piano player - what he plays in the left hand is designed to complement what he's playing in his right hand, and when he plays he's thinking about both parts together, not as independant parts, and making them fit! Similarly, as the bass player you must think about how your part contributes to, and fits into, the harmony of the piece.
     
  8. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002
    UK
    Jaco, lines without roots and playing over chord changes... oh yeah :)

    The most obvious choice of root replacement would be the 5th I guess - easy apart from those niggly ol' b and # 5th's! - and 3rds are nice because they're very strongly min/maj.
    In one of our pop songs - we change from Emaj to Emin, I play root E, then drop a tone to the D - the min7th and back again... SO simple, so obvious, but in context great.

    The vast majority of line I create will use the root motion of the chord changes/progression. ...but every now and then I'll throw in a modal line.
    I've never been afraid to move away from the root motion, but knowing your modes/chords/key signetures is essential in creating this type of line with ease.
    It's great to be alble to lift a section of a song out from the rest, without changing key, or neccessarily playing anything "noticeable".

    I've found that learning and better understanding chords, major scale modes and the basic dominant-tonic resolve has helped me choose notes that really work with the song. So the leading tone I use to step into the first chord of the verse can really push the song there... or the last note of the verse
    can hold back - as if waiting for the change.

    Chord theory rules. And it's dead simple! :)
     
  9. JimK

    JimK

    Dec 12, 1999
    At a different site-
    A poster asked Billy Childs(Jazz pianist) "Among those you have played with, who had the best grasp of harmony"?
    Childs' reply: Buster Williams & Tony Dumas.
    Both are BASSISTS...I would guess both have only played a 4-string bass(both URB & electric) throughout their lenghty careers.

    All musicians oughta be keyboard/piano "friendly"(that doesn't mean "proficient" or even "competent", either). ;)
     
  10. moley

    moley

    Sep 5, 2002
    Hampshire, UK
    Yeah, definitely.
     
  11. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    Yes - the example I gave above on playing a pedal E through the chord sequence, is much easier to hear on a keyboard than if you are just trying to work this out on your bass alone.

    I'm sure that most people could hold down an E in the bass and then try how the various triads sound against it - even if you aren't a piano player.

    Seriously - it's easier than you think!
     
  12. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002
    UK
    i have a keyboard which i rarely play... i'm gonna give it bit of grief this weekend me thinks :)
     
  13. moley

    moley

    Sep 5, 2002
    Hampshire, UK
    Indeed - piano is one of the easiest instruments to just sit and and play, even if you've never played one before, or never been shown how. The notes are just all there, right in front of you! I would encourage anyone who plays any instrument to familiarise themselves with harmony using the piano.

    Though, I would say that, as I'm a pianist and the only reason I use TB for my secret undercover mission to convert all bass players to piano players. Damn! my secret is out! :eek: :D j/k