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What to play in a particular Key

Discussion in 'Ask the Berklee Bass Department' started by inconclusive, Mar 13, 2014.

  1. inconclusive


    Mar 13, 2014
    Hey everybody ! :bassist:

    say i have a backing track in C maj,
    i know i can play the good old C maj scale notes on it, but:

    1) if the rithm guitarist plays a certain set of chords consonant with that key like C,F,G,G
    do I as a bassist need to switch my rootnote for each chord switch or may i keep a riff solely revolving on the scale with the root note c? or solely on the 5th (g) ?

    2) Viceversa if the guitar keeps on strumming a c for example may i play riffs based on roots other than c?

    i hope i expressed the question appropriately, this is something i would really like to understand. would Really appreciate ur help! thanks guys :)
  2. ziggy2010


    Aug 4, 2011
    Columbus, OH
    This can be a really complex subject, or not, depending on how in depth you want to go and what kind of music you're playing but I'll try to point you since nobody else has yet. The primary job of the bass is to be a bridge between the drummer and the harmony of the song, so you want to pay closer attention to the chords than the key. Jazz typically moves through lots of different keys in one song, so the key doesn't necessarily even help. The rest of the band expects more than anything else to hear the chord root on the 1 beat of every measure, regardless of the key. That doesn't mean you can't ever play anything but root notes on 1, but you need to be really good at that before you can intelligently know why you would want to play something else. So in my opinion, your first goal should be to get really really really comfortable find a root on every downbeat. The next step is to learn the other notes of the chord you're on and integrating them into the rest of the measure, making sure that you can ALWAYS get to the 1 of the next chord on the first beat of its measure. I'd start by adding in some fifths and the maybe 3rds, but make sure that you are playing notes because you know what you're playing before you get too fancy. You should probably also invest some time in a deep look at harmony theory. The more you understand about which notes belong to which chords, and which chords can be substituted for other chords, the more options you'll have to add interest to your lines. Just make sure that you don't lose sight of your job, which is to give the band, and the audience, a link between the drums and the harmony (you're the groove). And that means playing lots and lots of roots on 1. Hope that helps.
    Brian Wright likes this.
  3. Danny Morris

    Danny Morris Berklee Bass Department

    Feb 15, 2013
    good questions and solid response...here's something to add as far as learning about roots, chords and chord tones which might work well in creating basslines...(a chord tone is a tonality other than the root which is used in the chord makeup..in this case the 3rd and 5th)
    Diatonic triads are good for learning fretboard geography and ear training..it goes something like this..
    take the notes from the C major scale..
    C D E F G A B
    now build in 3rds like so..
    C E = C major
    D F = D minor
    E G = E minor
    F A = F major
    G B = G major
    A C = A minor
    B D = B minor
    now build triads in broken 3rds like so adding one more note.
    C E G = C major triad
    D F A = D minor triad
    E G B = E minor triad
    F A C = F major triad
    G B D = G major triad
    A C E = A minor triad
    B D F = B diminished triad

    have fun with these..
    also good to play these along with the actual chord corresponding simultaneously on a keyboard, guitar, or even a bass using 10ths ( a root plus a 3rd above the octave)..this helps build your ear to hear the chord qualities..
    Brian Wright and troubledog like this.