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The Major Fourth

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by mrbell321, Apr 6, 2015.

  1. mrbell321


    Mar 26, 2012
    N. Colorado
    So, this is going to be a convoluted question, maybe...
    When improv-ing, I use major fourth's alot, primarily because it is convenient to hit. I could hit the third instead, but it's a bit more of a reach, so I play cleaner on the fourth. I've read around online and I see focus on other degrees:
    Most common: 1/root
    2nd most common: 5th
    3rd: Octave
    4th: the third
    5th: 6th or 7th
    then maybe the 9th? or 13th?

    The fourth doesn't ever seem to come up. I don't know that I ever play it emphasized, but I guess my question is...
    how common are fourths in your bassline and do you use them as anything other than passing notes?
  2. Lee Moses

    Lee Moses

    Apr 2, 2013
    Just to nitpick, it's technically called a perfect 4th--there is no such thing as a major 4th. As far as when improvising, I don't think too much about intervals per se. I think about relationships within the key and within the particular chord I'm in at the moment. But essentially a perfect 4th performs the same function as a 5th, just reversed. If you are playing a simple root-5th bassline, for example, you can grab the 5th a perfect 5th above or you can grab it a perfect 4th below. When resolving from the V to the I, you can go a perfect 5th below, but going a perfect 4th above accomplishes the same thing.
  3. mrbell321


    Mar 26, 2012
    N. Colorado
    Ah yeah. about the "major 4th" I was trying to indicate "perfect 4th over a major chord". This is as opposed to the perfect 4th over a minor chord, which is in the minor pentatonic scale and pretty common.

    But that's an interesting way to think about it in an above-vs-below context. I'll have to noodle on that a bit.
  4. Lee Moses

    Lee Moses

    Apr 2, 2013
    Ah, okay, I get you. That would typically be referred to as the 11th. It's not a chord tone, it's a tension, so as the 2nd above the octave is called the 9th, the 4th is called the 11th. And it is a big no-no over a major chord, except as a diatonic passing tone. Oftentimes the lydian scale will be implemented to have the #11 available over a major chord.
    bholder, basslayer, Need Gigs and 2 others like this.
  5. mrbell321


    Mar 26, 2012
    N. Colorado
    That's something I've never understood... The interval and scale degree is a "4th", but suddenly, when talking about a chord, it becomes an 11th. Can you explain the reasoning for that? or point me somewhere that explains it? I've read about it some and the best conclusion I can come up with is "chord tones are odd numbered"
  6. mambo4


    Jun 9, 2006
    the 4th is not necessarily a "big no-no". Just listen to any country or folk walking bass line.

    (assuming we are playing a major scale over a major chord)
    The reason The 4th is often considered and "avoid note" is because
    it clashes directly with a chord tone (the 3rd)

    for example C major the 4th is F
    the C major chord is C E G
    F clashes directly with the E in this context.

    the reason "4th" becomes "11th" has to do with the way chords are built by stacking every other note in the scale
    if you do that with the 7 scale tones , adding an octave when needed,
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 becomes 1 3 5 7 9 11 13
    there are no chord tone beyond the 13

    there are Sus 2 and sus 4 chords as well as 6th chords, but
    the implication with 9,11, & 13 is that those higher notes are indeed in the upper octave
    and that they are backed by a 1 3 5 7 -(a flat 7 unless otherwise noted)
    so C 11 implies C E G Bb F

    this also puts an octave between E and F making the clash less unpleasant

    although, as noted , an unmodified 11 is rare; it is typically a #11
  7. Lee Moses

    Lee Moses

    Apr 2, 2013
    Umm, yeah. As a diatonic passing tone, as I said. You won't find country or folks basslines playing a 2-feel "root-4th" line.
    bholder and Roadstar like this.
  8. Groove Master

    Groove Master

    Apr 22, 2011
    Author of Groove 101, Slap 101 and Technique 101
    A lot of modal tunes and 70's rock basslines are based on that sound:
    Maiden Voyage, Come Together, Taxman, Devil haircut by Beck,etc...
  9. The 4th as well as the 2nd are considered good passing notes. Why? The other guys have touched on the why. Use them just do not start or stop on them, keep them passing.

    If the chord tones are the 1-3-5-7-8 of a scale the 11 is just the 4 in the next octave. OK what about the notes that have been left out of the chord tone? Like the 2-4-6? Yes. They make good passing notes. Keep them passing and they will slide by and add to your phrasing. Don't call attention to them, keep them passing and they can be used.

    Mark's new video speaks about those passing notes. He gets to this around 15:00 in the video.
    Last edited: Apr 6, 2015
    BoydG, Buzz E and Gospel Bass Player like this.
  10. mrbell321


    Mar 26, 2012
    N. Colorado
    So that's interesting, and I've never heard it stated that the 11th is typically higher. In fact, one page I read, or lesson I saw on youtube, the takeaway was that above 8 the scale wraps around and so 11 is literally exactly the same as 4, but just a different type of vocabulary. I guess you get what you pay for!

    Anyway, given that the idea is to avoid clashing of 2 notes a semitone apart(which I totally get), here's where I think a 4 in a bassline may work in any place an 11th might work: Generally, notes on the bass are going to be an octave(or more) below the guitar. So there should be little chance of a G2 clashing w/ the F#3 of a D major on the guitar. Right?
    Keyboards, pianos or some other large range instrument would be different... luckily my band doesn't have one of those... :)
  11. mambo4


    Jun 9, 2006
    An arguably true statement, in some context.
    And weather it makes more sense to call it 11 or 4,
    or if it sounds good or bad, is dependent context.

    The basic rule of thumb for extensions is : don't clash with the melody note
    If the F#3 is lead melody note and not just some chord tone, best to avoid it.

    Ultimately, the only rule is if it sounds good, it is good.
  12. Whousedtoplay


    May 18, 2013
    Besides walking bass lines, I've found that the 4th note of a Major scale is the most demanding/"choosy" note for bass for me. Yes, I use it but I need to be careful WHEN (on what Beat/off-beat) and HOW (check with the melody and if it's a 4th or a 11th) to use it.

    It's that one note that always wants to change the chord.

    I could never imagine that "Groove Master" would like Beck ???
    (I'm not talking about Geoffrey Arnold "Jeff" Beck - a rock guitarist.)

    I think in Beck's song, the chord also changes with the 4th in Bass.

    Groove Master likes this.
  13. joebar


    Jan 10, 2010
    I have a hunch bout 4ths.

    of all the diatonic chords, the 4th chord seems to be the furthest way from the tonic; all the other chords can be explained away to relate somehow to the tonic. the 4 seems to be the exception.
    for example-
    the 3rd is a sub of the tonic.
    the 2nd likes five which likes 1.
    the 7 can be a sub for 5 which likes 1.
    the 6 can be a sub for 1.

    the 2 can sub for 4 but still.

    I don't know how to explain it, but it just seems logical that 4 takes you furthest away from the tonic before resolving.
    having said that, it is a very important chord in songwriting.

    as a passing note, I tend to not use 4's a lot in my lines. its too angular of a sound.
    4's are very common as a sus chord used in the plagal cadences which resolve to 3.
  14. Groove Master

    Groove Master

    Apr 22, 2011
    Author of Groove 101, Slap 101 and Technique 101
    LOL, I love Beck!
    There is actually an exercise in Groove 101 based on that tune ;-)

    Also about the PERFECT FOURTH, that note is a target note(chord tone) on suspended chords like these: C11, C7sus4, Bb/C, Gmin7/C for example
    StinkFoot and Whousedtoplay like this.
  15. tfer


    Jan 1, 2014
    The 4th is known as the 'Avoid' note in a Major scale. The 6th is the 'Avoid' note in a Minor scale. They are called that because by playing those notes, you're actually implying an entirely different chord.

    Cmaj is C, G, and E. Playing (and sitting on) the F implies an Fmaj7 9 chord.

    Amin is A, C and E. By adding the 6th degree (F), you are implying Fmaj7.
    vin*tone likes this.
  16. I'd use it only as a passing note in the context of the song style. The "clash" gives movement to the bassline. Sometimes it sounds good, sometimes it sounds too busy, and sometimes it totally changes the style of the song.

    I would be careful because sometimes if I dwell too long on any passing note, it could basically change the chord. So if I was playing a D major chord on guitar, and added a "G" for the bass (D/G), it can also be viewed as a Gmaj9 (omitting the 3rd - B note). I guess the same applies to adding a 6th to a minor chord, but in the end it's all context of the song.

    My concern is more about you not hitting the 3rd because it's a reach. I shift my fretting hand in anticipation of the next note, so sometimes I'll be playing the Root Note with my middle finger so I can play the major-3rd with my index-finger on the next string up. Sometimes I'll play the Root Note with my Pinky to play the major-3rd three frets down on the lower string. That way most of the notes are within a four finger-each-fret reach.
  17. Reverend T

    Reverend T

    Mar 26, 2012
    What I don't get is how you justify using the fourth. It is not a musical choice. It is a limitation because the third is 'more of a reach'.

    Aren't you using one finger per fret? The third would be played with your index. That's the most comfortable note to play. Even if you play a perfect fourth it is one fret below..slide or the fifth is whole tone above... Hammer on and resolve on it? Either way you should be working on your left hand and whatever bite you choose should be a musical choice not an easier note to reach.
  18. tfer


    Jan 1, 2014
    A Dorian - A, C, E - 6th is F# - F# Minor b5
    A Phrygian - A, C, E - 6th is F - Fmaj7
    A Aeolian - A, C, E - 6th is F - Fmaj7
    A Locrian - A, C, Eb - 6th is F - F7
    A Harmonic Minor - A, C, E, 6th is F - Fmaj7
  19. mrbell321


    Mar 26, 2012
    N. Colorado
    Hogwash! :)

    Depending on where on the neck I'm playing OFPF just isn't going to happen.
    But it's fair enough that a choice should be musical, not easier. How do you justify saying the fourth isn't musical? The entire western system of music is based on the major scale which contains the fourth.
  20. Reverend T

    Reverend T

    Mar 26, 2012
    I mean it is physical and not musical approach to playing. I don't mean the fourth isn't a musical choice when used consciously but here it is done because the note reach is easy and not because the melody or the feel you are aiming for demands it.

    I agree it is tricky to reach a third or fifth in certain positions but no matter what position you are in... You can either slide down to the third or hammer on the fifth or both and use the fourth as a passing note. Now you have two added options (and easy on the fingers).

    Like it has been said before, a major chord doesn't have the fourth in the triad so I would be wary about staging the fourth but there might be a way to make it work in certain contexts, your ears need to be the judge of that.

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