What are good ways to approach playing over chords?

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by Poor Tom, Jan 5, 2009.

  1. Poor Tom

    Poor Tom Guest

    Apr 12, 2008
    Palm Harbor, Florida
    I jam a lot with a couple of guitarists, and they will usually throw out some chord progessions for us to jam over. I can't for the life of me figure out the best way to play over the chords to create a fluid good sounding bass line. I seem to default to the roots.

    I know a decent enough amount of theory to be able to know what notes make up the individual chords, but I am not very good at picking the right time to use them.

    Should I try to always play the root on the first beat of the chord? I feel like I am always playing catch up and whenever I try to expand outside of the root, I just play the same boring chord arpeggios and don't seem to easily flow into the next chord.

    I notice that I am able to come up with decent bass lines when I am at home and don't think about chords or any sort of progession, but when there is a progession it is much harder for me to create something rhythmically interetings that connects and outlines the chords well.

    I need help!:bawl::help:
  2. EADG mx

    EADG mx Guest

    Jul 4, 2005
    Maybe you're thinking too much. I used to spend a lot of time looking for music that I didn't need. A lot of the time there are great basslines under your fingers already. Simple isn't bad. Roots aren't bad.
  3. Fetusyolk

    Fetusyolk Guest

    Aug 7, 2008
    i find that figuring out the progression without seeing or hearing it vocally helps creativity flow much easier. for instance when jamming i avoid looking at the fretboard of the guitarist, and dont ask him the progression. I figure out whats going on with my ear and let my hands do the talking.
  4. phxlbrmpf

    phxlbrmpf Guest

    Dec 27, 2002
    What's the chord progression? The fact that some chord progressions are hard to work with and are make it difficult to come up with a bass line with smooth movements is something we have to live with. Of course you can (and should) try alternate bass notes but in my experience, finding places where they actually sound good and "work" isn't easy. If you've found the right place to use them, your next step is making sure that they don't clash with what the other instruments are playing and telling your band members to adjust what they're playing accordingly if needed. If you've tried everything and the bass line is still kind of jumpy, don't panic, you can still try passing notes, arpeggios or notes from the scale to link the chords together. (This is not to say this is always needed, though. Sometimes the intervals between the chords is what makes certain chord progressions interesting and you will take away from their effect by smoothing them out.)

    This may sound redundant, but the best approach (in my opinion) is to start with something simple and just following the roots and the rhythm. After a while, try adding "extra" notes and start experimenting.
  5. Bofee

    Bofee Guest

    Aug 19, 2005
    Grass Valley, CA
    I've know guitarists to freak out if they don't hear the bass hit the root at every chord change.
  6. Poor Tom

    Poor Tom Guest

    Apr 12, 2008
    Palm Harbor, Florida
    thanks for the tips guys. Luckily I play with guitarists that let me do my own thing, and could care less if I hit the root at every change. We are all here to create music and most importantly to express ourselves, after all.
  7. StyleOverShow

    StyleOverShow Still Playing After All These Years Gold Supporting Member

    May 3, 2008
    Eugene Oregon
    Try leading the ear to the next chord by using the 'theory' notes. So for a simply example, the progression is C to Bflat: C-E-G-A; Bb-Ab-F-G. The A leads the ear up to the Bb (which is actually 1 whole step lower), and the G is the 5th of the C chord, etc.

    The other thing is to make it rhythmically interesting. Keep the downbeat of 1 on the root and play the eighth notes on the 3rd beat for instance (1-2-3 and-4). Rudimentary, but you get the idea.

  8. edgewise


    Feb 23, 2007
    What I'm about to say might seem strange, but go listen to some reggae music.

    A lot of reggae (e.g., rock steady) has really simple bass lines that are easy to play.

    When your friends throw out a progression, lay down some fat bassline.They won't be disappointed.

    If you need a little help with it, Ed Friedland's reggae bass book is good stuff.
  9. You could just take it step by step. First, just play along on the roots. Then, find a spot or two where you can add a walkup or walkdown to the next root. Then find a spot or two where can alternate between a root and a fifth, etc., then add a root in a different octave, etc. Pretty soon you've got a much more interesting bassline.
  10. Beyer160


    Dec 20, 2008
    When I'm jamming, I usually garbage riff off 5ths and octaves until I can come up with a good line. While my hands are noodling around the 5th/octave "box", I'm trying to sing a bassline in my head, then I find it on the fretboard. I'm kind of an idiot savant (emphasis on "idiot") player, though- I know very little theory, I just come up with bass melodies and play them.
  11. DudeistMonk

    DudeistMonk Guest

    Apr 13, 2008
    Newark, NJ
    This is a question that still plagues me, although some things are making it easier...

    Learn functional harmony, so that you know which chords are likely to come after each other.

    Study progressions intimately - I've only just started this process but by meticulously learning all the "theory" notes around say a ii V I progressions and trying to create different style lines I've begun to unlock a new fretboard perspective, I've got a quite a few more progressions to go but they get easier.

    Practice going low - by this I mean use the low 5th instead of a high 5th ext. It took me a little while to start thinking in "2D" I was thinking in chords so I only saw the chord shapes from the root up. After practicing my arpeggios going down and then back up I'm seeing more options for lines.

    Try thinking of chord tones as notes from the key (if the song is diatonic/mostly diatonic) So for a I-IV (C-F) progression you could think of C as the root and F as the forth tone in the C major scale. Then as long as you hit your chord roots (C and F) on the 1 you can just play what sounds good to you in C maj.
  12. If you know a decent amount of theory and you find yourself getting stumped while jamming what you need is some ideas as a starting point to help you build a bass line. Think of it as a jumping off point to get to the next chord.

    Look up terms like "scale approach", "chromatic approach" and "dominant approach"

    Simply having these terms in your head (and knowing what they are) will help you get ideas for an actual bass line.

    Playing roots on the down beats. There are no rules, but the type of music you play may play a big part on "the right notes" to play. If you're playing rock, blues, or something where a chord progression needs an obvious outline it may be your job to do that. Other times playing a note in that chord (other than the root) will add tension which leads that chord perfectally to the next chord. Your call, really.
  13. ondaone

    ondaone Guest

    For me it depends on what we are doing, if were just jamming with no real structure I tend to keep it easy like and keep the sounds moving, sticking to a root 4,5,8 type area and with that most guitar players I have jammed with will have no problem stepping back when you want to solo a bit to show your chops,

    If we are writing and working on a song then I am going to spend a bit more time writing a good line that I like and sounds good, or I will just simply try to find tones that suit the song, for example we have a female singer and her and the guitar player wrote a nice bluesy jazzy number very smooth, he wanted me to play a line that almost copied what he was playing, and it was fun to play , I listen to the tape and thought it was too busy so I tried it with just letting the roots ring out over the chords and it sounded very smooth and suited the song,

    I just made a bass fretless and I think it will suit it even better and make it a bit more fun to play with some slides in ther but generally a real basic line that works, I will give it try next practice

    So we are sticking with that a basic line, its not fancy finger flying fret work but it suits what we are doing and to me that is the most important to me,

    just my thoughs
  14. EADG mx

    EADG mx Guest

    Jul 4, 2005
    Playing the root is never a bad idea, and it certainly doesn't make you less of a bass player to do your job (which is usually to provide the root)
  15. greenboy


    Dec 18, 2000
    remote mountain cabin Montana
    greenboy designs: fEARful, bassic, dually, crazy88 etc
    Walking bass lines in jazz-oriented styles often sound lame if one is into root-itis too much. That brings up my point: transcribe stuff in different genres so you know what is going on harmonically and what choices the bass player has made. Analyze any decent transcriptions others have made. Notice when you are listening to music sometimes what is going on (mental momentary bass line transcription so to speak)

    Assimilate and integrate. No sense being a roots-only dullard unless a style absolutely demands that. Even the most harmonically unadventurous styles can take a little pinch of spice now and then.
  16. Sparkdog


    Sep 18, 2006
    Burbank, CA
    Lots of approaches to this of course, but something that works in a lot of situations for me is determining whether the chord progression is basically major or minor sounding (or transitions between them) and then starting with scales that support that feel.

    You can hit the root on the 1 to support the chord and make everybody feel like they're in the same key, then use the passing tones from the scales to walk up or down through the changes.

    From there it's just listening and figuring out where you can take the bass line to make it groove.
  17. In the most basic way of looking at it.....You can always play the roots.
    The next thing would the the 1 5 1 5 1 5 bassline.......(like One Way Out, Allman Bros)
    The next thing would be to play the arpeggios....the 1-3-5 or 1-3-5-7
    up and or down to each other.....
    Next would be the repetitive "line", the melodic groove...(like the Tighten Up by Archie Bell and the Drells)
    You can only do two things with the bass...."crawl in" or crawl TO"....the next chord.
    One thing to help you imeasurably as you go........try to learn the melody of the songs
    you learn the bassline to.......THAT will help you learn colorful line playing faster than anything. (jaco)
  18. +1 to most of the above.

    Also, many times it's more about what NOT to play when reading changes (e.g., a major 3rd in a minor chord, a major 7th when a dominant 7th is required, a 5th in a diminished cord, etc.).

    The best way I've found for starting out reading changes is to become very familiar with the recording of the tune in question, and then use the chart as an outline. This is a good way to start hearing major/minor, 4ths and +/- 5ths, etc. It will help you translate what you hear to the change written on the chart. Eventually, you will be able to generate lines from changes in 'real time', and that's when the work starts coming in:D

  19. I like to create little melodies, just two bars or so in length. Works for me.
  20. E2daGGurl

    E2daGGurl Guest

    May 26, 2008
    Don't forget that in the 1-3-5-7 progression, if it's a minor chord, you've got the 1-3b-5-7 progression. I'm still not good on arpeggio-finding, but using either the 3 or 3b as a transition not (as well as the 7th) gets me away from just playing 1-5 all the time.