What Exactly Is A Chord??

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by ninthwondernj, May 6, 2005.

  1. 1. What exactly is a chord?

    2. how do chords help in creating basslines

    Always wondered these 2 things, but every answer I got was really vague.....hopefully someone can make it clear
  2. Phil Smith

    Phil Smith Mr Sumisu 2 U

    May 30, 2000
    Peoples Republic of Brooklyn
    Creator of: iGigBook for Android/iOS
    C Major Scale = C D E F G A B
    C Major Chord = C E G

    Notice the chord is built on every other note or in thirds in the case a major third followed by a minor third.

    In your basslines you use notes in the chord i.e. the root (mostly) as the basis of your line as the chord has been selected to augment or go with the notes in the melody.
  3. so chords are notes sounded simultaneously???? wouldnt that sound bad if notes were sounded at the same time on the bass?
  4. Petary791


    Feb 20, 2005
    Michigan, USA
    Correct, most bassists don't play chords. If you do play chords, you play them up high.

    The lowest bass chord i've heard was second fret B on the A string power chord in John the Fisherman. I would recommend not doing that.
  5. so if most bassists dont play chords in the 1st place, why do bassists need them?

    and #2...if we dont play chords how are they fundamental in construction a bass line??
  6. Juneau


    Jul 15, 2004
    Dallas, TX.
    No, not necessarily. If you played a chord in the lower register, it might sound muddy, but if you separate out the voices and play in the upper register, chords ring through just fine.

    Try this one:

    12th Fret of your E string
    12th Fret of your D string
    13th Fret of your G string

    Fret all 3 notes, then pluck all three notes together. That is an E7 Chord. In this fingering, you omit the 5th, and substitue the 3rd for an octave higher (10th). If you move to the 13th fret of your D string, its now a EMaj7 (without the 5th).

    I know that probably doesn't explain anything, but at least you can hear what a chord sounds like on the bass with that fingering.
  7. Juneau


    Jul 15, 2004
    Dallas, TX.
    They are fundamental in basslines because if you know all the notes in a chord, you can play any of the notes in the chord over the top of say a guitarist while he is playing the chord, you are playing a little run that say goes from root, to 5th, to 7th. If the Chord is something like Emin7, you know that the 3rd is going to be flattened a half step from the Major Chord, so you know which notes will sound good along side a chord. Some people prefer to not play the roots, and accent the notes that are different in the chord, or the colour tones. Using the above example, if someone was playing an Emin7, you might only play the Minor 3rd over the chord to emphasize the minor nature of the chord.

    Knowing chord construction will allow you to choose appropriate notes to follow a chord progression. Many times if you are sitting in with a band, or even studio work, all that will be given to you is a chord progression and you will have to be able to follow those chord changes appropriately, even though your part is not written out.

    Is it necessary to have a good time? No, is it necessary for a lot of working musicians? Yes. Its all about how far you want to take your craft. Do you want to be a bass player, or a musician that could sit in with anyone and hold your own? Thats how I see it anyhow, and either choice is fine.

    Also people like Michael Dimin play solo sometimes and use a lot of chords to fill out their sound. If your interested in learning more, I recomend his book, the Chordal Approach.
  8. SirPoonga


    Jan 18, 2005
    Suprised no one mentioned arpeggios. An arpeggio is a chord stretched out :) Ok, you have the C Major chord consisting of C E G. now play those individually, you have an arpeggio. That's what many basslines are bassed on.
  9. SO Juneau ...tell me if im right or wrong, the purpose of a bassist knowing chords is so that when this "guitarist" is playing his chords, we can play our bass notes that are within that chord(but not be actually playing a chord)?

    BUT, do bassist always have to play the notes inthe chords that say the guitarist is playing?
  10. Juneau


    Jul 15, 2004
    Dallas, TX.
    Thats one reason to learn chord construction yes, so that you can play along with others playing chords. Its not the only reason. Some people do play chords on the bass, some people just want to know as much about music as possible to be the most well rounded and knowledgeable musicians they can be. It can also help with soloing, knowing the tonic progression to follow during a solo. It also opens up your role as a bass player. Say for example your in a trio that consists of Drums, Bass and Keys. You could actually be playing the chords holding down the progression while a keyboardist plays the low notes and melody. Just one more aspect that can allow you to fill out a group and take on different roles from the traditional bass player.

    And no, you dont have to always play the notes in the chord, but if you dont know what the chord is, it might be harder to find notes that fit. Sometimes a bassist will play a riff over and over through a whole song. Usually you'll find that riff hits upon many of the notes that are in the chords being used in the song. For example a standard chord progression is the I IV V. So in C, the progression would be Cmaj, FMaj, and GMaj. Now, in those chords, CMaj has C E G, FMaj has F A C and GMaj has G B D. If you played an E over the FMaj, it would sound discordant since its too close to the F. But a lot of people play atonally, or throw in discordant notes on purpose to provide that feel.
  11. Bassist4Life


    Dec 17, 2004
    Buffalo, NY
    Hmmm, let me give this a try. Music is made up of chords. Generally speaking; chords are made up of multiple notes. In most cases, chords are spelled in 3rd's (every other note of the scale). This is known as Tertian harmony. The general function, in most cases, is to outline the harmony. In some cases, bassist do play these notes at the same time creating a chord. Mike Dimin has arranged pieces for solo bass where he comps chords, plays the melody, and the bassline all at the same time! The typical role of the bassist is to create a line that compliments the chords of the song and gives the song direction and motion.

    I recently read in BP magazine that a pro jazz bassist (I forget the name, maybe it's Ron Carter) said that you should be able to tell what tune is being played by listening to the bassline. I'm guessing that this bassist was speaking of jazz music.

    The answer to your question depends on the context. If you play two notes, you can imply a chord without the root. Harmony is a VERY involved topic. People spend years learning basic harmony in college (and that's just scratching the surface). I have a degree in music education and I feel as if I have only made a dent in what there is to learn. I'm still learning. Good luck in your journey of harmonic understanding.

  12. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    Chords don't create basslines, bassist's do.

    so if most bassists dont play chords in the 1st place, why do bassists need them?
    You should listen to Mike Dimin, he plays them a lot. The second part of your question doesn't really make any sense, NEED has nothing to do with it. Chords (or harmony, as we'll call it from now on) are the water the you, the fish, swim in. The harmonic motion within a piece of music is the palette of colors that you get to draw from to paint your musical picture.
  13. ok so, i fell like im becoming annoying now lol, but from what ive read, i gather that chords help bass players construct better basslines? or am i like half right or half wrong or all the way wrong?

    and my second thing is, i printed out this chord chart from off of one of these forus on talk bass, and for practice purposes would i play the notes separately or all together?
  14. Wrong Robot

    Wrong Robot Guest

    Apr 8, 2002
    Your ear constructs better basslines, if you're not hearing it, you're not playing it. That said, learning about chords and arpeggios and progressions and all that, that just improves your knowledge, gives you more to say, but ultimately it all comes back to what you hear and what you want to say.

    Play them however you want to, if you stumble upon something hip, make a note of it, and think about what you did and why it sounded hip to you.
  15. Thanks ,but last question......besides ones ear, what helps more less to know what notes sound good when played individually when creating?(chords? scales? arpeggios?)
  16. phxlbrmpf


    Dec 27, 2002
    Let's try it like this: let's say you have a melody in your head and you'd like several people who play different instruments to accompany it and make music out of your melody. To do that, you need to work with chords because having your musician friends just play your melody note-for-note on their different instruments probably won't sound good.

    First you need to figure out what chords fit to the melody. What your musician friends you're composing for are going to play will be based on those chords.

    As several posters mentioned, chords don't really sound good in a very low register, that's why bass lines are usually composed of single notes.
    Knowing your chords as a bass player keeps you from playing wrong notes. Playing a long G# over a E minor chord on your bass will sound wrong because an E minor cord consists of the notes E G and B.
  17. pklima


    May 2, 2003
    Kraków, Polska
    Chords, scales and arpeggios (arpeggios are chords played one note at a time anyway) help. So does understanding voice leading and counterpoint. There is a lot of theory to learn. Theory doesn't tell you what to play, it tells you what sounded good to people before you and hopefully explains why. That is tremendously useful in understanding what sounds good to YOU and why - and in turn that greatly improves your odds of sounding good.

    Start here:


    Then read the first few chapters of Schoenberg's "Harmonielehre". He attempts to derive the principles of music theory from the physical properties of sound and constantly reminds you that all rules are to be broken later when the student is advanced enough. He also goes off on all sorts of random philosophical and political digressions... fortunately most of those are in the footnotes.
  18. Bassist4Life


    Dec 17, 2004
    Buffalo, NY
    Hey man, it's cool. You're not being annoying. It's kind of refreshing to answer a question like yours. It makes you think a little more deeply. Who wouldn't benefit from that?

    Anyhow, I'm just wondering what it is you are trying to do. Are you trying to write a solo piece for bass? Are you trying to create a groovin' bassline (I remember you mentioned something about funk)? Are you accompaniment for a soloist? What's going on? Your bass is like a workshop full of tools and materials. With the right combination of tools and materials you can build just about anything. What are you trying to build?


    PS. When you are talking about playing chords on the bass, you NEED to talk to Mike Dimin. He has a lesson book called the CHORDAL APPROACH. This guy is amazing! I have his book. I have both of his CD's. There is a hot thread in his forum where we are learning how to improvise over the tune Blue Bossa. There are finger charts and a sound file recorded by Mike that we can practice with.
  19. Tash


    Feb 13, 2005
    Bel Air Maryland
    I don't think anyone mentioned what is to me the most obvious reason to learn about chords and how to use them: composing. Lots of bassists also like to write songs, and knowing how to use chords certainly gives one an edge when writing.

    Kinda simple sounding, but still an important reason in my book.